The nationalist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) has backed away from plans to call for a German withdrawal from the European Union.
The AfD had planned to put a call for “Dexit” at the heart of its manifesto for May’s European parliament elections, with a pledge to leave the EU by 2024 unless the bloc is radically reformed.
But the pledge was watered down to a vague threat to leave if reforms are not made “in a timely manner” at the weekend, following the intervention of the party leader, Alexander Gauland.
The move comes as Marine Le Pen also turned her back on her past campaign for France to leave the EU, instead pledging to reform the bloc from within as she launched her National Rally party’s European election campaign.
The AfD shocked the German establishment when it included a timetable for withdrawal from the EU in the initial draft of its manifesto for the European elections.
The AfD has called for the EU to be recast as a “Europe of fatherlands”, and the original draft of its manifesto called for Germany to leave the bloc if the party’s demands for reforms were not met by 2024.
But delegates at a special party conference voted to drop the ulitmatum after an appeal from Mr Gauland.
“I do not think it is wise to go into an election with such a major demand,” Mr Gauland told them. “Whoever plays with the idea of Dexit has to ask: isn’t that a Utopia, and shouldn’t we be realistic?”
Originally founded to oppose the single currency, the AfD has previously shied away from calling for Dexit in a country where 75 per cent of people believe EU membership is beneficial, according to a poll last year.
“We don’t need to abolish the EU, but to bring it back to its sensible core,” Mr Gauland said. The AfD wants the EU to become a economic and trade union stripped of legislative powrs, and its manifesto calls for the European parliament to be abolished and replaced with a much smaller assemby of delegates sent by national parliaments.
The dispute was part of a wider struggle for control of the party between the current leadership and a hardline faction led by Björn Höcke, who has publicly called for a “180-degree turn” in German attitudes towards the Second World War.
Mr Gauland’s calls to reform the EU from within were echoed at the weekend by Ms Le Pen, who has dropped her former campaign for a Frexit.
“What we propose is a quiet transition from the European Union to the European alliance of nations,” Ms Le Pen told a rally in Paris to launch her party’s European election campaign.
She said this would allow France “to reconquer our border control, our legislative, budget and monetary sovereignty”.
Ms Le Pen is hoping the recent Yellow Vests protests against the government of Emmanuel Macron will help her National Rally party in the European elections.
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