Germany's far right voted yesterday to break a national taboo by campaigning to quit the European Union if its demand for reforms within the bloc are not met. A party congress gathered in Riesa in Saxony state, the Alternative for Germany's (AfD) biggest stronghold, voted for the demand to be included in its manifesto for European Parliament elections in May.
Aware that a vast majority of Germans remain in favor of their country's EU membership, delegates advanced cautiously. They called for a so-called "Dexit" only "as a last resort" if fundamental reforms do not reshape the EU "in an appropriate time frame." But the decision marks the first time in Germany's post-war history that a political party has dared suggest blowing up the nation's EU membership. Alongside the transatlantic alliance with the United States, membership in the EU project has long been a key element of German national identity, and one way the country has sought to move on from the Nazi past while defending its interests.
Party co-chair Alexander Gauland had earlier warned his party against demanding a concrete time frame for Germany to leave the European Union. "I think it is not wise to go into elections with a maximum demand," he told delegates in the eastern city of Riesa at an AfD party conference. Should Britain's exit from the bloc lead to short-term turbulence and economic problems, that could have a negative impact on German voters in upcoming elections, he said.
More generally, with a massive pro-EU majority in Germany, AfD bosses know they could deter swathes of potential voters by talking too loudly about quitting.
A European Parliament survey in November found 82 percent of Germans would vote to remain in the EU if the country held a UK-style referendum, while 75 percent saw Brexit as either "probably" or "definitely" the wrong decision.
The move opens up a new front for the AfD alongside opposition to Islam and immigration, the foundation of the party's electoral successes since 2015 and the arrival of more than one million asylum seekers. Far-right leaders need fresh issues to whip up sentiment, after their favorite punching-bag, Chancellor Angela Merkel, announced her retirement for 2021 at the latest.