Alternative für Deutschland’s links to the far-right Freedom Party of Austria was the final straw for members of the EU Parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists group, which yesterday (8 March) voted to kick out the German Eurosceptics .
The ECR has two AfD members, Beatrix Von Storch, who last month said police should be able to shoot women and children refugees from entering Germany, and Marcus Pretzell.
Van Storch later backtracked on her remarks, saying guns should not be used on children “but women are another matter”. Both of her grandparents were Nazis, with her maternal grandfather serving as Hitler’s finance minister.
Her refugee comments had caused concern in the ECR hierarchy, and an investigation was underway to clarify exactly what she had said.
But the unveiling of the German-Austrian “Blue Alliance”, in Düsseldorf gave added impetus to the drive to boot out the AfD.
“The fallout from the shooting refugees comments were rumbling on,” a source at the meeting told EurActiv, “but the alliance with the FPO was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The Freedom Party of Austria’s leader Heinz-Christian Strache spoke at the event. His party is a member of Marine Le Pen’s extreme right Europe of Nations and Freedom, and was led by the notorious Jorg Haider.
Strache declared in Dusseldorf, “Yes, our position states quite clearly that Islam has never been and is still not part of Europe.”
Referring to Turkey’s possible future EU membership, the Austrian populist said, “We people from Vienna know what it means to have survived two Turkish sieges.”
The ECR decided to “invite” the AfD to leave the ECR at last night’s meeting, which was not attended by the two MEPs.
The ECR will vote to kick the AfD out at a 14 April meeting, if they do not quit of their own volition.
EurActiv understands that both the British Conservatives and Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) are determined to see them ousted. With a total of 38 MEPs, they can deliver the majority needed to expel the AfD.
Polish MEPs are understood to be angered by the AfD’s pro-Russian stance. At the Blue Alliance event, Strache was vocally supportive of Russia, calling for an end to sanctions, and declaring it “part of Europe”.
Speculation that the MEPs could join the UKIP-led Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group was fuelled by unconfirmed rumours that one of the AfD politicians had displayed a photo of Nigel Farage on their website.
An EFDD spokesman told EurActiv, “The membership of the EFDD Group is the same. If there is any change, it will be revealed in due time.”
Given the links with the Austrian extremists, AfD MEPs could also join Le Pen’s group.
Von Storch blamed the decision to expel the AfD on a deal between British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
She claimed Merkel wanted to damage the AfD before regional elections in Germany in March, and that Cameron wanted to get rid of the AfD before the 23 June referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
The loss of the two MEPs will not change the ECR’s status as the third largest group in the European Parliament. The group yesterday welcomed a Cypriot MEP, meaning it will have 74 MEPs after the AfD leave.
Former FN MEP in the cold
The expulsion came as it emerged that former National Front MEP Aymeric Chauprade was sounding out ECR MEPs about the possibility of joining the group.
No official application has yet been received, but EurActiv understand that any request would be given short shrift.
“The application will be looked at,” a source said, “but not for very long.”
A different source said Chauprade joining the ECR would be a political own goal. Some MEPs have already made their strong opposition known.
According to sources, one MEP said Chauprade would only join the ECR “over his dead body.”
The now-independent MEP set up his own political party in January, and is trying to clean up his image by moving towards the centre-right. ECR membership would ease that transition.
Alternative für Deutschland was one of a crop of political parties to profit from growing Eurosceptism in the May 2014 European Parliament elections. It returned two MEPs.
The European Conservatives and Reformists group admitted the Afd on 12 June 2014.
The Freedom Party of Austria is a far-right party that was led by Jorg Haider, until his defection from the party. It has regained support under Heinz-Christian Strache.