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Germany: CDU Chief Backtracks on Far-Right Local Cooperation

The leader of Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) said on Sunday that he was open to working with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in local governments.

If an AfD mayor is elected in a town or municipality, then “it’s natural that we have to look for ways to ensure that we can continue to work together in the city,” Friedrich Merz told the public-service ZDF television channel.

However, Merz’s comments soon drew fire for implying that the CDU would cooperate with the AfD, which would violate the conservative party’s doctrine that rejects working with the far-right.

Markus Söder, who leads the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), tweeted Monday morning that he rejects any cooperation with the AfD, at any level.

“The AfD is anti-democratic, extreme right-wing and divides our society. That is not compatible with our values,” Söder said.

On Monday, Merz tried to walk back his interview comments on Twitter.

“To make it clear once more, and I’ve never said it differently: CDU resolutions apply. There will be no cooperation with the AfD, also at the municipal level,” he tweeted. 

AfD making voter gains 

Merz’s interview comments reflect a rightward shift in the position of his historically center-right party, which is that of former Chancellor Angela Merkel.

At a meeting last week with the CSU, Merz already raised some eyebrows by describing the CDU/CSU conservative bloc as the “Alternative for Germany — with substance.”

His comments come as the anti-immigration AfD continues to make gains in voter surveys, with a recent poll showing it had 22% support, just behind Merz’s conservatives and ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD).

Merz also said Sunday that the CDU wants to “win back” voters who have shifted to the AfD

What else did Merz say?

“It goes without saying that we are obliged to accept the results of democratic elections,” Merz added, referring to recent local polls where the AfD saw its first mayor elected as well as taking charge of a district council.

Merz did reiterate that his party would not form a coalition with the AfD, but only with regard to “legislative bodies” and “government formations.”

Fellow CDU party member and parliamentarian Marko Wanderwitz recently called for the AfD to be banned as an extremist party.

But Merz said Wanderwitz’s comments on banning all cooperation with the AfD were “an individual opinion in the parliamentary party group, which we do not share.”

“Party bans have never led to solving a political problem,” he said.

What is the AfD?

The AfD was formed as an anti-euro party some 10 years ago but has since moved to the extreme right of the political spectrum.

In March 2021, it was classified as a right-wing extremist party by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, a classification confirmed by a German administrative court in March 2022.

In recent months, the AfD has capitalized on dissatisfaction in some segments of German society with the current government coalition, made up of the center-left SPD, the environmentalist Greens and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP).

That discontent has been largely driven by rising prices and fears that measures proposed by the government to combat climate change could disproportionately burden the poorest in society.

In an Insa poll published on Sunday by the mass-circulation Bild newspaper, the AfD received record 22% support, only four points behind the conservatives.

Bild has been accused of contributing to garnering support for the AfD with a recent campaign — often employing what critics say are misleading information — against the government’s plans for introducing more sustainable heating systems on a large scale.

The AfD has vigorously opposed the proposed heating bill, saying that those on low incomes will be unable to afford the environmentally friendlier systems.

Source : DW