Calls to ban far-right AfD
On 10 January, the investigative journalism group Correctiv reported on a meeting of politicians from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and neo-Nazis in a hotel in Potsdam in November.
The meeting focused on a topic that the participants referred to as "remigration". The term stands for the return, forced or otherwise, of "migrants" to their place of origin – regardless of their citizenship status.
Right-wing populist and extreme-right groups use that term to refer to mass deportations and expulsions of migrants and their descendants. According to Correctiv, the invitation for the meeting in Potsdam mentioned that an "overall concept, in the sense of a master plan" was on the agenda.
Anti-constitutional fantasies cause outrage
The ideas presented at the meeting would violate the fundamental rights laid down in the German constitution, the Basic Law, which states explicitly that no one may be discriminated against because of their origin, race, language or country of origin.
The report about the Potsdam meeting prompted outrage across the political spectrum. "The plans to expel millions of people are reminiscent of the darkest chapter in German history," wrote Christian Duerr, parliamentary group leader of the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), the smallest member of the centrist coalition government. He was referring to the Nazi era from 1933 to 1945 when Germans expelled and murdered millions of people, especially Jews.
Right-wing extremists have long been known to trigger debates in society that push the boundaries of what can be said so the hitherto unthinkable resurfaces in wider public discourse again.
"Remigration" was first used by sociologists to describe the voluntary return of migrants to their country of origin. The far-right has coined pseudo-scientific seemingly unoffensive terms – remigration, ethnopluralism, Great Replacement – for racist Nazi ideology.
Who attended the meeting?
According to Correctiv, retired dentist and far-right activist Gernot Moerig organised the meeting in Landhaus Adlon on 25 November 2023, together with the entrepreneur Hans-Christian Limmer. They asked for a donation of no less than €5,000 from all participants.
Roland Hartwig, advisor to Alice Weidel, the co-party leader of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) was one of those who accepted the invitation, as did Gerrit Huy, AfD lawmaker in the federal parliament, the Bundestag, and Ulrich Siegmund, co-chairman of the AfD's parliamentary group in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt.
In response to the Correctiv report Hartwig was dismissed.
Some party members of Germany's largest opposition party, the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) are also said to have attended. CDU Secretary General Carsten Linnemann has since threatened them with repercussions.
The most notable participant in the meeting, however, was arguably Austrian politician Martin Sellner. He is regarded as the mastermind behind the far-right "Identitarian Movement" and has a large follower base on social media. In Potsdam, he presented his ideas on "remigration".
Sellner has written about the need to deport "asylum fraudsters" and "non-citizens who represent a cultural, economic and criminological burden" in numerous essays. "Non-assimilated naturalised citizens" are also included.
What is the AfD's stance on deportation and expulsions?
"We must finally deport on a large scale those who have no right to stay in Germany," said Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) last autumn, in response to widespread calls for a reduction in the numbers of asylum seekers. Many politicians in the coalition government and the CDU/CSU share this view. The CDU has also suggested revoking German passports of criminals with dual nationality.
AfD politicians have long been calling for mass deportations. The party's representatives have also embraced the term "remigration". In its election manifesto for the 2021 federal elections, it mentioned a "remigration agenda" without elaborating on what exactly this would entail.
On 10 January, the party posted a message on X propagating a "consistent and unwavering remigration policy" and "passport revocation for criminals and remigration".
A day later, AfD co-chairman Tino Chrupalla wrote in response to the discussion of the expulsion plans: "We invite Germans with a history of migration to join us in creating a change for the better".
The CDU also wants to make it easier to withdraw German passports from offenders. Legally, however, this is hardly possible. It is not permitted, for example, to deprive offenders of their citizenship and make them stateless. According to the law, even recognised refugees may only be deported for reasons of "national security or public order".
Debating a ban on the AfD
The reports of AfD lawmakers' participation in the "remigration discussion" in Potsdam have given a boost to the debate on banning the AfD.
The domestic intelligence agency has good reason to monitor the AfD, said Thomas Strobl, CDU Interior Minister in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg. "If the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the security authorities see sufficient evidence here for launching the procedure to ban the party, then it must be considered," Strobl said in an interview with public broadcaster SWR.
Only the Federal Constitutional Court can ban a political party in Germany. The last time this happened was in 1956 when the communist KPD was banned. According to the Basic Law, a party is only considered anti-constitutional if it endangers the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany or explicitly attempts to eliminate the free democratic basic order.
"We must fight the AfD with political means and not in the courts," CDU leader Friedrich Merz told the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung newspaper on 12 January. The AfD should not be given the opportunity to portray itself as a victim in the context of ban proceedings, he said.
The AfD is currently polling as the second-strongest party nationwide. Surveys in the three states heading to the polls in September this year even see the AfD clearly as the front-runner, with well over 30% support.
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