German anti-euro party fails to profit from Greek turmoil

2nd July 2015, Comments 0 comments

Greece's debt crisis should have been a boon for Germany's anti-euro party, but instead the group has failed to reap gains as it heads into a weekend congress and, say some, may even fall apart.

The fledgling Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been riven by a months-long power struggle between Bernd Lucke, its economic neo-liberal leader and founder, and Frauke Petry, who heads a nationalist conservative faction.

Analysts have even predicted that the AfD, which has grown to 23,000 members since it was founded just over two years ago, could implode.

Rivalries could come to a head at a party congress in the northwestern city of Essen, which starts on Saturday after an earlier postponement caused by internal divisions.

Not so long ago, the AfD was viewed as a possible threat to Chancellor Angela Merkel, luring voters on the right fringes of her conservative party.

Lucke returned to the anti-euro rhetoric of the party's heyday this week, pounding away at Merkel over the Greek debt crisis, which could leave German taxpapers on the hook for tens of billions of euros of unpaid loans.

"The heavy responsibility of this enormous disaster lies with nobody but Mrs Merkel ... Madame Chancellor, I call on you to resign!" he told reporters on Monday.

But the message has been overshadowed by the internal squabbles. A journalist for Die Welt newspaper even drew an ironic parallel between the party's woes and the debacle in Greece itself.

"The lines of division within the party are entrenched," political scientist Sebastian Friedrich told reporters.

He said it was "very improbable" that the rival wings would stay together and implicitly admitted that the title of his recently-released book, "The Rise of the AfD," may soon be almost obsolete.

- Slanging match -

The AfD's main battle cry was for an orderly dissolution of the euro and a return to the deutschmark after the financial turbulence that nearly brought the eurozone to its knees.

It came close to entering the German parliament in 2013. Last year it won seats in the European Parliament, followed by representation in five German state assemblies, after it sought to widen its appeal by incorporating populist positions on law and order, immigration and traditional social values.

But its fortunes have plummeted amid the leadership clash -- Lucke, 52, is an economics professor whose statements often have a technical bent, while Petry, 40, uses phrases that are more hard hitting, touching on fears about immigration or security.

Towards the end of 2014, the AfD was approaching around 10 percent in opinion polls, but by mid-June it had dropped to about five percent.

The rivalry between Lucke and Petry, initially discreet, has descended into a public slanging match, with mutual recriminations.

The emergence late last year of the anti-Islam, anti-immigration PEGIDA movement brought hostilities to the fore. Petry supported talks with the group.

"I don't currently see any possibility of an end to this conflict if they continue to work together in the (party) leadership," Reiner Rohlje, a candidate for the party's executive board, told AFP.

"One of the camps will have to take the reins," said Rohlje, a businessman and Lucke supporter. "We have to focus on our political goals once more."

- Splinter party? -

The party newspaper has appealed for unity, urging members to ensure that the Essen conference is remembered as a moment when the party turned the page on internal squabbling and "declares war on the old parties".

Friedrich said he believed that if Lucke failed to see off his internal rivals this time "he will leave the party and set up another."

Lucke has come under attack from Petry as well as from a more hard-right populist faction.

He has already created an offshoot group within the AfD entitled "Wake Up Call 2015" to gather supporters.

© 2015 AFP

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