CDU politician with neo-Nazi links quits party

A regional politician in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU has stepped down from the party after his links to far-right extremism were exposed.

CDU politician with neo-Nazi links quits party
Robert Möritz. Photo: DPA

Robert Möritz, who was a member of the CDU’s executive committee in Anhalt-Bitterfeld, in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, triggered a crisis in German politics when it became known that he used to be active in the extreme right-wing scene. 

Now, according to German media, he has left the party.

Möritz confirmed last week that he was a member of Uniter, a support network aimed at helping soldiers reintegrate back into civilian life but which is said to have links to far-right circles.

The politician said at the weekend that he had cancelled his membership with the group. However, his social media also showed that in 2011 he had worked as a steward at a neo-Nazi march in Halle.

Meanwhile, a photo had emerged of Möritz showing a swastika-like “black sun” tattoo – a symbol popular with neo-Nazis – on his arm.

After the revelations emerged, the district council had initially supported Mörtiz because he had distanced himself from his past, they said.

However, on Thursday the CDU in Saxony-Anhalt had asked the 29-year-old to detail all his activities within the far-right scene in writing by December 27th. In addition he was asked to declare that swastikas and other Nazi symbolism were incompatible with the principles of the CDU.

According to German daily Die Welt, Möritz wrote in a statement that he was seeking “immediate resignation from all internal party functions and immediate resignation from the CDU” because he wanted to “avert damage” away from the party.

“I would like to send out a personal signal,” he added in the statement. “Sometimes you need to reflect on your true priorities in life.”

READ ALSO: Could Merkel's Christian Democrats really work with the far-right AfD?

'How many swastikas have a place in the CDU?'

The case had triggered a debate within the CDU about how to deal with potential right-wing extremists within their own ranks. 

The CDU's coalition partners in Saxony-Anhalt, the centre-left SPD and the Greens, slammed the behavior of state premier Reiner Haseloff and CDU state leader Holger Stahlknecht, for not taking immediate action.

“How many swastikas have a place in the CDU?” asked Susan Sziborra-Seidlitz and Sebastian Striegel, the co-chairs of the Greens in Saxony-Anhalt, alluding to Möritz's tattoo.

Mörtiz had said his tattoo was inspired by his interest in Celtic mythology.

The incident also sparked a storm at the national level.

“We take resolute and uncompromising action against all forms of right-wing extremism,” said Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader of the CDU on Wednesday.

SPD general secretary Lars Klingbeil had accused the CDU leadership of keeping silent about the case. This was “absolutely incomprehensible”, Klingbeil told the Tagesspiegel.

The controversy comes at a tricky time for German politics as debate rages on about whether the centre-right CDU should enter into alliances with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has surged in popularity in recent years, particuarly in eastern Germany.

The CDU at the national level has so far ruled out any cooperation with the anti-immigration AfD.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the AfD surge in regional German elections

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How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP