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Germany: State CDU, AfD leaders clash in Thuringia TV duel

April 12, 2024

Two leading candidates of the conservative CDU and the far-right AfD in the state of Thuringia, Mario Voigt and Björn Höcke, clashed over issues such as migration and Europe.

Thuringia's AfD leader Björn Höcke (left) and CDU leader Mario Voigt clashed on television.
Thuringia's CDU leader Mario Voigt (right) called AfD state leader Björn Höcke "authoritarian" and refused to cooperate with himImage: Martin Lengemann/WELT/dts Nachrichtenagentur/IMAGO

A good five months before the state elections in the German state of Thuringia, the leading candidates from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), Mario Voigt and Björn Höcke, respectively, clashed in a televised duel on the TV channel "Welt."

On Thursday evening, Voigt, Thuringia's CDU leader, accused Höcke and the AfD of damaging Germany.

"You are poison for the state that is my home," Voigt told Höcke in the discussion, which was at times marred by loud heckling.

CDU rules out cooperation with AfD

Voigt once again ruled out a coalition with the AfD after the state elections in September. He clearly rejected Höcke's offer of cooperation. Voigt called Höcke "authoritarian" and said he did not want to work with him.

The AfD in Thuringia has been classified by the state's Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a confirmed right-wing extremist party and placed under surveillance.

Voigt stated that the CDU's goal is to become the strongest force in the state elections. He himself wanted to be the "premier of all Thuringians."

Debate on migration and Europe

The issue of migration led to a heated debate. Voigt called illegal migration a "huge problem." He advocated consistent deportation and the protection of external borders.

Höcke accused the CDU of having opened Germany's borders under former Chancellor Angela Merkel and being responsible for millions of illegal immigrants. Violent crime had "exploded" as a result, Höcke claimed.

Höcke evaded questions about plans to deport large numbers of people with a migration background, which were discussed at a meeting of far-right extremists attended by AfD members, as uncovered by the research network Correctiv.

On the issue of so-called immigration — as the deportation plan was euphemistically named — he said only that he was concerned about Germans who had emigrated and needed to be brought back.

The two also had a heated exchange on European politics. Voigt reproached Höcke for earlier statements in which he said the EU must "die." Voight went on to say that while the EU was not perfect, it was also a "stable foundation" for Germany.

Höcke countered that "no superstate, no centralism" was needed and that a "loose association of European states" would suffice.

Höcke defends use of Nazi slogan

A week before a trial begins against Höcke for using the Nazi slogan "Alles für Deutschland" ("Everything for Germany"), the far-right leader defended his choice of words. He said he used the expression in a campaign speech and was interpreting former US President Donald Trump's "America First" slogan into German.

When asked about the Nazi origin of his statement, Höcke said that he had not known during the speech that "Alles für Deutschland" was a Nazi slogan.

AfD leads the polls in Thuringia

A new state parliament will be elected in Thuringia on September 1. The AfD is leading the polls with up to 36% support, followed by the CDU with around 20%.

The Left Party, which currently governs with the Greens and the SPD under its premier, Bodo Ramelow, without a majority of its own, was recently polling at a maximum of 18%.

The SPD received between 6% and 9%, while the Greens were at 5%.

dh/sms (AFP, dpa)

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