Europe’s Right-Wing Populist Leaders to Confer in Germany

Stephanie Kirchner, Washington Post, January 19, 2017

A day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, prominent leaders of Europe’s right-wing populist parties will gather in the German city of Koblenz in what observers see as a show of force targeting the European Union. The meeting gained widespread attention in Germany as the first public get-together of Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), and Marine Le Pen, president of France’s National Front. Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders and Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Northern League are also set to speak at the one-day conference organized by Marcus Pretzell, an AfD member of the European Parliament.

German political commentators consider the meeting a signal of the AfD’s shifting further to the right, since many Germans associate France’s National Front in particular with anti-Semitism and extreme right-wing positions.

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In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, conference organizer Pretzell, who is also the husband of party chairwoman Petry, did not attempt to hide his contempt for journalists. “I don’t like how you work! . . . I don’t give a damn what you write!” he said, refusing to answer almost all of The Post’s questions about the meeting. Pretzell then abruptly hung up the phone — but not before pointing out that he wasn’t taking any cues from Trump. “I’ve been doing this longer than Trump . . . treating the press exactly for what they are!”

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But although the party’s provocations could backfire in Germany, its strong criticism of Angela Merkel’s refugee policy appears to have been successful. Founded in 2013, the party is already reaching double-digit numbers in the polls and has good prospects of entering the German parliament for the first time in autumn.

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