After more than 60 years—and amid an exceedingly exposed Right flank in Germany’s political spectrum—the Center Party (Zentrumspartei), the country’s second-oldest political party, once again is represented in the Bundestag.
The party, originally established in 1870 to represent Catholic interests during the reign of Otto von Bismarck, gained a federal lawmaker on Tuesday after Schleswig-Holstein MP Uwe Witt, who in December left the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, announced his decision to switch party affiliations, the daily newspaper Der Spiegel reports.
Witt, who in federal elections last fall ran as a top candidate for the AfD in Germany’s northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein, announced his departure from the right-wing populist party in December, citing that ideologies held by some of its members had become too radical—and were therefore incompatible—with his views.
During his tenure as a politician and lawmaker for the AfD, the 62-year-old former steel fitter served as the chairman of the “Alternative Mitte”—a moderate faction within the party describing itself as “liberal-patriotic” and “bourgeois-conservative”—which positioned itself as an ideological rival to “Der Flügel” (the wing), the party’s radical faction led by Thuringian state spokesman Björn Höcke.
The former AfD MP’s accession has been welcomed by The Centre Party’s top brass. Commenting on the matter, Christian Otte, the secretary-general of the party, said: “The German Center Party has been delighted to finally be able to welcome a member of the Bundestag into its own ranks since 1957,” adding that Witt’s membership was “signal a new beginning” for the party.
“We definitely see this as an opportunity,” Otte said, noting that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party’s steady drift to the left has caused a growing number of conservative Germans to look for a Christian-social electorate alternative which is based on the model of a Christian Social Union (CSU) party outside of Bavaria.
For his part, Witt, in a party statement, said that in the Center Party he’s found a genuine political opposition party.
“I am very pleased that I am now a member of the German Center Party, the oldest party in Germany. In the Center Party, I have found a true political opposition party that is deeply and firmly rooted in democracy and is firmly rooted in the Basic Law. I am happy to be able to make Christian, social and humane politics for the Center Party in the German Bundestag.
In recent weeks I have communicated extensively with the representatives of the party. I was welcomed very openly and warmly. There is still a lot of joint work ahead of us, but I am in good spirits and firmly convinced that we can offer citizens a new, citizen-friendly, liberal and conservative force in the current party landscape.”
Defections within the AfD have plagued the party since it became a force in the federal parliament in 2017. In December, Witt’s resignation was promptly followed by AfD MP Johannes Huber, who left the party’s parliamentary group for similar reasons. The number of MPs in the AfD parliamentary group presently sits at 80, down from 94 at the beginning of the last legislative period.