Frauke Petry was yesterday elected undisputed leader of Germany’s eurosceptic party, Alternative for Germany (AfD). Winning 68 per cent of the vote of 3,500 members present at the AfD extraordinary congress in Essen she replaces the AfD co-founder and frontman, economics professor Bernd Lucke, signalling a possible shift in focus to immigration from its anti-euro origins.
Petry headed a conservative faction within the AfD, a party founded in 2013 by neo-liberal Lucke with the support of middle-class euro opponents. The Independent reports last September’s east German state elections saw Petry and her allies on the right of the party campaign on an anti-immigration, and “more children for German families”, platform.
After the party enjoyed some electoral success in that campaign a months-long power struggle broke out. On one side were Petry’s conservative supporters, on the other Lucke’s who want to keep opposition to the Euro as the central policy.
The rise of the “Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West” (PEGIDA) movement exacerbated this. Lucke called on the AfD to distance itself from PEGIDA for fear of alienating middle-class members and voters, but Petry met PEGIDA supporters and opposed a ban on contacts with the group.
AFP reports that Petry, a businesswoman and mother of four married to a Protestant vicar, told yesterday’s congress she wants to address all issues “without taboos” that are of concern to citizens, including immigration. She enjoyed the support of delegates when highlighting: “massive integration problems linked to the fact that a religion like Islam conveys a vision of the state that is totally foreign to that which we know in Europe”.
“We must end the confrontations,” Petry said after winning, adding: “It’s not a victory of conservatives over liberals. It’s only together that we are strong and it’s together that we can change politics.”
She told Lucke: “You remain the figurehead of the first AfD to be founded.”
Lucke said he was “obviously disappointed but also relieved” to be free of the weight of the party leadership and declined immediate comment on his future. He accepted that he had lost the AfD.
Before yesterday’s vote Spiegel news weekly published comments from Alexander Gauland, head of the AfD in eastern Brandenburg state, criticising Lucke for wanting “almost exclusively” to concentrate on criticism of the euro, warning “that is not enough to survive politically.” He continued:
“He wants to exclude all the topics that have led us to success in the regional elections — many people’s fears faced with a growing number of refugees, border crime, multicultural society.”
After coming close to entering the German parliament soon after its founding in 2013, AfD won seats in last year’s European Parliament elections where it sits in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group alongside British MEPs. It then won representation in five German state assemblies after widening its appeal with populist positions on law and order, immigration and traditional social values.