Senior members of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats accused opposition lawmakers in the state of Thuringia of breaking a political taboo after they joined with the far-right Alternative for Germany party to force a tax cut through the regional parliament.
(Bloomberg) — Senior members of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats accused opposition lawmakers in the state of Thuringia of breaking a political taboo after they joined with the far-right Alternative for Germany party to force a tax cut through the regional parliament.
Mainstream groups have pledged not to cooperate with the AfD at federal or regional level, though this is proving increasingly difficult to maintain in Thuringia and other eastern German states, where the anti-immigrant party is polling in first place with around 30% support.
The Thuringia chapter of the AfD, led by Bjoern Hoecke, includes elements that the regional intelligence service has categorized as “right-wing extremist.” For both the conservative Christian Democrats and the liberal Free Democrats to vote with the party on Thursday, even if no formal agreement was made beforehand to do so, crosses a line, according to SPD Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.
The “joint resolution with the AfD is a dangerous contribution to the normalization of right-wing extremists,” Faeser said in a post on X, accusing Hoecke of promoting “inhumane and anti-democratic policies.”
Katja Mast, a senior SPD lawmaker in the Bundestag in Berlin, blamed Friedrich Merz, the CDU’s national chairman, for what she called “a historic failure” to keep the regional chapter in line.
Although support for the AfD is traditionally much stronger in the former communist east, the party has climbed to second place in national polls in recent months amid voter frustration around issues like the cost of living and immigration.
At the same time, Scholz and his Greens and FDP coalition partners have been hamstrung by infighting and are struggling to convince voters that they can successfully manage Germany’s transition to a more climate-friendly and technologically advanced economy.
The rise of the AfD has unsettled German companies concerned that the nation’s image as a business location will be tarnished, a sentiment reiterated in an interview published Friday with Martin Daum, the boss of Daimler Truck Holding AG.
“We are a global company, of course an upsurge of nationalism in Germany harms us out in the world,” Daum was quoted as saying by Focus Magazin.
“If we always see only the bad guys around us, outside our borders, the enemy, then this attitude has always led to disaster,” he added.
It’s not the first time the Thuringia branch of the CDU has created problems for the national leadership. In early 2020, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stepped down as party leader in part because she was unable to prevent the regional party voting with the AfD to elect a state premier.
Merz already provoked a furious backlash in July when he appeared to open the door to cooperation with the AfD before backtracking.
The ruling alliance in Thuringia of Scholz’s SPD, the Greens and the Left party does not have a majority in the state legislature and on Thursday both the CDU and FDP voted with the AfD to push the tax measure through.
Read More: The Far Right Is Advancing in a Vulnerable Europe Again
SPD General Secretary Kevin Kuehnert said the vote was “no accident” and the Thuringia CDU had “knowingly committed itself to bringing about a political decision that would not have been possible without the votes of the AfD.”
“If this becomes common practice in the CDU, then the system of parliamentary government will be different after today,” Kuehnert said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD.
The controversy comes hard on the heels of an antisemitism scandal in Bavaria, which stoked fears that a broad political consensus in Germany against extremist views is being eroded.
Hubert Aiwanger, the deputy premier in the regional government, came under pressure to step down after a newspaper report linked him to a pamphlet written in the late 1980s, which appeared to make light of the Holocaust.
Scholz’s chief spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, declined to comment on the Thuringia vote at Friday’s regular government news conference. Combating the far-right in general remains a priority for the ruling coalition, he said.
–With assistance from Michael Nienaber.
(Updates with Daimler Truck CEO starting in eighth paragraph)
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