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'It's wrong to demonize the AfD'

Sumi Somaskanda
June 13, 2017

Feuds and in-fighting have plagued the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) this year. DW caught up with Bernd Lucke, who co-founded the party, to ask him about the AfD's shift to the right.

ehemaliger AfD-Vorsitzender Bernd Lucke bei einer Versammlung von Teilnehmern des Vereins Weckruf 2015
Image: picture alliance/dpa/U. Zucchi

DW: Mr. Lucke, you were one of the co-founders of the Alternative for Germany (AfD). You left the party in 2015 - why?

Bernd Lucke: I left because I did not agree with the direction the AfD was headed. It was moving towards an anti-Islam line, with underlying anti-foreigner sentiment as well. It also called Germany's ties to the West into question - particularly its membership in NATO, but also the EU - positioning itself clearly against free trade agreements like TTIP and CETA.  

These changes all started gradually. The first eye-opening experience was definitely the crisis surrounding the annexation of Crimea. A growing minority in the AfD sympathized with the Russian position and didn't see it as a violation of international law. That was a clear signal to me.     

Read: Ten things you need to know about the AfD

So you saw the writing on the wall. The AfD was originally a euroskeptic movement, but it has since morphed into a right-wing populist party. Some German media have accused you of creating a monster. Do you agree?

No, I categorically deny those accusations. We cannot forget that a party is allowed to represent the views that the AfD does. They are not my political convictions, but the Social Democrats' and Left Party's views are not either. I believe it is absolutely wrong to demonize the AfD, to compare the party to a monster.

Read more of DW's German elections coverage #GermanyDecides

But the AfD continues to move further to the right. There is speculation that the chairwoman, Frauke Petry, will be removed from leadership entirely because she is too moderate, or mainstream. Does it surprise you to see where the party has ended up?

It's not a surprise, that's why I left the party. It was already clear in 2015 that the party was drifting to the right and it is continuing to do so. Frauke Petry is not mainstream, either. Ms. Petry intentionally led the party to where it is now. She steered the AfD into the same position as Austria's Freedom Party and France's National Front and the Dutch Party for Freedom. And she has embraced the leaders of those parties. Sometimes the media here give the impression that Frauke Petry is a moderate politician, but I completely disagree.

Deutschland Frauke Petry neben Marine Le Pen bei der Tagung der rechtspopulistischen ENF-Fraktion
Frauke Petry (left) and Marine le Pen Image: picture alliance/dpa/T. Frey

Read: Merkel and the rise of the right

After leaving the AfD in 2015 you founded a new party called the Liberal Conservative Reformers (LKR). What's it all about?

When I got into politics, my aim was to overhaul our euro policies, to reform and decentralize the EU - and those aims are at the core of the LKR. But we have now addressed other topics like the refugee crisis, as well. The LKR is arguing for a well-regulated refugee policy that respects the fundamental right to asylum and the Geneva Convention, but also sets an upper limit on the number of refugees, particularly those who are not facing immediate persecution.

How successful have you been with that message among German voters?

Not particularly successful until now. We are fighting to get more media attention. We are still relatively unknown to voters and haven't had good results in state elections until now. In surveys, a lot of people still don't know the LKR. It is difficult to get media coverage without good election results, and it is impossible to get good election results without media coverage.

Read: What you need to know about Germany's political parties

You are an MEP in Brussels, so how are you working to address the LKR's issues from within?

I work in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs to shape economic policy. I am of the opinion that we should strictly abide by the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty and respect the deficit and debt regulations in place. I have taken a stand against any further redistribution of funds, of creating a transfer union within the EU. I am against further European integration because I believe responsibility for decisions and liability should not be separated.

So did you support Brexit? Would you support such a referendum in Germany?

No, I would not. I do think some important decisions should be directly voted on by citizens, but it is not good to have a referendum on an important question like leaving the EU without clearly spelling out the alternative: Soft Brexit, hard Brexit, how much do we have to pay, what are the rights of our citizens in the EU after we exit etc. A complicated issue like membership in the EU cannot be addressed well in a "yes" or "no" referendum.

Follow DW reporters Sumi Somaskanda and Nina Haase's elections road trip from June 12 - July 21 as they hit the road to find out what matters most to German voters 

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