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My favourite if vaguely remembered piece of medieval history is the bit when assorted popes, antipopes, and anti-antipopes busily excommunicated each other. The AfD has reached that stage. A few days ago, Lucke forced a motion of the national executive that aims at unseating Höcke as party leader in Thuringia. But his creation of a “wake-up call” association has earned him very few friends so far, and may well contradict the party statutes. Accordingly, the state party in Saxony has decreed that membership in the association is incompatible with membership in the party, and Thuringia is set to follow suit.
In other news, the leader of the party’s youth organisation lost his office over the wake-up call issue, and Petry has finally declared that she will run for sole party leader.
When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.
I would not normally recommend acting on any of my predictions, because I have an amazing track-record of being wrong a long time in advance. But once in a blue moon, I get it right. In my WEP article on the AfD’s EP 2014 manifesto, I have pointed out that there was a rift between Lucke’s polite market liberalism on the one hand and more radical shades of right-wing populism on the other, and that the party would have to chose between the two. Evidence for this has been coming in in large quantities over the last couple of months, and things are moving really fast now. The party seems to be split solidly between Lucke and his fellow “moderates” (“liberals” seems to be a bit of an exaggeration), and the “conservatives” (certainly an understatement). Both factions are warring openly, and the upcoming party conference in June may well mark the undoing of the AfD.
Over the last week, new scores of “liberals” have resigned from their offices or even left the party in despair, leading arch-“liberal” Hans-Olaf Henkel to call for a “purge” (yes, as in “Stalinist purge”). Over the weekend, Lucke decided to fight back and launched his “Wake-up call” initiative that aims at keeping the moderates within the party. The initiative is not just another resolution/website but rather a formal membership association (apparently with its own funds) that could be used to ferry the moderates to – you guessed it – a new party led by Lucke. That sounded like a brilliant move on Sunday night, when Lucke apparently tried to contact each of the 22,000 party members by means of his famous nightly missives, distributed via the party’s central data base of email addresses. But his co-party leaders Petry and Adam ordered some poor administrator to lock the party’s most famous face out of the system.
One of the main findings of my article is that at least until mid-2014, Lucke managed to dominate the (largely internet-based) communications of the AfD. He may now well regret the fact that he moved to Brussels/Strasbourg, presumably giving up some of this control. In the end, he managed to sent out his message, but the response has been underwhelming, and according to media reports, asymmetric: Much like the precursor “Deutschland-Resolution”, the “wake-up call” resonates even less in the East than in the West. His colleagues in the (somewhat diminished) national executive are now poking fun at Lucke, and for the first time, Petry seems to ponder the idea to run for the new, sole leadership post at the party conference. A formal split seems now all but inevitable, and my money is on a “liberal” exodus.
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If you are following the latest attempt to have Germany’s right-wing extremist NPD declared unconstitutional, you might be disappointed by the lack of news. Today, the federal states that push for such a ban have submitted four folders with additional evidence requested by the Federal Constitutional Court – evidence corroborating the states’ claim that they have “switched off” their many informers in time for the new trial. Last time round (in 2002/3), a qualified minority of judges had refused to hear the case against the NPD, because in their view, the party’s leadership had been infiltrated on a scale that made it impossible for the party to act autonomously. The request for new evidence does not bode well for the prosecution. The court is expected to decide in autumn whether they allow the case to go past the pre-trial stage.
Welcome back dear friends / to the show that never ends: In the latest instalment of the great AfD soap, national leader Lucke is trying to remove Höcke as leader in Thuringia over Höcke’s friendly words towards the NPD. Contrary to some reports, Lucke is not (yet) trying to kick Höcke out of the party but rather wants to ban him temporarily from holding offices within the AfD. Here is a link.
Update : Lücke now thinks that a break-up may be inevitable.
Sunday evening, time for my weekly post on the state of the AfD. So, without further ado, a look at this week’s carnage.
- The right-wing extremist NPD claims that they are “networking” with AfD functionaries at the local level in Bavaria.
- Björn Höcke, one of the proponents of the nationalist wing in the AfD and party leader in Thuringia
- refused to sign an affidavit regarding allegations that he writes pseudonymously for an NPD party journal
- publicly declared that not each and every member of the NPD should be considered an extremist.
- Various newspapers report on an alleged “split” in the AfD’s delegation in the Hamburg state parliament.
- The rift in Thuringia state parliament delegation is very real, though it is not clear what will come out of it.
- While I’m writing this, it is still an open question if the AfD cleared the electoral hurdle in the Bremen state election. If they remain below 5 per cent, it would be the their first electoral defeat since 2013.
National leadership crisis
- This weekends’ party conference in NRW (a previous conference was called off on procedural grounds), whose sole purpose was to select delegates for the national conference in June has been described as shambolic. The voting procedure may be challenged in court. NRW selects about 20 per cent of the national delegates, who will play a crucial role in any attempts to unseat Lucke as leader.
- While the party is still waiting for the Bremen result, co-founder Konrad Adam went on the record claiming that he has “evidence” that co-founder Lucke will leave AfD and set up new party. Lucke said this was “nonsense” but did not directly reject the allegations. I don’t think there is any “evidence””, but this shows how much relationships within the leadership have deteriorated.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m mildly surprised that no-one prominent has resigned yet, or been expelled this weekend. A year after their EP election triumph and a week before the Bremen state election, the Germany’s AfD party seems set to continue on its path to self-destruction. On second thought, I may be exaggerating, but only a bit.
Who is Olaf Henkel, and why does his resignation matter?
Last week, Hans-Olaf Henkel, one of the party’s MEPs, resigned from the national leadership because he is unhappy with the right-wing tendencies (“Rechtsruck”) in the party. In the past, the man himself has been no stranger to allegations of being a right-winger, but by and large he was a “reputational shield” for the party. For years, would-be party founders of new right-wing alternative vehicles had courted him, and when he finally joined the AfD, the former Vice President of IBM, former president of the powerful German Industry Federation and former president of the Leibniz association of non-university research institutes, brought a lot of political, social, and financial capital to the party (bad pun alert). Together with Lucke, he was the most prominent face of the pro-business, market-liberal tendency in the party, and so his resignation was greeted with glee by Alexander Gauland, one of the eastern big wigs of the anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam persuasion, who suggested that Henkel should leave the party for good. Henkel in turn managed to exclude Marcus Pretzell from the AfD MEP group for leaking internal documents (i.e.e less-than-friendly emails) to Politico.
In NRW, Pretzell’s deputy resigned after he failed to unseat Pretzell. In Thuringia, Björn Höcke refused to sign an affidavit regarding his alleged ties to the right-wing extremist NPD. The national leadership threatened to retaliate with – what? Patricia Casale (one of the lesser known members) also resigned from the national board, saying she had no choice left. Money is still missing from the war chest. The party conference in June will be great fun even by AfD standards.
Germany’s AfD: The outlook
The crux of the matter is that for the last two years, the AfD has been playing to two different audiences. Even the “liberal” wing around Lucke is right-wing in more than one sense of the word, but they have been anxious to avoid contamination by the images and issues of the Extreme Right, drawing support from former CDU and FDP voters. The “conservative” wing, on the other hand, quickly realised that the party attracted voters who should not have supported them had they read the chiefly market-liberal 2014 manifesto, and so began playing the xenophobic tune in the Eastern state election campaigns. This cannot go on. My money (and I have been wrong in these matters in the most embarrassing ways) is on a party split over the next 12 months or so, and I’m sure no wing will survive alone.
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