Auteur: Peter Teffer
The leadership of the third-largest group in the European Parliament has asked the German members of anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) to leave the group, but they have no intention of doing so.
The Bureau of the European Conservatives & Reformists group (ECR) met in Strasbourg on Tuesday (8 March) to discuss the future of AfD.
Dutch ECR member Peter van Dalen told this website that the debate had been triggered by recent incidents including comments made by AfD members about the use of firearms to prevent migrants crossing the border, and a meeting in Dusseldorf between leading members of AfD and the populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).
The far-right FPO sits in a different European Parliament alongside French members of Front National.
“The meeting with FPO, caught on video, was very shocking to several members,” said Van Dalen, calling it a “game-changer”.
He said the comments about when to use firearms against refugees were “inhumane”.
Following the AfD-FPO meeting, Van Dalen's group released a statement saying: “This evening a spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, said: 'The ECR Bureau met this evening and has invited the AfD to leave the ECR Group before 31 March, otherwise a motion will be tabled to expel them at its next meeting on 12 April.'”
Plot ahead of elections?
“Angela Merkel wants to damage AfD before our election,” she said.
She claimed that the British Conservatives, whose MEPs make up almost 27 percent of the group, were instructed to organise the affair by their leader, prime minister David Cameron, because he needed Merkel's support in talks over the UK's renegotiation of its membership.
“David Cameron needs the help of Angela Merkel, and he obviously does not want to have real reformists in his group. He would rather stick with [Merkel's] CDU, and our British delegation is playing that game.”
Von Storch said the controversial comments and the Dusseldorf meeting are not the real reasons, because her party had already explained them in the past weeks.
“If this was the real reason, why wait until five days ahead of the election,” she asked.
She insisted that her party still had the backing of the majority of the group.
“We have realised that there is no majority to expel us from the group. If there was a majority, we would have had a vote yesterday [Tuesday] night,” she said.
Another ECR source however said that there had not been a vote because MEPs wanted more time to reflect on whether or not to expel the two German members.
Leave, or be voted out
Van Dalen disputed Von Storch's account, denying that there was a Cameron-Merkel deal behind the move.
“This originates entirely from within the ECR,” he said.
He said if Von Storch and the other AfD member, Marcus Pretzell, would not leave the group voluntarily, he would present a motion on 12 April to expel them, adding: “That motion is definitely going to pass.”
Group leader Syed Kamall, a Conservative MEP, declined to comment on Wednesday. He referred questions to the group's spokesman James Holtum, who said the Cameron-Merkel theory was “completely not true”.
Meanwhile, Von Storch said she and Pretzell had no intention of leaving the group.
She said: “Why should we leave? Because Peter van Dalen doesn't feel well?”
The row highlights the substantial differences in the ECR, a group with one of the least cohesive voting patterns.
Van Dalen is a member of a Dutch Christian party that is more left-wing on social affairs than many of the other parties in ECR.
The AfD itself has already lost some of its MEPs after a split. The party entered the European Parliament with seven members, but five of them have since started their own party because they felt the AfD had become too extreme in its views on migration.
However, Von Storch said she still expected her party to do well in Sunday's elections.
"People back in Germany don't know so much about the groups within the European Parliament," she said.