Saturday

27th May 2017

Deputy chair of German anti-euro party resigns

  • Hans-Olaf Henkel was elected to the European Parliament in May 2014, together with six other party members (Photo: European Parliament)

The deputy chairman of the German eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD) stepped down Thursday (23 April), officially over the leadership's handling of a scandal with one of its members.

In an interview with a German newspaper however, Hans-Olaf Henkel cited worries that “right-wing ideologues” are taking over the party.

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Henkel told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the AfD party leadership should clearly state that it will keep course with its original goals - to dissolve the eurozone and keep Germany an EU member - and not become an anti-immigration party.

If there is no such clarification, “then the AfD will fall. That is my firm conviction”, said Henkel, who is an MEP.

During its two-year history, the young political party has been struggling to define itself.

When Henkel was elected to the European Parliament in May 2014, together with six other party members, there was some internal debate over which political group to join.

Henkel ruled out working together with the UK Independence Party, which wants the UK to leave the EU altogether. The seven AfD MEPs became members of the more mildly eurosceptic centre-right ECR group, which features mainly members of the British and Polish conservative parties.

Another divisive issue for AfD is how to deal with Germany's anti-immigrant Pegida movement. The far-right protest movement which convenes every Monday evening in Dresden posed a dilemma for the party.

One of AfD's founders, Alexander Gauland, has called the party “natural allies of this movement”.

Henkel on the other hand has asked AfD members not to join the protests, because there might be “xenophobic or even racist connotations”.

Henkel's resignation statement - he will remain a party member - said he stepped down due to a scandal involving AfD member Marcus Pretzell.

Pretzell, leader of the party's regional branch in the state North-Rine Westphalia, has come under fire for allegedly giving false statements and for financial irregularities.

On Tuesday, the national party leadership gave him a “warning”, but, according to Henkel, they should have been much more firm with Pretzell, a fellow MEP.

“Had a politician from another party misled the public with false statements, as is the case here, we would have demanded the immediate withdrawal of this politician. And he would have long since resigned,” noted Henkel.

Next month, the German state of Bremen will have elections, which will show if the internal struggles have any effect on voters' behaviour. In February, the party did well at elections in Hamburg.

The party is represented in four of Germany's sixteen state parliaments and is polling around 5 percent.

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