Behind a personal power struggle in Germany’s Euroskeptic party lurks the bigger question of what sort of a party it wants to be.
The conflict burst into the open this weekend when a group of deputy leaders attacked founder Bernd Lucke for his “despot-like style of leadership.” They specifically criticized his attempt to take sole control of the party.
Lucke, an economist, helped establish the Alternative für Deutschland in 2013. The name was chosen in reference to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence that there was “no alternative” to bailing out Greece and other countries in the periphery of the eurozone if Germany wanted to keep the single currency.
Its opposition to the bailouts as well as Germany’s euro membership made the party popular. It took seven seats in last year’s European Parliament elections and hovers around 7 percent support in national opinion polls. Late last year, it won 12.2 percent support in the Brandenburg state election.
In recent months, the Alternative has also adopted an anti-immigration position, similar to nationalist parties elsewhere in Europe. That has split the party.
Lucke is keen to avoid a drift to the right and called on regional leaders to allow him to take sole charge of the party ahead of a conference due later this month.
The rift became apparent last year when the party could not decide whether it supported or opposed a planned free-trade agreement between Europe and the United States. Lucke and more liberal members backed the pact while conservatives rejected it.
The latter also seek to position the Alternative to the right of Merkel’s Christian Democrats on social issues.
Rightwingers complain that from energy to family policy, Merkel has moved them to the center in order to compete with the Social Democrats — with whom they are now in coalition. When asked, polls show the average voter can’t really tell the difference between the two major parties anymore. So there is certainly space for a conservative party on the right. But were the Alternative to move there, it would probably alienate more liberal supporters.