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Frauke Petry: The force behind Germany’s rising nationalist party

© Odd Anderson; AFP | Frauke Petry, leader of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) party at a press conference in Berlin on February 22, 2016.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-03-14

Frauke Petry, the ambitious leader of the nationalist Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), is snapping at Angela Merkel’s heels.

As Chancellor Angela Merkel fights to defend her policies, one of her biggest threats is a politician who in many ways looks like a younger, fresher version of the nation’s current leader. Like Merkel, Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Petry is a woman who excelled in the sciences and hails from East Germany. And like Merkel at the beginning of her political career, Petry, 40, is seen as a bold alternative to the status quo reflecting the zeitgeist of the moment.

But the similarities don’t extend far beyond that.

Where Merkel was predictable, Petry is provocative. Merkel has been at the helm of an established political party for 26 years, while Petry controls a nascent party that is just three years old. And, most saliently, Merkel has opened her nation to more than a million refugees, while Petry has said that migrants who try to enter Germany illegally should be shot.

So who is this politician pulling to the right?

Petry was born in 1975 in Dresden and, after reunification, moved with her family to West Germany while she was still a teenager. She studied chemistry at the University of Reading in England and earned a PhD from Göttingen University in Germany. She later founded a company that makes eco-friendly polyurethanes.

Petry emerged as a political force in 2013 when the founding congress of the AfD elected her one of three party speakers, along with Konrad Adams and co-founder and main leader Bernd Lucke. By 2015 she had assumed the leadership of the party, but not before an internal power struggle over its direction prompted the departure of many of its original members – including Lucke, who declared the group too xenophobic. Petry continues in the role of speaker, now joined by Jörg Meuthen.

The party was started by a group of economists who wanted Germany to leave the eurozone, but some within the party wanted to push a more right-wing social agenda and Petry was among them. It emerged from the split far more nationalist and right wing, and with its focus having shifted from economic and monetary issues to that of migration. The party now warns that German culture and identity is at risk of being destroyed.

Shortly after taking power, Petry announced that she had separated from her husband, a Lutheran minister with whom she has four children. She is now in a relationship with Marcus Pretzell, one of the AfD's two MEPs.

Date created : 2016-03-13

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