German conservatives vow to fight far-right, including on immigration

HEIDELBERG, Germany (Reuters) – The leader of Germany’s conservatives vowed to ban a hard-right group from his party and take on the Alternative for Germany, including on immigration, amid criticism he has moved too close to the far-right party’s policies as it surges in the polls.

Friedrich Merz was speaking at his opposition Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) congress after the revelation that members of the hard-right Values Union group last year discussed plans to deport “unassimilated” citizens at a retreat with far-right influencers and Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians.

Rising prices, the economic shock caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the burden placed on public services by high immigration have contributed to a sullen mood in Germany that is punishing all the mainstream parties.

“At the next party congress I will bring a motion making Values Union membership incompatible with CDU membership,” Merz said on Saturday, in his first comments on November’s meeting at a villa outside Berlin.

After a period in which the CDU has been among the most hawkish voices on immigration in German politics, Merz used a news conference to emphasise his party’s distance on that – and other issues – from the AfD.

The CDU is on around 30% in the polls – a historically low level for the party – around twice the level of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats and his Green coalition partners, with the AfD snapping at Merz’s heels on as much as 24%.

“Germany has been a country of immigration for decades,” he said. “One that very successfully integrated immigrants”. However, he added that some groups, “often but not always of Islamic faith”, were still less well integrated.

All mainstream parties have been criticised for focusing on the AfD’s themes, promising to deal more toughly with illegal immigration despite warnings from experts that this only legitimises the insurgent far-right’s discourse.

“We are going to target the AfD,” Merz said. “On their Europe policy, on their foreign policy and their ties to Russia. And especially on their economic policy … Many entrepreneurs have sympathies for the AfD.”

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Mark Potter)