Rocked by spy scandal, Germany’s far-right reprises old themes at campaign launch

By Thomson Reuters Apr 27, 2024 | 12:47 PM

By Thomas Escritt

DONAUESCHINGEN, Germany (Reuters) – Buffeted by sliding poll ratings and reeling from allegations that it had harboured a Chinese spy in its ranks, Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany sought to recover lost momentum at the Saturday launch of its campaign for June’s European Parliament elections.

Support for the AfD, which at the start of the year was vying with the conservatives to top opinion polls in Germany, was ebbing even before the arrest this week of an assistant to its lead candidate Maximilian Krah on espionage charges.

That followed media reports that Czech security had evidence that Petr Bystron, second-placed on the party’s list, had taken money from a website with links to the Kremlin.

Bystron has described the allegations as part of a campaign against him. Krah said that he remained the lead candidate but would play a less prominent role in the campaign. At this stage, party slates are finalized, meaning it is no longer possible to change them before the election.

The party’s political opponents have long charged it with serving Russia’s interests with its regular calls for Germany and the West to stop arming Ukraine. An FW opinion poll that included people’s view of threats to the country, published on Friday, suggested this message now resonated, with 75% seeing foreign influence operations as a danger for Germany.

The party’s co-leader Tino Chrupalla brushed aside events that had effectively deprived the party of its two top candidates ahead of the June 9 elections, saying Krah had himself volunteered not to turn up at Saturday’s launch.

“I’d like to thank Maximilian Krah for saying that he wouldn’t speak today,” Chrupalla said. “Otherwise it would have all been about Krah, Krah, Krah when today is really about the AfD.”

The launch, in a town best known as the source of the River Danube, was an opportunity for the party to reprise its habitual themes, accusing migrants of flocking to Germany for welfare benefits and the ruling coalition parties of being obsessed with allowing “yearly sex changes”.

Attacks on the Greens, especially Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, drew the loudest applause from an audience of party activists, some of whom had driven hundreds of km (miles) to spend a sunny afternoon in the darkened hall.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Frances Kerry)