Does Andreas Kalbitz’s expulsion from the AfD endure? Does the party split? Who mutinates against Meuthen? Here are the answers.
Andreas Kalbitz (front) has announced to take action against the party exclusion from the AfD Photo: Soeren Stache / dpa
On May 15, about a quarter past five, two men are standing on the balcony at Kurfürstenstrasse 79 in Berlin-Tiergarten, one on the fifth and the other on the sixth floor. They are the two party leaders of the AfD. Jörg Meuthen above, Tino Chrupalla below. A symbolic picture.
Meuthen has just won a victory on the federal board that meets here, Chrupalla has lost. The head of the AfD, Andreas Kalbitz, head of the AfD’s state and parliamentary group in Brandenburg and until a few minutes ago part of this body, revoked party membership with immediate effect. A narrow majority of seven to five votes with one abstention were sufficient.
The formal reason: According to the majority, Kalbitz, when it applied to join the AfD in 2013, did not disclose his previous membership with the Republicans and the now banned neo-Nazi organization Heimattreue Deutsche Jugend (HDJ). According to the statutes, he should have specified both. Since then, the power struggle in the AfD, which always accompanies the party subliminally, has been conducted openly and with all severity. Five dimensions of the conflict and an outlook.
The power: uncertain conditions and a lot of fuss
Although only about a third of the AfD members belong to the extreme right wing, decisions against it are hardly enforceable. Most recently, Jörg Meuthen failed in the debate about a pension concept with the demand to abolish the statutory pension, also on the “wing”.
The party leader, who allowed himself to be voted into office by the far-right network and has pacted with it for a long time, has grown too powerful. And not only for him: officials, especially from the West, put Meuthen under pressure to finally do something. Meuthen only pushed through the decision of the federal executive board that the “wing” must disintegrate. Now he took care of Andreas Kalbitz’s expulsion. A declaration of war.
Björn Höcke promptly shouted “treason”, Götz Kubitschek, Höcke’s whisperer from the Institute for State Policy, accused Meuthen of setting the party on fire. The heads of state from Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt stood behind Kalbitz. The Brandenburg faction resumed its leader even without a party book. It calls for a special party conference at which a new federal executive board is to be elected.
Otherwise it has been surprisingly quiet so far. The regional association of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania was not clearly on the side of Kalbitz: “There are different views, per Kalbitz, versus Kalbitz,” said head of state Leif-Erik Holm to the NDR. The whole thing had to be clarified before the arbitral tribunal.
And even in Brandenburg, the majority of the parliamentary group prevented Kalbitz from being confirmed as the leader of the parliamentary group. Because here too the criticism of the Munich native is increasing. Even the Young freedom, still the most important press organ for the AfD, has long since shot its way into the “wing”.
The structure: fragile alliances and an old man
The AfD is an alliance of different currents, some with very different ideas, strategies and goals. Street or parliament? Revolt or government participation? NPD light or CDU of the seventies and eighties? Ethnic or economically liberal social policy? These are some of the lines of conflict in the party.
The now “formally dissolved” wing “with Andreas Kalbitz and Björn Höcke at the top has steadily expanded its influence in recent years, it is dominant in the east and very successful in elections. He does not yet have a majority in the party as a whole, also because the vast majority of AfD members live in the West.
The cohesion within the party has so far been based on the assumption that the AfD’s success is based precisely on this fragile alliance of different currents. The party held together, above all, parliamentary group leader Alexander Gauland. But its influence is waning. He gave up party leadership at the end of last year.
The legal process: contradictory assessments and a missing form
Andreas Kalbitz has announced that he will take legal action against the party exclusion both before the AfD arbitral tribunal and before an ordinary court. He doesn’t have bad cards. The Düsseldorf party rights activist Sophie Schönberger told the taz that a cancellation of membership under the Political Parties Act was fundamentally not lawful and that an ordinary party exclusion procedure could not be avoided. An ordinary court will most likely collect the decision.
In addition, it looks difficult with the evidence for Kalbitz’s offenses. His application for membership has been lost, so one lists witnesses and the electronic membership file. There should be information about his previous party and association membership – if he did it.
The AfD does not have proof of membership in the HDJ, which Kalbitz continues to deny, but only the protection of the constitution, who is otherwise happy to be discredited. And Republican membership, which Kalbitz has kept secret for a long time, has been known for several years.
On the other hand: Jena constitutional lawyer Michael Brenner expects that the exclusion will last, as he told the MDR. In addition, the AfD has already canceled membership in comparable cases, for example in the case of Dennis Augustin, the former head of state in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Protection of the Constitution: new influence and a panic surge
The extreme right biography of Andreas Kalbitz has been known for a long time. There were many stations in right-wing extremist associations, and there have been new revelations since 2014. For a long time, this was of little interest to the AfD. Kalbitz was gripping and successful, he organized majorities. It was reliable. Jörg Meuthen also benefited from this.
But then the constitutional protection came on the scene and panicked parts of the AfD. First he classified the “wing” as a right-wing extremist and as a full observation object. The most important reason for this, in addition to Björn Höcke’s speeches and writings: Kalbitz. The authority is currently examining whether the AfD as a whole is at least an extreme right-wing suspected case, a decision is expected soon.
A classification, it is feared in particular in the West AfD, could deter voters and, above all, the numerous civil servants: internally among members and functionaries: internally. Jobs and pensions are at stake for them.
The competition: personal ambitions and a top candidate
As is so often the case in the AfD, it is also about personal interests. Jörg Meuthen is considering moving to the Bundestag next year, where he could inherit Gauland as the top candidate and group leader. To do this, he has to win supporters, since he had recently offended many in the party through his pension concept and the idea that the “wing” might split off from the AfD.
And then there’s Alice Weidel in the way, Alexander Gauland’s Co-Group leader and Federal Vice, who probably wants to continue; the two cannot go together. And because both come from Baden-Württemberg and are party-internal as economically liberal, they are not capable of winning a majority as a team. This is where Meuthen’s co-party leader Tino Chrupalla comes into play – the Saxon is and the “wing” is benevolent.
In addition: Weidel has concluded a kind of non-aggression pact with the “wing”, on the Federal Executive Board voted against the Meuthen proposal, but argued purely formally. The woman likes to keep herself covered as long as the balance of power has not yet been decided. But if Meuthen falls as party leader, Weidel could be ready. Another one of the supposedly more moderate who pacts with the “wing”.
And the outlook?
The dispute almost looks like a new edition of old conflicts: around ex-party leader Bernd Lucke in 2015 and his successor Frauke Petry in 2017. Both were subject to the “wing” in the power struggle, both ended up in political insignificance.
But it is not that simple. Protection of the constitution has sparked a new dynamic in the party, which is already nervous about the dwindling approval of the Corona crisis.
So far, the murmur that Meuthen may no longer be a party leader by the end of the year is no more than that. It is questionable whether there will be a party congress – also due to corona – and the AfD has also planned one for the end of the year anyway No hall found yet. In addition, a two-thirds majority is required to vote out the federal board elected in December.
Bringing these together becomes difficult. And that in the end the party will still split? That is not entirely out of the question. But whoever goes would have to forego the name and structure of the party, which nobody wants. In such a case, the “wing” would become a regional party, a kind of “Lega Ost”. And the others would probably have to do without elections. But first everyone is waiting to see how the legal review of the Kalbitz case ends. A lot will depend on it.