Germany's far-right AfD cast out by EU partners

Maximilian Krah, the lead candidate for the AfD party in upcoming EU polls, is embroiled in a string of scandals (FREDERICK FLORIN)
Maximilian Krah, the lead candidate for the AfD party in upcoming EU polls, is embroiled in a string of scandals (FREDERICK FLORIN)

Germany's AfD party was expelled Thursday from its far-right group within the European Parliament after a series of scandals involving a high-profile lawmaker, in the closing stretch of an EU election race in which the radical right is riding high.

France's National Rally (RN) and Italy's League -- both partners to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) within the parliament's hard-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group -- have been scrambling to distance themselves from the party and its embattled lawmaker, Maximilian Krah.

The AfD's top candidate in the June 6-9 polls, Krah is being investigated for suspicious links to Russia and China -- and after he made comments minimising the crimes of the Nazis' feared SS, the RN decided to draw a line.

Marine Le Pen's party announced Tuesday it would no longer sit with the AfD in Brussels. Two days later ID voted to expel the German party and its nine EU lawmakers.

"The ID Group no longer wants to be associated with the incidents involving Maximilian Krah," it said in a statement.

"The Bureau of the Identity and Democracy Group in the European Parliament has decided today to exclude the German delegation, AfD, with immediate effect."

Nicolai von Ondarza, at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, saw the swiftness of ID's move as a way of "signalling in their election campaign that Le Pen and Co. want to present themselves as the more moderate".

"This really is the end of the road of a journey of radicalisation for the AfD, which has become too radical to stomach even for that most far-right fringe of the European political spectrum," he wrote on the platform X.

But EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen poured scorn on the notion the German party was fundamentally in a different class to other European far-right movements -- RN included.

"We must be clear-eyed," she wrote on X. "Different names -- but all the same."

"They are Putin's puppets and proxies and they are trampling on our values," she said, referring to Russia's long-serving leader.

- Clean break -

Reading the writing on the wall, the AfD had already moved to ban Krah from EU election campaign events -- though it was electorally too late to remove the 47-year-old lawyer from the top of its list for the poll.

But the RN said it was too little too late.

RN lawmaker Jean-Paul Garraud, who sits in ID's leadership bureau, confirmed the French party was behind the initiative to expel its German partner.

He told AFP that Krah's AfD as a whole carried responsibility for his "inadmissible" comments made as lead candidate.

AfD said in response it had "taken note of the ID Group's decision" but insisted it remained optimistic for the upcoming elections.

The party said it would "continue to have reliable partners at our side in the new legislative period".

Krah has been at the centre of a deepening crisis after one of his aides in the EU parliament was arrested on suspicion of spying for China.

He and another key AfD candidate, Petr Bystron, have also been forced to deny allegations they accepted money to spread pro-Russian positions on a Moscow-financed news website.

RN leader Jordan Bardella declared Krah had finally crossed a "red line" after he told an Italian newspaper that not every member of Germany's SS was "automatically a criminal".

The ID grouping is the sixth largest in the European Parliament, and the smaller of two far-right groups, behind the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) which includes Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy.

Key issues are seen as dividing the two far-right factions.

Most notably, ID is sceptical of continued EU support for Ukraine against Russia's invading army, while the ECR backs Kyiv in its fight.

And a third hard-right force sits in the EU parliament in the form of Fidesz, the unaffiliated party of Hungary's Kremlin-friendly Prime Minister Viktor Orban.