In crisis, Germany's AfD bans scandal-hit lead candidate from EU vote events

The AfD bans its leading candidate Maximilian Krah from EU election campaign events over a series of scandals (JENS SCHLUETER)
The AfD bans its leading candidate Maximilian Krah from EU election campaign events over a series of scandals (JENS SCHLUETER)

Germany's far-right AfD party on Wednesday banned its leading candidate from EU election campaign events, as it battled a series of scandals that sparked a break with its French allies.

Maximilian Krah, the Alternative for Germany's top candidate in the upcoming vote, is being investigated for suspicious links to Russia and China.

Compounding the AfD's woes, Krah's claims over the weekend that someone who had been a member of the SS paramilitary force in Nazi Germany was "not automatically a criminal" led France's National Rally (RN) party to split with the AfD on Tuesday.

Krah said following talks with AfD's top brass on Wednesday that he will leave the party's federal steering committee.

"The last thing that we need now is a debate about me. The AfD must keep its unity," Krah said on X, formerly Twitter.

"For this reason, I will not make any further campaign appearances and will step down as a member of the federal committee."

But the RN underlined that it was too little too late.

"The AfD is going from provocation to provocation," Marine Le Pen, the RN's party leader in parliament, told Europe 1 radio.

"It is time to make a clean break with this movement, which is not managed and which obviously is under the influence of radical groups within," she said.

- 'Lessons not learned' -

Although Krah has become a liability, the AfD is stuck with him at the top of its list for the June 9 elections, as no modifications were allowed after March 18.

The only exception would be a criminal conviction carrying a jail term of at least five years. Krah can, however, himself decide not to take on the MEP mandate following the election.

The far-right party was polling at over 20 percent at the turn of the year, when it capitalised on discontent over rising immigration and a weak economy.

But it has seen a steady slide in support, with the latest survey at 15 percent.

Krah is at the centre of a deepening crisis after one of his aides in the European Parliament was arrested on suspicion of spying for China.

Krah 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.

Bystron, who is second place on the AfD's EU elections list, said on Wednesday that he, too, would stop appearing at campaign events. However, he put it down to "family reasons".

German prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation into Krah over reports of suspicious payments received from China and Russia.

With the AfD reeling, the French far-right party announced that it has "decided to no longer sit with" AfD deputies in the EU parliament after Krah's comments on the SS.

The RN had already been irked by an investigation by media group Correctiv in January which indicated AfD members had discussed the idea of mass deportations at a meeting with extremists, leading to a wave of protests across Germany.

"We had frank discussions" with the AfD, RN lawmaker Alexandre Loubet told AFP on Tuesday. "Lessons were not learned so we are taking the consequences."

The RN and AfD had been the key members of an EU parliament group called Identity and Democracy that also included several other European far-right parties.