Far-right AfD politician kicked out of German parliamentary committee

Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Stephan Brandner has been voted out as Chairman of the Legal Committee in the Bundestag - the first such incident in parliamentary history.

Far-right AfD politician kicked out of German parliamentary committee
Stephan Brandner listening to statements following the vote to remove him as committee chairman. Photo: DPA

The vote came after Brandner had ignored calls for his resignation following a series of controversial Tweets he had made.

It marked the first time in the Bundestag’s 70 year history that a committee chairman had been voted out. 

READ ALSO: 'Tearing itself apart': New rift in far-right AfD ahead of east German polls

Among other things, Brandner had retweeted a statement asking why politicians were “hanging around” mosques and synagogues in Halle following a terrorist attack last month, when the two victims had been “Bio-Deutsche” (organic Germans) who liked to listen to “Volksmusik.” 

It ignored the fact that the attack had originally been aimed at a synagogue.

The decision was made by the Christian Democrats and their Christian Social Union sister party, as well as the Social Democrats (SPD), Free Democrats, Greens, and die Linke (Left) at their Wednesday morning meeting.  

Brandner's former deputy Heribert Hirte (CDU) has now taken over the chairmanship. While the AfD is entitled to head the Legal Affairs Committee, the party has decided not to propose a new committee chairman for the time being. 

Brandner was “not suitable,” said Marco Buschmann, an FDP member of the legal committee.

After Brandner called his dismal unlawful, Buschmann said that dismissal was the first in 70 years of parliamentary history, but it was “undisputed.”

“The dismissal of Brandner is a clear signal against hate and agitation – we are finally giving the office back its dignity,” said Jan-Marco Luczak, deputy spokesman for legal policy for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group

Before the decisive meeting, Brandner called himself victim of the “Altparteien” (old parties) – a derogatory term used by the AfD for all political parties except their own.

Brandner had rejected resignation

AfD faction leader Alexander Gauland – himself not a stranger to controversial statements – accused his colleagues of spreading “untruths” about Brandner following the vote.

The other parties had “embarrassed themselves” because they “wanted him away,” he added.

READ ALSO: German politicians accuse AfD chief of echoing Hitler

After the controversial tweets he made about Halle, MPs from all factions except AfD had declared Brandner unacceptable and demanded his resignation, which he rejected. 

They then decided to vote him out, after the Geschäftsordnungsausschuss (Committee of Procedure of the Bundestag) gave the green light that such a process was permissible.

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Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne