The Alternative for Germany party has issued an irate response to threats of expulsion from the European Parliament group it belongs to with David Cameron. The AfD accused the British PM of needing German tax money.
The MEPs from Germany's populist Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) party face expulsion from its conservative alliance in the European Parliament that includes British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party.
Following a meeting on Tuesday evening, the European Conservative and Reformists Group (ECR) released a brief statement about its two AfD members Beatrix von Storch and Marcus Pretzell (pictured above), which read: "The ECR Bureau met this evening and has invited the AfD to leave the ECR Group before March 31, otherwise a motion will be tabled to expel them at its next meeting on April 12."
Though no reasons were given - and the ECR declined to comment further when asked by DW - unnamed sources from within the faction told various media outlets that von Storch's comments on allowing border guards to shoot refugees had turned members of the ECR against her.
Ashley Fox, leader of the British Conservative delegation in the ECR - whose 20 MEPs are thought to be backing the motion, declined to be interviewed about the AfD, but released a statement that read, "It has become clear that ourselves and the AfD are travelling in different political directions. Several of their recent comments and actions have put them at odds with our core values of individual freedom and respect and equitable treatment for all EU countries. For this reason we feel it best that we go our separate ways."
Strategic maneuver by Cameron and Merkel?
But von Storch and Pretzell apparently won't go quietly. In a scathing statement posted on her Facebook page, von Storch condemned the ECR meeting as a "farce." "It was only about damaging the AfD with an inconclusive discussion," the statement said. "Other German and British representatives presented themselves as lackeys of Merkel and Cameron."
The statement also said that the ECR had not actually voted to exclude them, but that a motion filed by one of the members had been removed from the agenda when it failed to get a majority.
The AfD sees the threat not as a stand against von Storch's statements, but as a cynical strategic move that would benefit what it called the "amok pair" - the German chancellor and the British PM - ahead of crucial domestic votes for the two leaders. The AfD is currently polling in double figures in all three states holding regional elections this Sunday - Baden-Württemberg, Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate - so it could help Merkel to see them damaged in public.
Meanwhile, Cameron, who is campaigning for Britain to remain in the European Union in a referendum this summer, is likely to be keen to cut ties with the AfD, which analysts agree has shifted further into a populist anti-immigration position since its inception in 2013.
According to the AfD, Cameron needs a "rotten compromise to deceive his voters in the referendum on the Brexit one last time." "Cameron can't achieve substantial reforms of the European agreements, he knows that," von Storch and Pretzell said. "So why should he work together with the AfD, the only party in Germany that is working towards substantial reforms of the European agreements?" The pair also accused the British PM of wanting German tax money to be able to fund "short-term referendum gifts" for British voters.
The ECR, which represents 75 MEPs, was born of the uncertainty over the EU that has riven the British Conservative Party for years, if not decades. The group's stated aim is "urgent reform" of the EU, while many of the AfD's positions suggest a complete re-ordering of the bloc. The ECR was founded in 2009 as a more skeptical conservative alternative in the EP to the European People's Party group (EPP), which includes Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, and which has 216 MEPs.
The AfD's former leader Bernd Lucke, who has since left the party, pushed for membership in the ECR once his party had managed to get seats in the European Parliament.
Lucke is himself still an ECR member, representing his Alliance for Progress and Renewal (ALFA), which focuses on an agenda of economic liberalism. But there are other parties in the group - most notably the Danish People's Party and the Finns Party, from Finland - which espouse similarly nationalist, anti-immigrant views to those expressed by von Storch and the AfD..