As EU election campaigns kick off in Germany, the Ukraine war, rise of far right are dominant themes


BERLIN (AP) — Several German parties on Saturday kicked off their campaigns for the election of the European Parliament in June with a focus on issues such as the war in Ukraine and support by many European voters for far-right nationalist parties across the continent.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz ’s center-left Social Democrats, or SPD, launched their official campaign for the June 9 EU election with a rally in Hamburg, Scholz’s longtime home city.

Responding to many German voters’ fears their country could be drawn into Ukraine’s war with Russia if it’s too proactive in its military support for the eastern European country, Scholz tried to alleviate such concerns.

The chancellor reiterated that Germany would continue to stand by Ukraine’s side under his leadership as the second-largest arms supplier after the U.S., but would avoid a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

“To those who are worried, who are afraid, I say: you can rest assured that no matter how the debates go, the German Chancellor, the government I lead, will not abandon the course of prudence, the course of balanced action and ensuring peace and security in Europe,” he said, according to German news agency dpa.

“Peace” is one of the central terms on the SPD’s election posters, on which Scholz and European election top candidate Katarina Barley can be seen together.

The European Parliament is the only publicly elected body in the European Union. The EU was created after World War II to foster peace, and now has 450 million people and the world’s second-largest economy. Far-right parties and their discourse are expected to weigh heavily on election campaigning.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, officially kicked off its campaign for the elections at an event in the southwestern town of Donaueschingen. The party’s top candidate in the elections, Maximilian Krah, canceled plans to speak after an assistant was arrested on suspicion of spying for China earlier this week.

Krah’s party has been polling strongly in Germany in recent months as discontent is high with Scholz’s three-party coalition government. It has long been criticized as having Russia-friendly positions.

However, the AfD’s poll ratings have recently gone down compared with what they were before a media report in January about a plan by far-right politicians, including some by the AfD, to deport millions of people of non-German ancestry. The report triggered months of mass protests in the country against the rise of the far-right.

In Munich, the Christian Social Union, the smaller, Bavaria-only party in Germany’s main conservative opposition bloc, also held a convention ahead of the European Parliament election.

The head of the party and governor of Bavaria, Markus Soeder, sharply assailed the AfD for alleged links of some party members to Russia and China, dpa reported.

“Obviously, half of the AfD is involved in some kind of espionage activities or money transfers from other countries,” Soeder told party members.

“The fact that active politicians are possibly being paid by Russia while at the same time calling for the end of NATO (makes them) nothing more than Kremlin servants, traitors to the fatherland and not patriots, dear friends. Away with them,” he added.

AfD leader Tino Chrupalla has called on his party to stand united following German media reports of possible involvement with Russia and China by leading AfD politicians, dpa reported.

“We will use the election campaign to show that we cannot be brought down so quickly and that we stand together as one,” said Chrupalla in Dnoaueschingen.

Referring to the recent accusations, he tried to depict his far-right party as a victim of smear campaigns.

“It has become adventurous to see the means by which our party is to be destroyed, how our party is to be damaged, how unrest and mistrust are to be created,” Chrupalla said.

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