When the Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the Bundestag (German parliament) after last year’s national election, they promised to “hunt down” the government.
AfD co-leader Alice Weidel seemed to have that promise in mind when she opened the general debate on the budget on Wednesday. As leader of the opposition, Weidel has the right to speak first during the general debate.
Her fiery speech paid only passing attention to the national budget. Instead she attacked the government’s migration policies for bringing Germany “headscarf girls, pumped-up knife men and other mischievous people” who, she said, “won’t improve our well being, economy or our social system.”
“You don’t even seem to mind that you have fattened up our population with migrant criminals who have multiple identities,” Weidel said to Merkel.
The far-right leader then claimed that Germany was becoming an importer of unqualified workers and an exporter of highly qualified workers.
The speech was met by repeated boos from members of the Green party and Die Linke (the Left Party) factions.
Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble rebuked Weidel after the speech for her word choice, saying that comparing girls who wear headscarves to mischief makers was discriminatory.
But when Chancellor Angela Merkel stood up to deliver her reply, she completely ignored the AfD politician.
The Chancellor did not once directly address the far-right party. Instead, she focused on the strong state of the economy, noting that the IMF had recently described it as “impressive.” She then went on to talk about Syria, relations with the US and the dieselgate scandal.
The contrast to how she dealt with other opposition politicians was stark – she responded directly to heckling from Die Linke at several points in her speech.
Merkel's decision to act as if the AfD don't exist met with approval from several German media outlets.
“It was a strategy that sent a clear signal: I don’t need to defend myself, I can also ignore attacks because I am in control of the governance of this country,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung observed.
Anne-Beatrice Clasmann, a journalist for DPA, described Merkel’s facial expression during Weidel’s speech as “resembling a mother who knows that her stubborn, crying toddler will eventually stop crying if she is left alone.”
But the AfD nonetheless had to deal with a counter attack from the government later in the debate when CDU faction leader Volker Kauder stood up to speak.
Kauder described Weidel's speech as having “nothing to do with a Christian worldview.”
“What you did today is the opposite of that and you should be ashamed of yourself,” he admonished her to protests from inside the AfD ranks.
Kauder added that the AfD “have big mouths when they dish it out, but can’t take criticism themselves.” The comment received loud applause in the Bundestag. Even Merkel laughed.