AfD co-founder pondering new Eurosceptic party

For Lucke the choice is clear: if the AfD begins to take on a role similar to that of the extremist National Front in France, he will withdraw from the party. []

Bernd Lucke, a founder of Alternative for Germany (AfD) is considering creating a new party with his association Weckruf 2015, after a dramatic shift right in the party. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The economically liberal wing of the AfD is planning to carry on after a bitter defeat at the national party convention. The group hopes for a fresh start under a new party leader and in a new party.

The executive board of the association Weckruf 2015 (“Wake-up call 2015”), created by AfD founding member Bernd Lucke, intends to consult its members on how to move forward. This became necessary after a “complete change in the circumstances” after the party convention last weekend, the group said.

The AfD has made an “unprecedented swing to the right”, over which Weckruf 2015 said it is “dismayed and appalled”.

Now, Weckruf members have four choices to respond to the question of how the association’s work in the AfD should continue: found a new party, continue to work with the AfD, immediately leave the party or wait it out. According to the association’s spokesman Sven Wagner, the result is expected to be determined on Thursday evening.

Shift right through Petry’s victory

Around 60% of AfD delegates voted for Frauke Petry to be the new party chairman at the national party convention last weekend. Shortly after taking office, the national-conservative politician made it clear what path the party should take – namely to the right. Islam is “completely foreign” in Central Europe and incompatible with the German Basic Law, she said.

When Lucke had warned against stereotyping Islam prior to outcome, anger rose among many participants causing them to chant “Lucke out”.

>>Read: Turmoil in Eurosceptic AfD party could help Merkel

AfD MEPs desert the party

Now the AfD faces an exodus of moderate conservative and economically liberal members. Lucke fears his party could take on a role like the right-wing extremist National Front, in France.

It is conceivable, he said, that the Weckruf supporters could collectively leave the AfD. Last weekend he called his own exit from the party “not unlikely”.

Similarly, MEPs Bernd Kölmel, Ulrike Trebesius, Joachim Starbatty and Hans-Olaf Henkel also intend to leave the party. Kölmel, as well as Henkel, declared their withdrawals on Monday (6 July).

“I have not deserted the #AfD, it has deserted me. I can no longer be a part of vulgar behaviour, intolerance and manipulation,” Henkel wrote on Twitter.

Trebesius plans to leave the AfD at the end of the week. This is no longer my party, she said.

Starbatty expressed a similar view. “I joined with enthusiasm. I wanted to make truly different policy,” the retired economics professor said. “That is no longer possible now.”

Still, Lucke said the seven AfD MEPs in the European Parliament plan to continue their work within the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group. The ECR is dominated by Eurosceptics and Tories.

Mass exodus or individual withdrawals?

The AfD says it has around 23,000 members while Weckruf states that it has nearly 4,000 supporters so far.

At the regional, municipal and local levels, members of Weckruf left “the party in droves”, a report said. Due the recent events, “a mass withdrawal from the AfD is taking place, covering all branches”, the association pointed out.

Meanwhile, AfD press spokesman Christian Lüth said “the wave of withdrawals many feared due to the directional choice has not appeared.” By early Tuesday (7 July) at 10 o’clock, 512 withdrawals had been registered, he indicated, around 2.5% of the party’s membership.

In response, Weckruf spokesman Wagner said that to his knowledge the number of withdrawals was “considerably higher”.

Güllner: radical right parties do not succeed in Germany

Political observers are also saying that the party will not recover from the shift right through the victory of national-conservatives. AfD-founder Lucke was the “solid middle class poster child” of the party, said politics professor Jürgen Falter.

>>Read: AfD supporters lean towards xenophobia and fascism, research says

“Lucke offers absolutely no suspicion that he could be extreme right.” Without him, the AfD will become much more vulnerable, Falter indicated.

Head of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) Christian Lindner offered a taste of this sentiment shortly after Lucke’s defeat. “The decision in favour of Petry makes the AfD the Pegida Party,” he said.

Forsa director Manfred Güllner identified a blueprint for the development of the AfD in the history of the now-defunct Republicans. The party, situated to the right of the centre-right alliance (CDU-CSU), also had directional conflicts in its beginnings. Then, in 1990 former television journalist Franz Schönhuber decided the power issue for himself. The Republicans adopted an increasingly xenophobic tone. As a result, its downfall began, like the AfD, after a seemingly successful start.

“Radical right parties do not succeed in Germany,” Güllner emphasised, referring to the AfD. In most national surveys, the party is under the 5-percent-threshold needed for representation in the Bundestag. Just a few months ago, it was able to safely count on a success in the 2017 elections.

Meanwhile, Frauke Petry denies any alleged shift right within her party. This is simply “an invention from left-wing media”, she said.

Eurosceptic parties around Europe have shown their willingness to act on a European level. The controversial Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders recently toured Europe in an attempt to forge a new movement of far-right parties ahead of the European elections.

But not many supposed “like-minded” parties were ready to join the initiative, and UKIP, the most vocal Eurosceptic party in the EP, rejected outright the proposition.

Eurosceptic political parties are blossoming in many European countries, but their backgrounds and causes are very different. Analysts have argued that even though the next Parliament could have a much higher number of eurosceptic, even populist MEPs, they have a smaller chance of forming a coherent bloc.

For more on the EU elections, read our LinksDossier.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) (German language): Luckes Anhänger verkünden Austrittswelle (7 July 2015)

Spiegel Online (German language): Abwahl von Bernd Lucke: "Er war den Tränen nahe" (5 July 2015) (German language): AfD steht nach Sieg von Nationalkonservativen vor Spaltung (6 July 2015)

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