Unsettled by AfD, German parties squabble over seating plan
Even before Germany's new parliament opens its first session, the unsettling force of the far-right AfD made itself felt -- with a dispute over the Bundestag seating plan.
Over two planning sessions, mainstream parties were able to agree only that Alternative for Germany's lawmakers should be consigned to the extreme right end of the room.
Neither the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) nor Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative alliance wanted to find themselves next to the Islamophobic nationalist party.
Outgoing speaker of the house Norbert Lammert finally exercised his authority for a final say on Friday, deciding that MPs from the FDP should take their seats next to the AfD when parliament meets for the first time on October 24.
FDP party spokesman Nils Droste confirmed his party's grudging acceptance of the arrangement, but made clear that they will not give up on their fight to move to the centre of the room.
The seating plan battle is a preview of what lies ahead in future parliamentary sittings, which is expected to become more conflictual with the presence of the Islamophobic and anti-immigration AfD.
- Political earthquake -
The AfD's arrival in the Bundestag with more than 90 MPs is nothing short of a political earthquake in post-war Germany.
Leading AfD figures have repeatedly smashed taboos through their claims on German identity or by challenging Germany's culture of atonement over World War II and the slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, the squabble over seats has also sparked a war of words on Twitter, with the AfD taking aim at FDP leader Christian Lindner.
"The FDP wants to sit in the centre for symbolic reasons? Lindner's seat is not in the middle, but symbolically in the copy room," mocked the AfD on Twitter.
AfD MP Beatrix von Storch added that "those who don't want to sit next to us can maybe go to the visitor's gallery, or stay at home?"
As polls in the run-up to the September 24 vote predicted that the party would comfortably cross the five percent hurdle to win seats, lawmakers had tweaked parliamentary rules to ensure that the oldest MP would not be an AfD lawmaker.
Under previous rules, the oldest MP carries the authority to be an interim speaker until one is elected by the house.
Following the change, this role now goes to the MP with the longest experience.