Germany’s far-right could get public funding for a think tank

In September 2021, the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) won seats in the Bundestag for the second consecutive time, with 10.3% of the vote. While the party lost significantly in the western states of the country, it consolidated its position in the east, coming first in Saxony with 24.6%, for example. With its second round of seats in the national parliament, the AfD has taken another important step that could significantly improve its organizational capacities, its ideological impact and its public reputation. During the next legislature, the AfD may be able to obtain public funding for a party-affiliated foundation.

The mission of party-affiliated foundations, such as the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (Social Democratic Party, SPD) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (Christian Democratic Union, CDU), is to influence public opinion and strengthen the civic education sector. The foundations use their generous budgets to organize workshops and seminars, develop expertise on specific policy issues, and fund democratic engagement and international collaboration. They have offices in many countries around the world.

In 2019, the Bundestag donated a total of €660 million to the six party-affiliated foundations. Currently, the distribution of tax revenue to foundations is largely unregulated, meaning they are barely accountable for how they spend their money. According to the NGO Frag den Staat, the AfD-affiliated Erasmus Desiderius Foundation (Desiderius-Erasmus-Stiftung, DES) will receive around 50 to 70 million euros until 2025.

Erasmus Desiderius Foundation

The AfD declared DES “party affiliated” at a party congress in 2018. A few weeks earlier, former CDU hardliner Erika Steinbach had become head of this organization (until then) largely invisible. Steinbach has publicly expressed his desire to build DES as “the only conservative political foundation […] to lay the foundations for a political renewal of our country […] and to transmit the cultural identity of our country with its conservative values [wertkonservativ] roots to future generations in intellectual openness through targeted support and a wide range of educational offerings.

The DES has already hinted that it would fund and recruit (future) far-right executives. Most notably, publicist Karlheinz Weißmann was tasked with setting up a study program to distribute doctoral scholarships, organize intellectual training, and facilitate international exchange.

In 2000, together with the new-right intellectual Götz Kubitschek, Weißmann co-founded the Institute for State Politics (Institute for Staatspolitik), a far-right think tank. At the beginning of 2021, the German internal intelligence service (Verfassungsschutz) declared the institute a “proven far-right” organization.

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