Europe, economy, migration: In a television duel, the Thuringian CDU leader Mario Voigt had a heated exchange with the AfD right-winger Björn Höcke. The two top candidates for the state elections in Thuringia in September accused each other of harming Germany and the German economy.

During the live broadcast on the TV channel Welt, the opponents also attacked each other personally. “You are poison for the country that is my home,” Voigt accused the AfD politician, who is considered a right-wing extremist by the state Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Höcke countered that Voigt was being populist and didn’t understand his arguments. When it came to migration, Höcke attacked Voigt head-on: “You are now risking the big lip here.”

Thuringia will elect a new state parliament on September 1st. In recent surveys, the AfD was in first place with values ​​between 29 and 31 percent, although the state association is classified and monitored by the Thuringian Office for the Protection of the Constitution as definitely right-wing extremist. Voigt’s CDU ranks second in surveys with values ​​between 20 and 21 percent. Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow’s Left Party and his coalition partners SPD and Greens are behind in surveys. They were not represented on the television show.

“A catastrophe for Germany”

Voigt and Höcke agreed to the TV duel after a dispute about European policy on the X platform (formerly Twitter). Europe was then the first controversial topic in the show, which was moderated by the two world journalists Tatjana Ohm and editor-in-chief Jan Philipp Burgard.

Voigt warned of the consequences of Höcke’s European policy ideas, who wanted the European Union to die. “That would be a catastrophe for Germany, that would be relegation for Germany.” The EU is not perfect, “but it is a house that has always protected us,” he said.

Höcke, on the other hand, said that Germany had to leave the EU. The 52-year-old called for a “loose alliance of European states”. Höcke criticized bureaucracy in the EU and high energy prices. The AfD is also for a common market and the protection of external borders. “Otherwise we need independence,” he said.

“Money is there”

With a view to the economic situation, Höcke accused the CDU politician Voigt of belonging to a “prosperity-destroying party”. “The money is there, it’s just not being spent on German interests,” said Höcke.

The CDU politician Voigt took a hard line on migration policy – a classic AfD issue. He said illegal migration was a huge problem and the solution was: “Zero illegal migration in Germany”.

Höcke spoke of “remigration,” but remained very vague about who he believed should leave Germany. Instead, he used the term in a previously rarely used sense: it was about bringing German emigrants back into the country.

There has been a debate about the term “remigration” since the revelations about a meeting of radical right-wingers in Potsdam where it was discussed. When right-wing extremists use the term, they usually mean that large numbers of people of foreign origin should leave the country – even under duress.

Duel is taking longer than announced

The TV duel lasted significantly longer than the originally scheduled 45 minutes. Topics also included the war in Ukraine and the culture of remembrance – i.e. the commemoration of German crimes and the Holocaust during the Nazi era. Höcke had expressed many things about this in the past.

Now he said: “The Holocaust was a disgrace. Nobody denies that.” But he wants a positive identity for Germany. “You can’t win the future with a negative identity,” said Höcke. Voigt said on the subject of patriotism: “I love my country, but I don’t hate others.”

A week before a trial against Höcke for using the Nazi slogan “Everything for Germany,” the AfD state leader defended his choice of words. He used it in a free campaign speech and ultimately translated Donald Trump’s “America First” into German in a freely interpreted manner. When asked, Höcke said that he did not know during the speech that “Everything for Germany” was an SA slogan. It is a common saying.

Dispute over the Mettbrötchen

The two politicians fought bitterly over the correct name for a roll with raw minced meat – symbolically it was about ties to their homeland, because Voigt is Thuringian, while Höcke comes from North Rhine-Westphalia. It’s called minced rolls and not Mettbrötchen, the CDU politician told his AfD opponent. Höcke corrected himself. In fact, minced and seasoned pork is not called Mett in Thuringia.

The TV duel was discussed very controversially in advance. On the one hand, the date on the anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar was criticized. The main point of criticism, however, was that Höcke, who was seen as a right-wing extremist, was offered a nationwide stage.