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POLITICS

Co-leader quits Germany’s far-right AfD party

The co-leader of Germany's anti-immigrant AfD party, Joerg Meuthen, announced Friday he was quitting the party, accusing it of drifting too far to the right and displaying "totalitarian" leanings.

Dr. Jörg Meuthen
Prof. Dr. Jörg Meuthen, former co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AfD - Alternative für Deutschland | Alternative für Deutschland

“The party’s heart beats very far to the right today,” the 60-year-old told broadcaster ARD in an interview, saying he had failed to find middle ground with the party’s extremist faction.

Meuthen, seen as one of the more moderate voices in the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), already said late last year that he would give up his role as the party’s federal spokesman, following a disappointing election result and bitter internal divisions.

But he has now decided to leave the party altogether.

Meuthen, AfD co-leader since 2015, has long been locked in a power struggle with heavyweight party hardliners, including co-leader Tino Chrupalla, parliamentary leader Alice Weidel and the head of the AfD in Thuringia state, Bjoern Höcke.

“They will be really happy that Meuthen is finally gone,” Meuthen told ARD. “They worked on that for a long time.”

Some in the AfD have become far removed from “the basic order of freedom and democracy”, Meuthen went on, and showed “clear totalitarian leanings”.

Meuthen however said he would stay on as a member of the European Parliament.

Founded in 2013 as a eurosceptic outfit, the AfD seized on popular anger over an influx of refugees in 2015-2016 to reinvent itself as an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party.

It has repeatedly courted controversy by urging Germans to stop atoning for World War II atrocities. Höcke once called for a “180 degree reversal” of the country’s remembrance culture.

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The AfD stunned the political establishment when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote in the 2017 general election, entering parliament for the first time.

But support for the party slipped to around 10 percent in last year’s election, as the country reeled from the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about migration waned.

The AfD has since sought to court critics of the government’s coronavirus measures, with leading figures joining demonstrations that have attracted a mix of neo-Nazis, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.

AfD lawmakers have been admonished in parliament for not wearing their face masks properly and the party is a vocal opponent of government plans to introduce a vaccine mandate.

Meuthen said something “cult-like” had developed around the AfD’s coronavirus attitudes.

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POLITICS

‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

Scholz also called for other ways to help Ukraine in the short term, saying the priority was to “concentrate on supporting Ukraine quickly and pragmatically”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

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