Published: 10:31, May 23, 2024 | Updated: 10:45, May 23, 2024
German AfD candidate steps aside after Schutzstaffel comments
By Reuters
People hold up their cell phones as they protest the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD party, and right-wing extremism in front of the parliament building in Berlin, Germany, on Jan 21, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

BERLIN/PARIS - The leading candidate for Germany's far-right party in the European election stepped back from campaigning on Wednesday to try to quell the backlash after declaring that the SS, the Nazis' main paramilitary force, were "not all criminals".

Maximilian Krah said in a statement that he would not attend future campaign appearances and also resigned from the senior leadership team of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party with immediate effect.

The move comes as French far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced her party was making a "clean break" with the AfD, suggesting the German party had become too toxic an ally ahead of the European election in June.

Polls suggest that nationalist and eurosceptic parties will win a record number of votes. Voters are expected to punish mainstream parties for failing to shield households from high inflation, curb immigration or deliver adequate housing and healthcare.

Krah said "statements from me are being misused as a pretext to harm our party. The last thing we need right now is a debate about me. The AfD must maintain its unity."

Last week, a German court ruled that domestic security services could continue to keep the AfD under surveillance as a potentially extremist party

The AfD, which had shot up to become Germany's second-most popular party but has slipped in the polls in recent weeks, said it had suffered "massive damage" and that Krah had taken full political responsibility.

In an interview published last weekend, Krah told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that "SS were not all criminals".

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The SS, or "Schutzstaffel", was the main paramilitary force of Adolf Hitler's Nazi party, and, among its many roles, took a leading part in the Holocaust, the slaughter of 6 million Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis.

It appeared to be the last straw for Le Pen, who in a radio interview on Wednesday morning accused the AfD of being rudderless and in hock to radical elements within it.

Le Pen told Europe 1 her party urgently needed to sever its ties with the German party. "The AfD goes from provocation to provocation," she said.

"Now it's no longer time to distance ourselves, it's time to make a clean break with this movement."

European parliament

The split comes after the AfD has come under intense scrutiny over its policies and the conduct of some senior figures.

The public break with Le Pen's Rassemblement National (RN) could test the far right's push for a strong electoral showing and could put more pressure on the AfD domestically.

"This incidence shows how difficult it is for extreme far-right parties to form effective coalitions at European level as they define themselves on nationalist grounds against each other. History is always closer than you think," said a note by EuroIntelligence.

Le Pen's comments come a day after the RN, leading the race for the EU election in France, said it will no longer sit with the AfD in the European Parliament.

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The AfD has also faced mass street protests after senior figures attended a meeting where the deportation of Germans with immigrant backgrounds was discussed, and over allegations that it harbors agents for Russia and China.

Krah's own aide was charged with spying for Beijing, putting more pressure on the politician, who tops the list of AfD candidates and would be the first to get a seat in the European parliament after the election.

Last week, a German court ruled that domestic security services could continue to keep the AfD under surveillance as a potentially extremist party.

The AfD has pushed back against racism allegations. The party portrays itself as the target of a complacent, self-serving establishment it stands ready to sweep away.

The far-right parties in the European parliament are currently split between the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), whose de facto leader is Italian Prime minister Georgia Meloni, and the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, spearheaded by the RN.