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Marine Le Pen ditches the AfD

Marine Le Pen is cleaning up her party's brand. Credit: Getty

May 22, 2024 - 1:00pm

After the EU’s liberal parties descended into civil war this week, it’s now the turn of Identity and Democracy (ID), the alliance of Right-wing parties in the European Parliament. Jordan Bardella — President of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) — has said that his party will no longer sit with the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Tensions have been growing for months. At the start of the year, it emerged that high-ranking members of the AfD had attended a meeting at which plans for “remigration” of legally resident migrants were discussed. The RN leadership sought urgent clarification from the German party, which subsequently distanced itself from the remigration policy.

But relations worsened again after a staffer working for Maximilian Krah — the AfD’s lead candidate in the European Parliament — was arrested on suspicion of spying for Beijing. Krah’s subsequent attack on the West’s “complete paranoia” over China didn’t help. Then, over the weekend, Krah said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that members of the SS “were not all criminals”. For the RN, it was the last straw.

The French party’s basic strategy is about “normalisation”, presenting a face to the electorate that isn’t just moderate but — just as importantly — professional. And it’s working. Recent polling shows Le Pen ahead of all other likely candidates for the next presidential election in 2027. For the European elections in June, RN is in a commanding first place, with almost double the support of Emmanuel Macron’s allies.

Contrast that performance to the fortunes of the AfD. Last year, the German populists had surged into a nationwide second place and a dominant first place in the former East Germany. But, amid mounting scandals, they’ve been bleeding support, with some polls showing the AfD dropping back to third position behind the governing Social Democrats. That’s due in part to the loss of some AfD voters to Sahra Wagenknecht’s new party, but it’s also an indictment of the AfD itself.

For Le Pen, the link to the AfD at EU level is a liability, hence what appears to be a permanent break. The rupture opens the way for a possible realignment on the Right of European politics. The populists are currently split between two main groups: ID and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

Attitudes to Russia had been a dividing issue between the two blocs, but the invasion of Ukraine has led many ID politicians to distance themselves from Moscow. Le Pen, for instance, is rather less keen on being photographed with Vladimir Putin than she used to be.

She’d rather be seen as a figure like Giorgia Meloni — the Italian Prime Minister and leading light of the ECR — than as a Maximilian Krah type. Certainly, the RN-AfD split is likely to accelerate the evolution of the European Right. Whatever the formal blocs in the European Parliament, the populists have reached a fork in the road. One path leads to Moscow and the outer darkness, the other to Brussels and a hefty share of power.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago

“At the start of the year, it emerged that high-ranking members of the AfD had attended a meeting at which plans for “remigration” of legally resident migrants were discussed.
This is highly questionable and lacks seriousness or context. Eugyppius did a good post about this earlier in the year, so I won’t bother going over the points, but basically this is a hit-job on the AfD.

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Agree, a lot of the noise is being stirred up by the incumbent parties in Germany.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Krah pointed out that the novelist Günther Grass had been in the SS and of course, the former Pope was in the Hitler Youth. You have to make individual assessments but as with every debate nowadays, no nuance is permitted.

There ensues hysterical mud slinging from the other side.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

How stupid does one have to be to compare the SS with the Hitler Youth?

Tom Conroy
Tom Conroy
1 month ago

As they were both organs of Nazi Germany, not stupid at all.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago

For once I do agree with you, there’s a vast difference between adults joining the SS and kids joining Hitler Youth

Peter Hill
Peter Hill
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Well, there was the 12th ss hitlerjugend division who were very fanatical soldiers made up of hitler youth

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
30 days ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

It is pretty clear that Eugenius is objecting to the way that the information was obtained, citing nefarious means from the German establishment, rather than disputing what participants at the conference freely said. (You might say all is fair in love, politics and war).

What he doesn’t say is that participants DIDN’T make these arguments that German citizens of ethnic background might should be repatriated and certainly there were tinted to be any pushback on this issue.

Whatever, politically, the AfD has overplayed its hand, is showing itself to be anything but astute, doesn’t have any convincing leaders and losing large amounts of support. It is almost the definition of a protest party

Some people on the Right just don’t seem to understand that western societies are deeply liberal in their bones, going back hundred years. That isn’t ALL they are, but it is a major component. Some sort of return to “Christendom” or whatever bizarre political concept they come up with is not going to hack it with the public.

c donnellan
c donnellan
30 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

The ‘liberalism’ of post-1960s is entirely destructive of European civilization.

Rob N
Rob N
1 month ago

Wish more parties were looking into plans for what to do with legally resident migrants

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
30 days ago
Reply to  Rob N

Good luck with that. You will never get any public support for the “repatriation” of people who were born in and are citizens of the country.

c donnellan
c donnellan
30 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

They are ‘German’ only on their passports and with enough crime and social chaos, you might be surprised how many of the native population might support Remigration.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
1 month ago

Nazis gonna Nazi!

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
1 month ago

Champagne Socialist gonna Champagne Socialist?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
30 days ago

Is this bizarre comment really worth even you making the effort to type?

Having people who disagree is one thing, but it is quite another that somebody is so ignorant that they can’t tell the historic difference between an anti- mass immigration party and the Nazis – who as I recall were not fighting to keep tens of thousands of foreign Jews out of Germany. Or even find it interesting, which anyone interested in political ideas ought to.

c donnellan
c donnellan
30 days ago

Marxists gonna Marx off like 1968.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

The entire notion of a populist coalition at the EU level is somewhat paradoxical anyway. These parties, like these nations, have completely different economic interests, different cultures, different origins, and different levels of success in their home countries. No surprise they’re bickering over what exactly populism means at the level of the EU parliament. Not sure I could define it myself. Maybe an overall emphasis on giving the individual states greater independence? Maybe an overall effort to form a coherent industrial policy that doesn’t leave Europe wholly dependent on one or the other superpowers? There’s not much meat on the bones for populism at the highest levels. It’s more relevant in the US, where our government is more centralized. Here there’s a lot more power to seize back from the federal level and give back to the states and people. This business in the EU parliament almost feels like a side show when compared to what’s happening within and between member nations.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago

It seems strange that in Europe conservatives always seem to be two years away from an election that will give them government power.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Don’t tell me elements of the Right’s rhetoric beginning to implode as they come into contact with the actual potential to assume responsibility? Surely not.

c donnellan
c donnellan
30 days ago

Marine has been an ineffective and terrible leader of what used to be The FN. Her father was better. Her niece Marion would be even better.