Germany’s far-right AfD firms up election strategy with EU exit and anti-lockdown campaign

Screens show Alternative for Germany party (AfD) co-chairman Joerg Meuthen as he delivers a speech during Germany's right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party convention in Dresden, Germany, 10 April 2021. [EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER]

Germany’s far-right AfD party vowed to campaign for an end to COVID-19 restrictions, a tougher line on migration and an exit from the EU as it finalised its manifesto for the September elections on Sunday (11 April), with the radical wing of the party succeeding in radicalising the party programme in key points.

Almost 600 delegates met at a two-day congress in Dresden to firm up the party’s campaign for elections on 26 September. The far-right party, which entered the national parliament for the first time after the 2017 election, voted to reject compulsory mask-wearing, which it said was “based on numbers that are not meaningful”.

The party voted to demand an end to lockdown measures in a resolution on the management of the pandemic, accusing Germany’s ruling parties of creating a “politics of fear” and rejecting even indirect pressure for people to be vaccinated or tested.

AfD co-leader Joerg Meuthen vowed to dispel “these orgies of bans, these jailings, this mania for locking down”.

The AfD has long sought to capitalise on anger over virus measures in Germany and sought links with coronavirus deniers and those opposed to compulsory vaccinations, a step the German government has never proposed.

Some AfD members have also joined anti-vaxxers and “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) at a number of anti-lockdown demonstrations across Germany.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders expected to tighten measures even further this week due to a surge in cases, the far-right unveiled its election slogan – “Germany. But normal” – which at least in part alludes to a fight against COVID-19 restrictions.

The program title can also be translated as “back to earlier times”. The manifesto states a family should consist of a “father, mother, children”, denies the threat posed by climate change and lauds the combustion engine as the measure of German engineering.

Anti-EU, anti-migration

In Dresden, party members also voted for the manifesto to include a call for Germany to leave the EU, as well as a complete ban on refugees being joined by family members.

Germany’s exit from the bloc was “necessary,” according to the initiative, but members also called for creating a “new European community of economies and interests”, the party programme read.

Set up in 2013 as an anti-euro party during the eurozone debt crisis, the party has shifted to the right and capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 open-door migrant policy.

The party agreed on Sunday to declare itself opposed to “any family reunification for refugees”, revising previous wording that had called for such reunions to be allowed only under exceptional circumstances.

At the same time, Björn Höcke, frontman of the party’s formally dissolved extremist wing, campaigned for an amendment calling for the suspension of all immigration to Germany and the EU. It was not adopted.

Höcke belongs to a branch of the party that is under surveillance by the authorities as a possible extremist movement.

Even without the demand for an “immigration moratorium”, the AfD election manifesto calls for the right to asylum to be massively restricted, demanding asylum seekers be turned back at the border.

The electoral program also contained key AfD demands such as nationwide referendums, return to conscription, return to border controls, promotion of the traditional family or the return to nuclear and coal energy.

As far as foreign and security policy is concerned, the AfD is very keen to relax relations with Russia.

“The AfD advocates the lifting of EU sanctions and the expansion of economic relations with Russia We consider the completion and commissioning of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to be essential,” the programme stated.

Election prospects

The AfD has yet to decide who will run as its chancellor candidate, a decision which members are to settle with a vote.

Against a backdrop of infighting between the extreme right and a more moderate wing, motions calling for the AfD to elect its top election candidates were withdrawn, with the decision now expected to be made later by a vote among all party members.

Co-party leader Tino Chrupalla, a Saxony-born politician who is closely networked with the party right and stands for the AfD in the east of the country, is considered to be the top candidate.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last election in 2017 when it secured almost 13% of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party. It, however, had little impact on policy as all mainstream parties so far refused to cooperate with it.

But it has lately been plagued by internal divisions, accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups and internal divisions over how radical the party should be.

The latest surveys have the party polling at between 10-12%, with Merkel’s CDU/CSU on around 27% and the surging Greens not far behind.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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