Co-leader quits Germany’s far-right AfD party

The co-leader of Germany's anti-immigrant AfD party, Joerg Meuthen, announced Friday he was quitting the party, accusing it of drifting too far to the right and displaying "totalitarian" leanings.

Dr. Jörg Meuthen
Prof. Dr. Jörg Meuthen, former co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AfD - Alternative für Deutschland | Alternative für Deutschland

“The party’s heart beats very far to the right today,” the 60-year-old told broadcaster ARD in an interview, saying he had failed to find middle ground with the party’s extremist faction.

Meuthen, seen as one of the more moderate voices in the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), already said late last year that he would give up his role as the party’s federal spokesman, following a disappointing election result and bitter internal divisions.

But he has now decided to leave the party altogether.

Meuthen, AfD co-leader since 2015, has long been locked in a power struggle with heavyweight party hardliners, including co-leader Tino Chrupalla, parliamentary leader Alice Weidel and the head of the AfD in Thuringia state, Bjoern Höcke.

“They will be really happy that Meuthen is finally gone,” Meuthen told ARD. “They worked on that for a long time.”

Some in the AfD have become far removed from “the basic order of freedom and democracy”, Meuthen went on, and showed “clear totalitarian leanings”.

Meuthen however said he would stay on as a member of the European Parliament.

Founded in 2013 as a eurosceptic outfit, the AfD seized on popular anger over an influx of refugees in 2015-2016 to reinvent itself as an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party.

It has repeatedly courted controversy by urging Germans to stop atoning for World War II atrocities. Höcke once called for a “180 degree reversal” of the country’s remembrance culture.


The AfD stunned the political establishment when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote in the 2017 general election, entering parliament for the first time.

But support for the party slipped to around 10 percent in last year’s election, as the country reeled from the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about migration waned.

The AfD has since sought to court critics of the government’s coronavirus measures, with leading figures joining demonstrations that have attracted a mix of neo-Nazis, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.

AfD lawmakers have been admonished in parliament for not wearing their face masks properly and the party is a vocal opponent of government plans to introduce a vaccine mandate.

Meuthen said something “cult-like” had developed around the AfD’s coronavirus attitudes.

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Germany’s Scholz to meet Brazil’s Lula on Latin American tour

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz begins a Latin American tour on Saturday, during which he will become the first Western leader to meet Brazilian President Lula since the latter's inauguration.

Germany's Scholz to meet Brazil's Lula on Latin American tour

Accompanied by a delegation of business leaders, Scholz will visit Argentina, then Chile, before heading to Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy.

All three countries are rich in natural resources and “very interesting partners” for Europe’s top economy, a government source in Berlin said.

The visit comes as German business seeks new opportunities overseas following the economic shock caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as concerns grow about a heavy reliance on China.

Scholz will meet Argentine President Alberto Fernandez when he arrives in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

But the Brazilian leg of the trip will be most closely watched.

Germany, and more broadly the European Union, are seeking to reset relations now that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is in power, following the divisive administration of far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

EU-Mercosur deal

One key topic of discussion will be a trade deal between the EU and trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Although a deal was reached in 2019 following 20 years of talks, it has not yet been ratified, and has faced a wave of criticism in Europe, particularly among the agriculture and ecological sectors.

This week however, Lula signalled a renewed focus on finalising the accord, saying it was “urgent and extremely important” to reach agreement.

Ahead of the trip, Germany’s powerful machine tool makers’ federation called for the deal “to finally be implemented after years of going nowhere”.

“Time is pressing,” it said.

Germany will also be trying to ensure it does not lose ground to China, which is increasingly becoming a trade rival for European powers and the United States in Latin America.

Protecting forests

The environment will be high on the agenda when Scholz visits Brazil. After Lula’s election victory in October, Berlin said it was ready to resume payments to a fund that aims to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Germany, along with the fund’s biggest donor Norway, had halted payments after deforestation surged under climate-sceptic Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro’s administration caused “a rupture in Brazilian environmental policy and closed the doors of environmental diplomacy”, said Roberto Goulart Menezes, of the institute of international relations at the University of Brasilia. “Lula’s government, on the contrary, is resuming this agenda and placing it among its priorities.”

As Russia’s war against Ukraine grinds on, Germany will seek to use the Latin American tour to drum up further international support against Moscow, the Berlin government source said.

Argentina, Chile and Brazil have criticised the invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations but have not adopted sanctions against Moscow.

Lula caused shock last year when he said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “as responsible as” Russian President Vladimir Putin for the conflict.

“We will underline that the contours of peace are relatively simple — that Russia leaves a territory where it has no business,” the German source said.