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Germany: Olaf Scholz visits Saxony, a far-right stronghold

February 29, 2024

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, not long before an election in which the AfD is expected to perform strongly. He began the day with some simpler factory visits.

Olaf Scholz stands in the otherwise empty cargo bay of a converted Airbus plane, gesturing wide with both hands, at the Elbe Aircraft Factory in Dresden. February 29, 2024.
Scholz began his trip at a company in Dresden that specializes in converting used passenger Airbus planes into freight carriersImage: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo/picture alliance

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for more cohesion in society on a visit to Dresden on Thursday. The German leader's trip was being closely monitored ahead of September's state elections in Saxony, which threaten to yield what could be the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party's best result yet in a major election. 

Scholz held a town hall-style meeting with members of the public where he addressed some of the most contested topics in the country.

Scholz said the rise of a far-right party, AfD, is a major concern. Social media has done a lot of good, he said, but the spread of unfounded rumors was a problem. It was important to create more opportunities for dialogue, Scholz said.

He also told people that supplying Kyiv with German-made Taurus long-range missiles was out of question, saying it was important to avert any potential risk of escalation of tensions between Russia and NATO in Ukraine.

 "There will be no German soldiers, not even NATO soldiers on Ukrainian soil, because that would otherwise entail this danger... I continue to stand by that," he said.

Scholz calls for dialogue

But Scholz began his trip to the city by touring a pair of employers in the region. "Economic booms succeed in a country that sticks together and does not let itself be divided," Scholz said at the headquarters of the EFW (Elbe Flugzeugwerken or Elbe airplane factories).

"That is why it is really important that we also counter those who wish to drive our country apart," he added.

A focus on skills gap and migrant labor

Scholz was talking, among other things, about the difficulties in finding skilled labor in much of Germany, not least in the former Communist east of the country, which suffered for years from so-called "brain drain" effects after reunification.

He said the country needed well-qualified workers and it was crucial for employers like EFW to offer good training and prospects for staff. The success of the company, which specializes in repurposing used Airbus passenger planes as freight aircraft and employs around 2,200 people from 30 different countries, would rest on this, he said. 

"Germany's economic growth in the last 10 years was markedly boosted by many people coming to lend a hand here, and that will also remain important in the future," Scholz said. 

EFW CEO Jordi Boto said an open society was crucial to the company's business model. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaking to employees at the EFW headquarters in Dresden. February 29, 2024.
EFW employs staff from dozens of different countries and says it intends to continue to recruit abroadImage: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo/picture alliance

"We are dependent on people coming to us," Boto said. "They should find a home here with their families." 

Scholz also toured a Nomos Glashütte watchmaking facility. The small town of Glashütte near Dresden, Saxony's state capital, is known as the birthplace of Germany's watchmaking industry. 

He noted the reformed skilled labor migration laws his coalition had introduced and said they should soon facilitate simpler international recruitment.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz watches a woman work at a watch production facility in Dresden. February 29, 2024.
Scholz also took a closer look at a watchmaking facility, Nomos Glashütte, not far from DresdenImage: Jens Schlueter/dpa/picture alliance

AfD polling strongly in eastern stronghold

Voters in Saxony will be asked to cast three different ballots this year. And if recent opinion polls are anything to go by, around one in three currently plan to support the AfD.  

Likely the most significant vote is the furthest away: elections for the state parliament on September 1. A February poll on voting intentions conducted by Infratest dimap, using a mix of just over 1,000 phone and online participants, projected AfD support of 35% if that ballot were set for the following weekend. That would make the far-right populists the largest single party in parliament.

In the 2019 state vote in Saxony, the AfD scored 27.5% of the vote and emerged as the second-largest party.

The state will also participate in this summer's elections for the European Parliament — often a happy hunting ground for extreme parties given the tendency for poorer turnout than in a national or local election — and is holding municipal elections in conjunction with that ballot, on June 9.

The chancellor was scheduled to hold one of his so-called "citizens' dialogues," which are somewhat comparable to a town hall event in the US in terms of format, later on Thursday evening. Right-wing groups in the area had voiced their intention to protest at the gathering.

Germany's search for skilled workers amid xenophobic image

msh/sms (AFP, dpa, epd)

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