Germany’s conservative opposition leader said Tuesday that large-scale migration is one of the country’s biggest problems and the main reason for a recent surge in support for the far right.
But Friedrich Merz ruled out cooperating at the state or national level with the Alternative for Germany party that has overtaken his center-right Christian Democratic Union in polls for three state elections in the east next year — to the alarm of mainstream politicians. One senior security official, who is Jewish, told The Associated Press that he would leave the country if the far-right party, known by its German acronym AfD, comes to power in a state election.
“The refugee issue will remain the main topic in our society in the coming weeks and months, maybe even in the next years, and that’s why I’m so interested in finding a solution,” Merz said at a news conference with foreign reporters in Berlin.
“The sooner the problem is solved, the sooner this party (AfD) will get smaller again,” he said, claiming that much of its support comes from protest voters.
“It’s not radical right-wing, national-socialist conviction but rather it’s two-thirds protest,” Merz said of recent poll numbers, which put AfD’s nationwide support at 20%. “And these two thirds can be won back by other political parties.”
The conservative leader came under fire recently for declaring the environmentalist Greens the “main enemy” in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party government, despite being allied with them in six of Germany’s 16 states. Merz’s comments came shortly after an AfD candidate beat his party to win its first county commissioner post, prompting questions about his political priorities.
Merz insisted Tuesday that his targeting of the Greens should be viewed as part of the normal battle among democratic parties that he said AfD is not part of.
“A large part of (AfD) is outside the spectrum of our constitutional order,” he said, noting that they are under surveillance by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. “They are enemies of our democracy.”
Merz said his Union bloc is willing to cooperate with the Greens in state and national legislatures and that is not an option with AfD. Yet he left open the possibility that Christian Democrats might vote with the far right at the town or county level, noting that the recent local election victories for AfD were “democratic decisions that we have to accept.”
Some grassroots members of the Christian Democrats have questioned whether there should be a firewall between their party and the far right. German news agency dpa reported Tuesday that an arbitration panel rejected efforts by party leaders to expell Hans-Georg Maassen, a former head of the BfV spy agency, for tweets about “eliminatory racism against whites.”
Merz bristled when asked whether German conservatives had learned lessons from the past, such as the actions of his own grandfather, who as mayor of the western town of Brilon cooperated with the Nazis after Adolf Hitler seized power in 1933.
Such comparisons were inappropriate, the 67-year-old said: “The demarcation (between the Christian Democrats and AfD) is so clear and obvious that there can be no doubt at any point.”
He acknowledged that Germany has a “special responsibility” when it comes to assessing political parties due to its Nazi history, but said he would refrain from commenting on the situation in countries such as Sweden and Spain, where the strength of right-wing populists has created a dilemma for mainstream conservatives.
“I certainly won’t publicly lecture other countries in Europe about what they should or shouldn’t do,” he said.
Merz backed calls by fellow German conservative Manfred Weber to cooperate with Italian post-fascist leader Giorgia Meloni in finding a way to curb migration to Europe, yet refused to let her party join the center-right EPP bloc in the European Parliament for now.
“We need to wait and see how things develop in the coming years,” he said. “She is pursuing very pro-European policies. She supports NATO without ifs and buts. And if that continues then one can certainly talk more with (her party).”
Merz also said he was “completely OK” with the estimated 1 million Ukrainians who have fled to Germany since Russia’s invasion, but said Europe needs to limit immigration from outside the continent and rejected the idea that unskilled migrants can help plug his country’s looming labor shortages.
About 244,000 people applied for asylum in Germany last year, an increase of almost 28% from 2021, according to official statistics.
Merz said he hoped to convince “reasonable sections” of the Greens — with whom he also had fierce differences over climate and energy policies — to change course on migration, noting that AfD saw a similar spike in support five years ago after Germany experienced an influx of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan under the government of his party’s former leader, Angela Merkel.
“That must not happen again,” he said.
Source : AP