BERLIN (Reuters) - A group of eastern German conservatives have caused outrage within Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and among Jewish groups by demanding the party hold talks with the far right in the eastern state of Thuringia.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has capitalized on anti-immigrant sentiment since the 2015 migrant crisis, came second, ahead of the CDU, in last month’s Thuringia election that was won by the radical Left party. That outcome has made building a viable governing coalition extremely tricky.
It is taboo for Merkel’s party to cooperate with the AfD, whose hardline leader in Thuringia, Bjoern Hoecke, wants German history books to be rewritten to focus more on German rather than Jewish suffering in World War Two.
However, some 17 CDU members called on the party there to “actively take part in a process of talks with all democratically elected parties in the Thuringia assembly”.
Their move echoed a comment by Michael Heym, leader of the CDU in the Thuringia assembly, who had said it would not help democracy to ignore a quarter of voters. The AfD won 23.4%.
Several senior members in the national CDU condemned the initiative in Thuringia, with General-Secretary Paul Ziemiak calling it “mad”. He said nothing had changed in the CDU’s stance toward the AfD, and anyone who thought differently should ask themselves if they were in the right party.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany described any would-be CDU-AfD coordination as irresponsible and the Jewish Community of Thuringia expressed frustration, saying:
“How can Jewish life and culture develop in Thuringia if the AfD - directly or indirectly - is part of the state government, in a coalition or supporting it?”
The AfD said in a statement it was open to talks with the CDU and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) on the possibilities of forming a government in Thuringia.
Nationally, the AfD are polling at about 14% but they are strongest in the formerly Communist east of Germany.
Some conservatives in the eastern state of Saxony, home to the anti-Muslim PEGIDA movement, have also flirted with the idea of working with the AfD but it has come to nothing so far, partly due to pressure from Berlin.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mark Heinrich