The extreme right in Germany promises unity and renewal at its congress, but elects the same leader | International

Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel after knowing the result of the votes at the AfD congress this weekend in Riesa (Saxony).
Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel after knowing the result of the votes at the AfD congress this weekend in Riesa (Saxony).MATTHIAS RIETSCHEL (REUTERS)

The German far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party arrived at its federal congress in the midst of a crisis. Disastrous results in three regional elections, the resignation of their co-leader last January and fierce internal battles were not the best prelude to a three-day meeting in Riesa (Saxony) that aimed to restore unity within the formation and completely renew its directive structure. Judging by the results, the renovation has been half done. The 600 delegates again elected Tino Chrupalla, representative of the radical wing, but with a scant 53.4%, which analysts interpret as a clear lack of alternatives. The duo of presidents is completed by Alice Weidel, who was already a prominent figure in the party as vice president, co-leader of the parliamentary group and friendly face of the formation facing the outside.

Chrupalla had led the AfD alone since January, when then-co-chairman Jörg Meuthen left the party amid accusations of radicalisation. Meuthen was the closest thing to moderation left in the AfD, a party that has been directing its populism towards different issues – euroscepticism in its beginnings, Angela Merkel’s immigration policy, the refusal of compulsory vaccination during the pandemic – until wanting presenting itself as “the party of peace” in the context of the war in Ukraine. Unsuccessfully. The bloody loss of votes in the three regional elections held since the general elections last September (in the Saarland, North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, where they were even left out of Parliament by not exceeding 5%) show that their messages they are not reaching the electorate as they used to.

“The Meuthen era is over,” a proud Chrupalla told public television after the result of his vote was known. He maintains that the different currents have merged into one and that there are no longer any divisions, but the interventions of many delegates did not seem to confirm this triumphalist vision. His leadership is still in question. “We have been consistently losing elections since the beginning of 2020,” one delegate complained bitterly on Saturday. “The drop in membership is monstrous,” read another. The party refuses to give data. In fact, the affiliation is not revealed in the annual report that was presented on Friday night. Different sources estimate that the formation has lost more than 9,000 members to below 30,000.

Among the dozens of motions that have been voted on in the congress, there is one that seems to indicate where the party is going to direct its messages from now on: the defense of nuclear energy, a very controversial issue in Germany, where the great majority of the population is against it. Nearly 550 delegates spoke in favor of building new nuclear power plants. This energy “is used by nearly two-thirds of the world’s population” and is “one of the most important components of the energy mix of the future,” the motion reads. This December 31, Germany will turn off the last two reactors that remain after in 2011, after the Fukushima accident, former Chancellor Merkel decided to put an end to nuclear power. Despite the fact that the war in Ukraine makes it necessary to find new energy sources to replace dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, the tripartite government of Olaf Scholz has ruled out prolonging the useful life of the last reactors.

Chrupalla won the vote over his only rival, Norbert Kleinwächter, a deputy for the formation ―AfD has 80 seats in the Bundestag, compared to 94 in the previous legislature; in September it went from third force to fifth – and considered the last hope of the more moderate current that Meuthen represented. In his speech, in a face-to-face congress but which was also broadcast entirely live, he advocated finding a different style to create a “civic, liberal and conservative” party. Moderation, however, is a very relative concept in the AfD: Kleinwächter called the hundreds of thousands of refugees who obtained German nationality “illegal migrants of Merkel”.

The delegates approved modifying the party’s statutes so that in the future it could be led by a single leader instead of the current duo, but decided to keep the traditional formula for now, thus avoiding Chrupalla being left alone at the head of the party. He and Weidel were the two candidates in the last general elections and there is not much friction between them, at least in public. She, who represents the neoliberal wing, obtained the best result: 67.3% voted in favor. This Sunday the rest of the party’s cadres have been chosen, which will mark the balance of forces between the different factions. Although Björn Höcke, the controversial head of the party’s most extreme wing, will not be a spokesperson or hold relevant positions, analysts believe that he retains a lot of power within the party. Höcke, formally considered a “right-wing extremist” by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is credited with wanting to preside over the party one day. It was he who proposed that in the future there should be only one leader.

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For now, the AfD seems willing to improve its public image and not repeat the miscommunications that have caused so much controversy in the past. Weidel, much more restrained in public than most of her co-religionists, warned party members “not to make statements in front of any camera put in front of them.” Many of the views of AfD members remain too extreme for a party that wants to be in the majority. Among the motions presented at this congress, there were those that called for the end of the sanctions against Russia, the end of the delivery of weapons to Ukraine – both issues with broad support from German society – or the prohibition of calls for prayer of Muslims from the mosques. “No to Islamization!”, one of the participants shouted, which was received with timid applause.

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