Despite the pandemic, the AfD wants to hold its party conference this weekend as an attendance meeting. Will the 600 delegates adhere to the hygiene rules?
Opposes the corona rules: the AfD parliamentary group in the Bundestag Photo: Fritz Engel/archiv agentur zenit
Wunderland Kalkar is a pretty special place. On the site of a nuclear power plant that never went into operation – the "fast breeder reactor" – on the Lower Rhine in North Rhine-Westphalia, a Dutch investor built a convention center complete with amusement park in the 1990s. Outside the cooling tower is now a climbing wall, inside a huge chain carousel. Both, like the amusement park as a whole, are currently closed for corona reasons; they are advertising a "drive-in Christmas market" in December.
Even before that, next weekend, an event will take place in two of the congress halls that is also likely to be quite special. Here, in the middle of the corona-induced lockdown light, the AfD will hold a presence federal party conference, to which up to 600 delegates and 150 journalists are expected.
In one of the halls will be stage, delegates and television cameras, in the second the workplaces for traveled journalists. However, many of them – including those from the taz – are considering not going to Kalkar because of the health risk, and instead reporting with the help of a livestream.
The city has allowed the meeting in consultation with the state’s Ministry of Health because of the special position of parties. To prevent the whole thing from turning into a superspreader event, it has prescribed comprehensive hygiene rules. It will be interesting to see whether the AfD members, many of whom do not miss any opportunity to polemicize against the protective measures or to undermine them, will adhere to the regulations.
Meuthen wants to kick out mask refusers
Currently, this also includes a mask requirement in the square. The AfD has filed a lawsuit against this before the Munster Higher Administrative Court. "If we fail with the lawsuit, we will enforce the mask requirement," party leader Jorg Meuthen told the taz. "If someone stubbornly refuses to comply with the hygiene regulations, we will have to kick him out." So, in addition to the usual internal party conflicts, the AfD could be in for some very special confrontations.
Anyone who "stubbornly" breaks the Corona requirements must expect to be kicked out, Meuthen said.
At the same time, the mood in the party is not the best at the moment anyway. The poll results are poor, the entire party is threatened with observation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and the power struggle over the expulsion of right-wing extremist and former Brandenburg state leader Andreas Kalbitz has deeply divided the AfD and dramatically complicated cooperation at the party leadership.
In terms of content, the party conference, which was originally scheduled to take place in April, is to focus primarily on social policy. The AfD wants to agree on a pension concept for the first time. There had been heated arguments about this in the run-up to the conference – the ideas were far apart.
Party leader Meuthen had proposed abolishing the statutory pension insurance, which is financed by contributions from employers and employees, and replacing it with a tax-financed minimum pension – which large sections of the party did not think was a good idea.
Pension supplement only for Germans, says the "wing
In contrast, the "wing," represented by Bjorn Hocke and Jurgen Pohl, a member of the Thuringian Bundestag, spoke of "social patriotism," meaning more state welfare, with a folk underpinning. According to their ideas, there should be a pension supplement only for Germans under certain circumstances.
In tough debates, a leading proposal has emerged, on which the party congress is now to vote. It is a compromise that is intended above all to prevent a battle vote between two fundamentally different concepts – and in which party leader Meuthen would probably have suffered a bitter defeat.
For his basic position, there is now only a place in the rather non-binding "Outlook" section. The main proposal is much closer to the ideas of Hocke, Pohl and Co. Although the proposal no longer includes the nationally based pension supplement, the state is now to invest 100 euros a month in a savings account for children – but only for those with German citizenship.
Overall, the motion consists of a hodgepodge of measures, some of which are already known from other parties. According to the main proposal, politicians, some civil servants and some self-employed people should also pay into the statutory pension scheme in the future. In addition, only 25 percent of the pension is to be counted toward a possible basic security claim. This is remarkable, because it means that pensioners would still receive supplementary basic benefits even if they received a pension of around 1,200 euros.
Lead proposal as compromise attempt
Although one hears everywhere in the party, one assumes that the guidance request comes through. But there are 42 amendments, some of which want to wipe the compromise paper off the table altogether and replace it with their own pension model. One of these counter-models has been tabled by, of all people, the Federal Expert Committee 11, the party committee responsible for pensions, labor and social policy, of which Meuthen is also a member.
The concept proposed is quite close to the party leader’s original ideas. So is he planning a new attempt through the back door? "I support the main motion," Meuthen says when asked. But he also says: "The BFA 11 motion is very reform-oriented. It’s good that it’s being brought in." Not everyone, however, sees it that way.
For the AfD leader, who emphasizes that he is going into this party conference "completely relaxed," things could get uncomfortable this weekend even beyond social policy. A motion under the abbreviation "SN-3" attacks him head-on. "The federal party conference disapproves of the divisive behavior of federal spokesman Jorg Meuthen and his party supporters," it says.
The motion goes on to say that it should be established "that the fall in voters’ favor is causally linked precisely to this". That would then probably equal a party-damaging behavior, which is a reason for a party exclusion procedure.
Parts of the party attack Meuthen head-on
The motion was introduced by the Freiburg district executive committee, which includes Dubravko Mandic, a bitter opponent of Meuthen. Despite various right-wing extremist outbursts, the Baden-Wurttemberg state executive recently decided not to expel Mandic from the party. The man may be a marginal figure in the AfD, but resentment against Meuthen over Kalbitz’s expulsion is much more widespread in the AfD than just in Mandic’s circles.
This could also become clear in another agenda item: If it under agenda point 11 around by-elections for the federal executive committee concerns, where two, possibly also three positions are again to be occupied. On the one hand a successor for the Federal Treasurer Klaus Fohrmann resigned in January is looked for, for this post its present deputy Carsten Hutter from Saxonia is traded. If Hutter moves up, in addition a new deputy would have to be selected.
The Beisitzerposten, which Kalbitz held up to its expulsion, must be occupied surely again. The lawyer Maximilian Krah, a radical right-wing Catholic from Saxony who sits in the European Parliament for the AfD, wants to run for this position. Krah is considered to be close to the "wing," but emphasizes that he has never belonged to the group around Hocke and Kalbitz.
He neither signed the Erfurt Declaration nor was he ever on the Kyffhauser, Krah told the taz. And, "I can be placed in all camps of the party." According to Krah, he wants to reunite the deeply divided national executive committee. Apparently not everyone in the party trusts him to do that. It is expected with Gegenkandidaturen.