BERLIN (Reuters) - A lawmaker from the eurosceptic, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) who has criticised euro zone rescues and the European Central Bank has been chosen as the chair of parliament’s influential budget committee.
The top job in what is nicknamed the “king’s committee” due to its power in scrutinising government ministries’ budgets is traditionally reserved for the largest opposition party. That is set to be the AfD if Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) seal a new coalition.
The committee voted on Wednesday to accept AfD candidate Peter Boehringer, who rose to prominence by campaigning for the repatriation of Germany’s gold reserves from overseas. He has also called for an “immediate end to mass illegal Islamic migration to Europe that threatens our existence”.
The AfD and the pro-market Free Democrats (FDP) voted in favour of Boehringer, 48, while the conservatives, SPD and Greens abstained. The far-left Linke voted against him.
The AfD also succeeded on Wednesday in securing the chairmanship of two other parliamentary committees - for legal affairs and tourism.
Striking a conciliatory tone after the budget committee vote, Boehringer, a former corporate consultant, told reporters he was optimistic that the parties would be able to work well together on the panel.
“The budget committee will be well managed and... in my opinion, in a balancing way. Of course we won’t create a spectacle in the budget committee,” he said.
Boehringer wants all of Germany’s gold repatriated from vaults in New York, Paris and elsewhere, but he has also said this is not a matter for the budget committee.
The AfD, which surged into parliament in last September’s election with nearly 13 percent of the vote amid public concerns over a mass influx of migrants into Germany, wants the country to leave the euro zone and re-introduce the deutsche mark.
There have been concerns the AfD will become more credible and legitimate by taking positions like the budget committee chair but the other parties said they respected the AfD had earned the role with its strong election result.
Mainstream parties are keen to avoid the impression of disadvantaging the AfD by changing rules or traditions as they do not want it to have grounds to complain of unfair treatment.
Boehringer has played down expectations of what he can do in the new job, telling Reuters on Tuesday the AfD would not be able to thwart government plans to spend on refugees or possible euro zone bailouts as mainstream parties have a majority in the committee and so would outvote it. [L8N1PP721]
The former head of the budget committee - Gesine Loetzsch, a member of the far-left Linke - said she had concerns about the choice of Boehringer, especially as he would have to represent the committee to international organisations.
“We’ve noticed that he has made racist and misogynist comments and that’s not a good foundation for representing the committee,” she said.
The new AfD chair of the legal affairs committee, Stephan Brandner, is a close ally of Bjoern Hoecke, a regional party leader who provoked outrage last year when he described Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial as a “monument of shame”.
Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones