The AfD may be thrown out of its hall for the party conference in June. At least that is what the city of Essen is planning, as FOCUS online learned exclusively. The party leadership is now threatening legal action.

Last week was not a good one, AfD leader Alice Weidel said at the weekend in light of a series of scandals. Shortly before the European elections, the party leadership could now face another turbulent week.

The AfD federal party conference in 2024 may not take place as planned. The Essen city council will vote on Wednesday on whether to use a trick to throw the party out of its party conference hall. FOCUS online has learned this exclusively from people familiar with the proposal. The Green faction in the city council announced that it would vote for the plan together with its cooperation partner, the CDU – so the proposal’s passage is virtually certain.

Now the AfD is reacting to the plans. The party headquarters are being very calm: They see no reason why the city of Essen would want to “suddenly breach the contract shortly before the event date,” they said in response to a query from FOCUS online. At the AfD’s 14 federal party conferences to date, not a single such crime has been identified.

In the event of a contract termination, the party intends to go to court, and believes it has a good chance of winning. The party did not respond to the question of whether it would make a voluntary commitment.

The party actually wants to hold its party conference from June 28 to 30 in the Ruhr metropolis – as it did in 2015 in the Grugahalle. The responsible trade fair company had concluded the contract with the party.

Because other parties such as the CDU and SPD have already held their party conferences in the hall, they felt obliged to make the venue available to the AfD due to the so-called “contracting obligation”.

When both the contract and the AfD’s Potsdam remigration meeting became known in January, the supervisory board of the trade fair company felt compelled to review the rental. The mayor of Essen, Thomas Kufen (CDU), said at the time: “In view of the current developments surrounding the party, holding the party conference is not conceivable for me.”

The argument: Kufen felt that the sudden large-scale demonstrations against the AfD meant that “public order and security” could not be guaranteed. According to estimates, around 80,000 people could demonstrate against the AfD party conference. A large police presence would be necessary to ensure order.

A broad alliance of parties, unions and churches has called for peaceful protests. However, it cannot be ruled out that some demonstrators want to directly disrupt the party conference. In addition, people in the Ruhr region are particularly cautious when there are large crowds on the streets. At the Love Parade in Duisburg in 2010, 21 people died due to a mass panic. In the aftermath, there was severe criticism of an inadequate security concept.

However, the examination by the trade fair supervisory board initially did not lead to a cancellation because there were fears of legal difficulties: In a similar case, the Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia had ruled at the beginning of February that a municipality must make its community center available to the AfD.

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One month before the party conference, the matter is now rolling again. Mayor Kufen wants to introduce a proposal to the city council that aims to prevent the Essen party conference with a new argument: “We have noticed that since the contract was signed, an increasing radicalization of significant parts of the AfD has been observed,” said Kufen in response to a query from FOCUS online.

The party’s language has also become more extreme, the argument goes. It can therefore be assumed that there is a high probability that criminal acts will occur at the party conference – which will take place in a city building.

It is therefore conceivable, for example, that Nazi slogans are used in speeches, as the Thuringian AfD leader Björn Höcke did. He was sentenced by the Halle (Saale) regional court for shouting “Everything for Germany”. The city of Essen sees itself as having a duty to prevent such conceivable incidents. Kufen demands that something like this does not happen again: “The party has to ensure this. Otherwise we will not be able to make the Grugahalle available.”

In the CDU politician’s proposal, the AfD is specifically asked to make a written commitment as part of the rental agreement to prevent criminal statements. If the party makes the declaration and such slogans are still used, it would have to pay a fine of up to 500,000 euros. If no such declaration is made by June 4, the contract will be terminated. The city would bear any costs incurred as a result.

The Essen Green Party group has decided to agree to the proposal. However, this had been examined intensively beforehand. It is important that the expulsion is legally watertight. “Any success of the AfD in court must be avoided at all costs,” said the group leader Sandra Schumacher to FOCUS online. It was a difficult decision. “It is of course our aim to fight the AfD, but we must choose the means carefully.”

Being kicked out of the Grugahalle would pose major problems for the AfD: around a month before the party conference, it would probably be difficult to find a suitable alternative hall. The party is expecting around 600 delegates, plus press representatives and helpers. But it’s not just about the venue; hotels and travel would also have to be rebooked. All of this would hit the party financially.

If the party conference had to be postponed, the AfD would possibly also suffer political damage. After numerous scandals involving Björn Höcke, Maximilian Krah and Petr Bystron, among others, the party executive committee could not regroup through elections. Important decisions for the state elections in the autumn and the federal election next year would have to be postponed.

The city of Essen, on the other hand, could breathe a sigh of relief if the party conference does not take place. According to a report in the “Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung”, the plan was to close the entire Grugapark and Grugabad when the party conference took place. In addition, a street was to be made accessible only to AfD delegates. This would have significantly restricted the city’s citizens, with almost an entire district being a no-go zone for at least three days.

If the event is cancelled, the security forces in the Ruhr region could concentrate entirely on the European Football Championship taking place at that time. Games will be played in Essen’s neighbouring cities of Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund, among others.

However, one thing will still disappoint football fans: According to the “Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung”, a national team had cancelled its accommodation in Essen because of the AfD party conference – the team would stay away even if the event was cancelled.