Far-right Alternative for Germany reports surge in membership

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By Sarah Marsh

ESSEN, Germany (Reuters) -Leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany on Saturday reported a surge in membership and vowed to build on the party’s success in the European Parliament election, as they target wins in three state votes in the east this year.

The AfD jumped to second place in nationwide polls last year amid frustration with infighting in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition, worries over sluggish growth in Europe’s largest economy, and concerns over the impact of the war in Ukraine.

While a string of scandals and anti-extremism protests has dampened the AfD’s support in recent months, the nationalist, eurosceptic party nonetheless came second with 15.9% in the European vote this month, ahead of the three parties in Scholz’s coalition.

AfD membership had grown by 60% to 46,881 members since January 2023, co-chief Tino Chrupalla told nearly 600 delegates at a party convention in the western city of Essen. Some 22,000 people had joined while 4,000 had left.

“Despite all the harassment you have to endure as a member of the AfD, this is an absolutely sensational figure,” Chrupalla told the convention.

The figure is still a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of members boasted by the “big tent” parties in Germany, Scholz’s Social Democrats and the opposition conservatives.

The congress was held despite resistance from city authorities – marked by the rainbow and EU flags flying on flagpoles outside the convention centre – and protesters who sought to prevent AfD delegates from making it there.

Two riot police officers who had been escorting a politician were seriously injured after protesters kicked them in the head after they fell to the ground and had to be hospitalised, police reported. A further seven officers were also injured.

‘WE ARE HERE TO STAY’

“Melt the AfD snowball before it becomes an avalanche” and “AfD = Despiser of mankind” read some of the signs that protesters carried at an anti-AfD march through the city.

The interior ministry estimated some 20,000 people participated in the demonstration, state broadcaster ZDF said.

The party congress will run until Sunday, the same day neighbouring France holds the first round of a snap parliamentary election that could bring the far right to power.

“We will not be intimidated,” said co-chief Alice Weidel. “We are here and we are here to stay.”

The AfD is on track to come first in elections in the eastern states of Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg in September, according to polls, which will likely further complicate governance there as other parties refuse to form a coalition with it.

© Reuters. Demonstrators protest against AfD, Essen, June 29, 2024. REUTERS/Christian Mang

In discussing the party’s policy platform, Weidel said AfD’s future allies in the European Parliament should oppose the disbursal of taxpayer money to the “debt states” of Europe – a reference to countries such as Italy and Greece – and the idea that Ukraine belongs to the European Union, after it opened membership talks this week.

The AfD is on course to form a new political group in the European Parliament – a move which would require 23 MEPs from at least seven EU countries – after being expelled from the Identity and Democracy grouping last month, Weidel said.

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