The populist Alternative for Germany is facing potential legal action after MPs from the party smuggled rightwing activists into parliament to protest at a new law allowing authorities to impose anti-coronavirus lockdowns.
The intrusion earlier this week sparked widespread outrage across the German political spectrum after videos on social media showed MPs being harangued and insulted by far-right activists in the corridors of the Bundestag.
Alexander Gauland, head of the AfD parliamentary group, was forced to apologise on Friday after MPs scheduled an emergency debate on the incident.
He acknowledged that the activists had entered parliament as guests of AfD MPs and had proceeded to “harass and accost” lawmakers of government parties who supported the lockdown legislation. He described their behaviour as “uncivilised” and “ill-mannered”.
“The heated atmosphere outside was carried over inside — we should have prevented that and supervised the visitors,” he said. “The situation got out of hand.”
Despite his apology, pressure is expected to increase on the AfD after Wolfgang Schäuble, chairman of the Bundestag, said he had asked the authorities to “examine all legal avenues for taking action against the culprits and those who provided access for them to the . . . Bundestag”.
The object of the protesters’ wrath was a series of amendments to Germany’s anti-pandemic law that stipulates which lockdown measures the authorities can impose, such as shutting down restaurants and schools, banning religious services and obliging people to wear masks.
Such measures have up to now been imposed by government decree, and were seen as vulnerable to court challenges. Enshrining them in law puts them on a more secure legal footing.
Thousands of protesters gathered in central Berlin on Wednesday to express their fury at the amendments, which they claimed infringe their civil rights and undermine the German constitution. Police used water cannon against the demonstrators after they refused to don masks and comply with social distancing rules.
The AfD backed the protesters, with many of their MPs comparing the amendments to the Enabling Act of 1933 that paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship.
During the emergency Bundestag debate on Friday, AfD MP Karsten Hilse, who was detained by police during this week’s demonstration, said the amendments would lead to “the biggest restrictions on our fundamental rights since 1949”, adding that “there has never been such broad resistance to a law, across the entire political spectrum, in German history”.
But MPs from all other parties turned on the AfD, using the debate about Wednesday’s incident to condemn the party and its methods.
“Since 2017 . . . the atmosphere in this house has fundamentally changed, and that’s because the AfD was allowed to enter parliament [in that year],” said Barbara Hendricks of the Social Democrats.
“You are trying to destroy parliamentary democracy from within,” said Patrick Schnieder of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc.
“Your clear intention is to drag the image of this house through the mud,” said Michael Grosse-Brömer, the CDU/CSU’s chief whip. Petra Pau, an MP from the far-left Die Linke party, described the AfD’s comparison of the anti-pandemic amendments to the Enabling Act as a “bottomless outrage” that “trivialises fascism and mocks its victims”.
The opposition Greens, too, expressed anger at the activists’ infiltration of parliament. “Whoever tries to intimidate MPs attacks our democracy,” said Britta Hasselmann, the Greens’ chief whip. “And that breaches a taboo in this house.”