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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

Civil servants ‘getting burnout’ over energy crisis, says German minister

Public sector workers trying to tackle Germany's ongoing energy crisis are suffering from illness and burnout, Economics Minister Robert Habeck has said.

Civil servants 'getting burnout' over energy crisis, says German minister

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has unleashed economic turmoil in Europe, placing Germany’s new coalition government under pressure to firefight multiple crises.

Perhaps the largest of these is the energy crisis, which has prompted fears of gas shortages in the winter months and seen prices for fossil fuels soar for both households and businesses.

According to Economics and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, the staff at his ministry – who are charged with tackling the energy crisis – are struggling to cope with the extraordinary pressure that they have been under in recent months. 

“People, at some point they have to sleep and eat too,” the Green politician said at a congress of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) in Berlin. “It’s not bullshit I’m talking now: people get sick. They have burnout, they get tinnitus. They can’t take it anymore.”

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In the last nine months alone, the Economics Ministry has produced 20 laws and 28 ordinances, Habeck revealed. He said this was likely more than the ministry produced over the entirety of the previous four-year legislature. 

Highlighting the strain that his staff were under, Habeck explained that it was always the same people in charge in drafting new laws in the battle to secure the energy supply.

To say that the Tourism Ministry could help restructure the electricity market would be like “telling the artist who made the sculptures that he can be the president of the Federation of German Industries,” the Green politician added. 

Batting off criticism that the ministry had occasionally been slow to act, Habeck said: “Of course you could say, ‘why didn’t you do the regulation a week earlier’. But it’s not because people are sleeping, it’s because there is a limit to their physical capacity.”

Gas levy criticism 

Germany has had to cope with an ever intensifying energy emergency over the past few months, culminating in Russia reducing supplies and then turning off gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline entirely in September. 

Most recently, the government took steps to nationalise its largest gas supplier – Uniper – in a move to prevent the collapse of the country’s energy infrastructure. Uniper has suffered losses of billions of euros this year due to the costs involved in replacing cheap Russian gas supplies at short notice. 

Habeck, who has appeared increasingly world-weary and exhausted in recent months, has faced sharp criticism for a number of decisions made during the crisis. 

Most controversially, his decision to implement a gas levy to bail out major energy companies has been met with consternation from both the opposition and the Greens’ coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD). 

On Friday, SPD leader Lars Klingbeil reiterated concerns about the fairness of the gas levy at a time when many are struggling to pay their energy bills.

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil speaks to the press during the ARD Summer Interview in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

In a situation where the government is facing multiple decisions in a short space of time, ministers also require the strength to “reconsider and correct their path”, Klingbeil told RND.

“(The gas levy) is about supporting the gas supply infrastructure,” he added. “However, this must be done fairly.”

In spite of the nationalisation of Uniper, Habeck has confirmed that the gas levy – which adds 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour of energy onto gas bills – will still be introduced on October 1st.

However, on Thursday he announced that there would be changes to Energy Security Act to ensure that only companies who needed the bailout would benefit from the levy.

According to the ministry, the changes are set to be passed by the cabinet on September 28th.

READ ALSO: Germany to push ahead with gas levy plans

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