German CDU leader says ‘firewall’ against far right will hold firm

By Philip Oltermann

Armin Laschet, the leader of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her potential successor as chancellor, has insisted his party’s “firewall” against the far right will remain intact, as the CDU braces itself for a strong performance by the nationalist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Sunday’s state elections in Saxony-Anhalt.

The AfD, which first entered the German parliament in 2017, is stagnant on about 11% of the vote in polls for the national vote in September, but has shored up its influential positions in several states of the formerly socialist east.

In Saxony-Anhalt, surveys predict the far right could challenge the governing CDU, some of whose delegates in the region have expressed more openness to a power-sharing arrangement with the AfD than the party’s national leadership.

While the CDU of the incumbent state premier, Reiner Haseloff, is expected to form the next government, a recent survey by the pollster Insa put the AfD in top spot, on 26%, with the conservatives second on 25%.

“The CDU has to play its part to make it clear we won’t talk to them, we won’t cooperate with them, we won’t enter a coalition with them,” Laschet told the broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Tuesday. “We don’t wont to cooperate with them – on any level,” he said.

Laschet also distanced himself from the WerteUnion (“Values Union”), a CDU pressure group lobbying for more hardline conservative policy positions that last week elected the controversial economist Max Otte as its new chair. Though formally a CDU member, Otte has said he voted for the AfD at elections in 2017.

Laschet’s predecessor, the former Merkel continuity candidate Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, stumbled over the “firewall” principle in 2020, resigning from the CDU chair after politicians from the branch in neighbouring Thuringia voted with the AfD to oust the state’s premier, Bodo Ramelow of the leftwing Die Linke party.

Saxony-Anhalt is governed by Germany’s first power-sharing administration between the CDU, the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the Greens – nicknamed the “Kenya coalition” after the colours of the east African country’s flag.

In theory, at least seven other coalitions would be possible after the vote on 6 June, including a four-way “Zimbabwe” alliance between the CDU, Greens, SPD and pro-business FDP.

Some local party branches in Saxony-Anhalt have agitated for a membership vote on the next coalition deal, which could embolden some delegates to stray from the CDU’s red lines. Even a minority government tolerated by the far right would breach a taboo in Germany’s postwar political culture, especially since the AfD has been campaigning in Saxony-Anhalt with a more openly radical agenda than elsewhere.

In its party programme, the AfD says it wants to introduce a “baby bonus” exclusively for families in which at least one parent holds German citizenship, exclude refugee minors from regular classrooms and withhold tax money from artists who are not “principally affirmative towards their own German culture”.