German Left Party: ‘Eurosceptic AfD is our political opponent’

  
Gabi Zimmer is the top candidate for Germany's Left Party (Die Linke) in the 2014 European elections. [Gabi Zimmer]
Gabi Zimmer is the top candidate for Germany's Die Linke in the 2014 European elections. [Gabi Zimmer]

Germany's Left Party (Die Linke) calls for EU-wide referenda, criticises austerity policy and denounces bailouts for banks, sparking claims of significant overlap with the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD). The Left Party rejects these allegations. EurActiv Germany reports.

"We are not pursuing an anti-European election campaign," campaign manager for Germany’s Left Party, Matthias Höhn, told EurActiv.de.

The party’s days of turmoil over the European question appear to be numbered. Just a few months ago, the Left Party held a discussion over the basic principles of Europe in response to internal debate over its own European policy agenda.

Even statements from party-magnifico Oskar Lafontaine, who previously called the euro “catastrophic” and advocated dissolving the eurozone, have faded.

"We say 'yes' to the European project but we criticise the processes and decisions within the EU. On the issue of social justice, we criticise the EU quite clearly", said Höhn.

Top candidate Zimmer: "The EU is a faulty design"

"We support the EU", emphasised Gabi Zimmer, the German Left Party's top candidate. "But we need a social foundation to support it. In its current form, the EU is a faulty design", she said.

Within the Left Party, the EU is indeed viewed critically, and until a few months ago "this criticism shifted to rejection for some party members", Zimmer recalled.

But what the Left Party is actually campaigning for is a "change of relations" – more democracy and less militarism, she explained. The discussion is important, Zimmer said, and must continue to take place.

At first glance, there is clear overlap between the election agendas of the Left Party and the Alternative for Germany (AfD). On EU austerity policy, for example, Die Linke writes: "With the policy of cuts and privatisation as well as the Fiscal Pact, social acquisitions are being destroyed, civil and union rights are being cut, democracy eroded and human rights trampled upon."

Meanwhile the AfD says: "A democratically illegitimate 'Troika' - comprised of representatives from the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - is forcing popularly elected parliaments to take on budget cuts and structural reforms".

In an interview with EurActiv Germany, AfD candidate Beatrix von Storch called the austerity measures an "undemocratic, brutal austerity policy", which "harms the people in Greece".

But the AfD and the Left Party also agree on other points. Both call for EU-wide referenda, strict regulation of banks, and more understanding for Russia's conduct in the Ukraine crisis.

"AfD is adopting a severely xenophobic position"

Still, the Left Party labels the AfD as its "political opponent".

This is because the AfD is fundamentally pursuing other goals, said Höhn.

"The AfD stands for less European co-determination and less social justice,” he said, “It wants to intensify competition among the nation states and avoid a social and economic balance in Europe."

The Left is in favour of the euro currency and that differentiates it from the AfD, said top candidate Zimmer. "Leaving the euro is a scenario that would only affect those who are not responsible for the crisis,” she emphasised, “Furthermore, the AfD – like the [neo-Nazi] National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) – is adopting a position of social exclusion therefore severe xenophobia."

Zimmer called the AfD's economic policy irresponsible. "The AfD is threatening the operability of society because it is pushing radical market solutions, massive tax cuts for the rich and social exclusion. Whoever focuses first and foremost on national interests, is destroying the EU," said Zimmer.

Party expert: "Left Party wants to be mainstream"

Apparently the heterogenic Left Party has found a common language, which was also important for the party's European election campaign, emphasised party researcher Robert Lorenz from the Institut für Demokratieforschung in Göttingen, Germany.

"The Left Party wants to be a mainstream party, keep an alliance with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) open and thereby avoid being pushed in an extremist or populist corner,” Lorenz said, “In general, the AfD is being eyed sceptically. The Left does not want to be associated with this party. That would be a PR problem."

At the moment ,the Left Party is simply happy that peace has set in within its own ranks, he said. Sahra Wagenknecht, deputy faction leader for Die Linke in the German Bundestag, has toned down her criticism of Europe, the party analyst pointed out.

Meanwhile, the party's top candidate duo Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger are capable of unifying the Left Party, Lorenz said. And hardly anything can still be heard from prominent Eurosceptic Oskar Lafontaine. His followers are currently in a minority, the political scientist indicated.

But this calm, he said, should be taken with a grain of salt. "Lafontaine could step in front of cameras again at any moment," Lorenz speculated, "and that could stir up the Left Party again."

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