A regional AfD leader is pushing for a meeting with France’s far-right National Front. He’s being met with criticism, including from his own ranks. How different are the two parties really?
"The party leaders from the AfD and the National Front should meet to exchange ideas and see where they have things in common," the AfD's regional head from the state of Thuringia, Björn Höcke, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). National Front leader Marine Le Pen welcomed the suggestion in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro. But other AfD members, including party leader Frauke Petry, are less enthusiastic. What do the two parties really have in common? DW compares their positions on key issues:
Immigration and integration
"Like the AfD, the National Front works to oppose further foreign infiltration and to maintain the identity of European nations," Höcke said in an interview with the Sunday edition of the FAZ. When it comes to refugee policy, the two parties have much in common. They want the reintroduction of border controls and reject regulations that allow family members to join refugees already in France or Germany. Both parties only want skilled immigrants in order to strengthen the national economy. They also have zero tolerance for foreigners who've committed crimes, advocating for their immediate deportation. The National Front also wants French nationals to receive preferential treatment when looking for jobs or receiving social benefits.
Position on Islam
"The AfD clearly opposes the practice of the Islamic faith, which runs counter to the Judeo-Christian and humanistic foundations of our culture," reads the part of the AfD's party manifesto titled "Islam does not belong to Germany." The National Front sees Islam similarly, even going a step further in its party program. It says mass immigration is to blame for the "increasingly evident Islamization of France."
Europe and the EU
Euro-skeptic? Yes. EU exit? Not necessarily. The AfD wants greater authority to be given back to the individual EU states. If that doesn't work, it would advise either leaving the EU, or creating a new European economic community. A referendum should be held on the issue of the common currency.
The National Front is clearly in favor of leaving the EU and forming a pan-European Union that includes Switzerland and Russia. It wants to bring back the franc as France's national currency.
Around the middle of last year, AfD leader Frauke Petry told Germany's Die Zeit newspaper that the AfD has nothing in common with the National Front. Her party, she argued, stands for "more freedom and individual responsibility, instead of more state control and further reallocation." Deputy AfD leader Beatrix von Storch has even said that she thinks Le Pen's party is too socialist. It's true that the National Front is campaigning for retirement at age 60. It is also for greater measures to protect the French national economy, such as the nationalization of banks and certain industrial sectors, as well as the introduction of duties to protect French agriculture and industry. Generally, the National Front favors much greater state intervention in the economy than the AfD does.
However, the parties' economic programs share several aspects that Petry cannot ignore: Both parties are against TTIP and tax privileges for international corporations. Both are champions of the middle class. Both even agree that sanctions against Russia should be lifted. According to information published by German magazine, Der Spiegel, the AfD's youth organization is entering an alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin's "Young Guard."
It's no secret that the National Front enjoys close ties with Russia: Moscow is believed to have supported the party's campaign with a donation in the double-digit millions.
The more moderate wing of the AfD may find the National Front to be too radical. And it's true that the French far-right party holds more extreme views than the AfD on issues such as leaving the EU and NATO. However, there is more that unites the two parties than divides them, and they appear to be moving closer together.
Since its party convention in early May, the AfD has moved further to the right by including anti-Islam rhetoric in its first-ever manifesto.
Under Marine Le Pen, the National Front is trying to appear more mainstream by distancing itself from the far-right and the anti-Semitic views of her father, former party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Marine Le Pen, now preparing her campaign for next year's French presidential election, needs all the support she can get in the wake of the party's defeat in December's regional elections. And she can already count on support from Marcus Pretzell, who in addition to being an AfD member of the European parliament also happens to be in a relationship with Frauke Petry. He recently joined the right-wing euro-skeptic European Alliance for Freedom's parliamentary group, of which Le Pen is also a member.