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Thursday, 30 December 2010

German far-right parties announce merger

Two cash-strapped German far-right parties said on Thursday that they have agreed to merge ahead of an election-heavy year when voters in seven of the country's 16 states go to the polls.

The German National Democratic Party (NPD) and the smaller German People's Union (DVU) said that their leaders had signed an agreement on Wednesday creating the new party, "NPD - The People's Union", from January 1.

"What we have achieved is the creation of one strong and unified right-wing party," NPD leader Matthias Faust said in a statement.

"The election in Saxony-Anhalt (in eastern Germany) in March will show that it will be easier in future to bring national policies into (state) parliaments.

"The subsequent domino effect will bring further successes for the national opposition."

Earlier this year Germany became engulfed in a debate about immigration sparked by a book by a central banker who said Europe's biggest economy was being made "more stupid" by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim migrants.

NPD officials welcomed the book, which became a best-seller. Polls showed considerable sympathy for some of its arguments, leading to fears that a populist party with a charismatic leader could win considerable support.

But neither the NPD nor the DVU, which have been beset by major financial problems and falling membership, have appeared to benefit and neither party has ever had any seats in the federal parliament.

The NPD, formed in 1964, has six seats in the regional parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and eight in Saxony, both in the depressed former communist east of the country where unemployment and poverty rates are high.

The DVU, created by millionaire Gerhard Frey in 1971, has one seat in the parliament of the western city state of Bremen. It says it has around 4,000 members while the NPD was estimated in 2009 to have 6,000-7,000.

Voters go the polls in Hamburg in February, in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in March, in Bremen in May and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin in September.