Germany’s rightwing populist Alternative for Germany party is expected to back an anti-Islamic manifesto at a party conference this weekend, that could include a ban on minarets and the Muslim call to prayer.
AfD, which has seen support soar during the refugee crisis, plans to build on its recent regional election successes to campaign in next year’s Bundestag elections and become the first rightwing party since the second world war to secure parliamentary seats.
Party leaders want to broaden its appeal by tapping a range of conservative themes, including support for German culture and the traditional family, and hostility to the EU and the euro. But they recognise their rise in the polls — from under 5 per cent last summer to 13 per cent — is largely driven by public anxiety about the influx of around 1m refugees, mostly Muslims.
The 1,700 pages of manifesto proposals include many lines devoted to the perceived threat of Islam, which one party official has condemned as a “political ideology that is incompatible with the German constitution”.
However, with party leader Frauke Petry fighting to control splits between moderate and radical wings, stamp out instances of AfD members co-operating with neo-Nazis, and generally impose discipline the party may struggle to agree a coherent programme. To add to the tension, the 2,000 members gathering on Saturday and Sunday in the Stuttgart exhibition centre, in south-west Germany, will be confronted by anti-Afd protesters.
In a radio interview on Friday, Ms Petry tried to present a reasonable approach, calling for clear rules under which immigrants and the native-born could live together. She said: “We believe that living next to each other, living peacefully next to each other, with citizens from the whole world is possible, but we must, in our country, establish the rules and laws for this and take care that they are kept.”
But she distinguished between the rights of Muslims and others to a personal faith and what she saw as the expansion of Islam in Europe, with the minaret and the call to prayer as its public symbols. She said: “In contrast to a gold chain with a cross around somebody’s neck, these symbols are a sign that Islam is trying to increasingly expand in Europe.”
However, Ms Petry also disclosed that she was accepting an invitation for talks with the Central Muslim Council, Germany’s top Muslim organisation.
Separately, she insisted that “there was no equality between gay marriage and marriage”, even if tax equality was negotiable. However, her defence of traditional family values, will sound hollow to some more socially conservative AfD members who are upset that Ms Petry, the mother of four young children, last year left her husband to live with Marcus Pretzell, the party’s chief, in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Ms Petry emerged as de facto party leader last summer after a bruising battle with AfD founder Bernd Lucke. She stood as an anti-immigration right winger against the more moderate Mr Lucke, relying on support in eastern Germany where she was born and where the AfD is strongest.
However, she has since moderated her approach and risks being outflanked by other east German rightwingers, notably Björn Höcke, the firebrand party leader in Thuringia. The party last year tried — and failed — to discipline Mr Höcke over racist remarks about Africans and for his self-avowed far-right links.
Meanwhile, some AfD moderates argue that Ms Petry herself is too radical, notably after remarks earlier this year in which she suggested the police could, in extremis, shoot refugees to stop them entering Germany.
The personal tensions and splits over how to play the immigration issue are compounded by serious divisions over economic policy. Moderates are mostly economic liberals, seeking low taxes, a small state and reduced government interference. They have demanded an end to the legal minimum wage. But radicals are increasingly drawn to socialist policies, including more government support for the unemployed and the low-paid, and support for the minimum wage.
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