German Populist Leader Suffers Setback Amid Party Infighting

  • AfD delegates scrap Frauke Petry’s motion on party’s direction
  • Petry calls move a ‘mistake’ as divisions are laid bare

Germany’s top populist leader suffered a major setback as her right-wing party rejected her bid to move it closer to the mainstream, throwing into further disarray a political force that months ago posed the greatest risk to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Frauke Petry

Photographer: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Frauke Petry, the 41-year-old face of Alternative for Germany, said she would retreat to the sidelines as the AfD party campaigns for the September election. Delegates meeting in the western German city of Cologne scrapped a motion she introduced to debate the party’s future direction, a move Petry called a “mistake.”

“As long as the party doesn’t recognize where it wants to go, then this campaign must be led by protagonists who can live with this non-decision better than I can,” Petry told reporters on Saturday. She said she’ll remain co-leader of the party.

As thousands gathered outside the convention hall to protest the AfD, the party laid bare the personal and political divisions that have contributed to the loss of a third of its support since the beginning of the year. Buoyed since 2015 by public anxiety over the influx of more than a million asylum seekers into Germany, the AfD has struggled to find its voice as the refugee crisis fades from public debate. The convention will continue on Sunday.

Euro, Migrants

Earlier in the day, Petry opened the conference in Germany’s fourth-largest city by hitting key AfD themes, such as ending the euro, which she called an “ideological project,” and transforming the European Union into a collective of “sovereign states.” Petry described Merkel’s open-door migration approach as a “multicultural and socially destructive” policy.

Joerg Meuthen, an economics professor who is Petry’s soft-spoken counterpart as co-leader, hit the migration theme harder, as the delegates prepared to approve an election platform that calls the rising population of Muslims in Germany “a great danger to our state.”

“We don’t want to be a minority in our own country, but we already are in some respects,” Meuthen said, drawing cheers. “This country is our country.”

Other items in the AfD’s platform include shutting Germany’s borders to migrants; deporting rejected asylum seekers, while admitting only qualified laborers; lifting sanctions on Russia; cutting taxes and balancing the budget; and exiting the Paris climate accord.

Sidelining Risks

As the AfD campaigns for seats in the German parliament for the first time in the Sept. 24 election, a poll showed the risks of sidelining Petry. Fifty-three percent said the party’s fortunes would suffer without her, according to a Bild am Sonntag survey.

Petry, whose rejected motion included language assailing party leaders she accused of hewing to a “permanent opposition,” had already announced Wednesday that she wouldn’t be a top contender for parliament following sustained criticism from rivals. Earlier Saturday, she had offered to work on alterations to the text to assuage critics.

As delegates voted to reject her motion, they also rebuffed a bid by Petry’s allies to block appointing any candidates. That bid could have left Petry in control as the AfD’s co-leader.

“I think the party is making a mistake here and I’m going to observe very closely the developments within the party in the coming months,” Petry said.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.