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German parliament quarrels over who sits next to far-right party

They have already had heated debates on talk shows and in state legislatures, but in two weeks’ time, Germany’s national parliament, the Bundestag, will see its first showdown between the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and what the AfD derisively calls the “old parties.” There have already been previews of the rhetorical and ideological divide ahead, such as when Claudia Roth of the environmentalist and pro-immigration Greens drew the ire of the youngest member of the AfD faction, Markus Frohnmaier.

After a spate of sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015, which were perpetrated by mainly North African men, Frohnmaier said. “In my opinion, it is people like Claudia Roth who were the “co-rapists.” His words meant to shock – and certainly succeeded in doing so.

So far, AfD members of parliament have met three times in the Bundestag, but the meetings were held in remote areas of the massive building, such that deputies from the other parties did not cross paths with them. The party’s representatives, whose faction has already been reduced to 92 seats following the departure of two members, were also alone at lunch. A small buffet table with soup and sandwiches was set up in the foyer outside the plenary chamber for AfD representatives.

But this is all set to change by October 24, when the first plenary session of the new Bundestag convenes. And just how little the deputies from the other parties want to deal with their right-wing, anti-immigrant counterparts is evidenced by the negotiations about which faction must sit next to the AfD. None of the other parties want to be near them, although they all stress that they will not be avoiding the AfD when it comes to the political disputes ahead.

The AfD is already represented in 13 of the 16 German state parliaments, and deputies from the other parties there have some advice for their colleagues in the Bundestag about dealing with the populist party.

Their basic message: Be polite, but keep your distance. At the same time, try to keep calm and objective in the face of personal attacks and verbal provocations that are likely to come from AfD speakers. In the eastern state of Saxony, Juliane Nagel of the hard-left Die Linke (the Left) party is one of the preferred targets of AfD attacks. Nagel advises the deputies of the other parties to seek a “critical, goal-oriented debate over the right-populist party’s initiatives (and to make) a clear-cut objection when human rights and democratic red lines are crossed.”

According to Nagel, this will also mean being able to “differentiate between theatrical scandalizing and an actual breaking of taboos.” Just like the Die Linke party in Saxony, the Christian Democrats (CDU) in Thuringia’s state parliament must occupy opposition benches alongside the AfD. Thuringia’s CDU floor leader, Mike Mohring, says his guiding principle for how to treat the AfD is to “clearly draw a line, but not exclude them.”

Mohring says he shows a business-like manner with the AfD deputies, but he would never go out for a beer with them. “I give a friendly greeting, and that’s it. I do the same with the Left deputies as well,” he adds. Mohring says the Bundestag should by no means change its rules to keep the AfD out. “By showing them normal treatment it deprives them of the status that they would so love to have, namely of being martyrs,” he said.

Albrecht Pallas, domestic policy expert for the Social Democrats (SPD) in the Saxony state parliament, says “the SPD faction won’t be jumping at every trick, but it will respond quite loud and clear to any particularly ugly provocation.”

Hans-Ulrich Ruelke, floor leader in the Baden-Wuerttemberg parliament for the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), argues for a “formally correct” treatment of the AfD – but he admits to having his limits.

“I am not interested in any closer personal contact the way I do with the representatives of the other three party factions,” said Ruelke. The AfD openly derides all the other parties as being part of the “system” and “old” in a manner that goes beyond the usual political disputes, Ruelke says. “I don’t have to drink a beer with these people.”

Ann e-Beatrice Clasmann, "German parliament quarrels over who sits next to far-right party," Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 2017-10-14.
Keywords: Political science , Domestic policy , Social democrats , Germany , CDU , FDP

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