Stephanie Surface describes and analyses the emergence of a new phenomenon on the German political landscape.
“If the Euro fails, so will Europe”. “There is no alternative to the Euro”. Thus pronounced Angela Merkel, as she stood in front of the German Parliament, the Bundestag, before an important vote for yet another Euro rescue package. After multiple plaintiffs had asked the German Constitutional Court of Justice to stop these rescue missions, the Court decided that the government had to get permission each time from parliament before spending more of taxpayers’ money.
Except for a few rebels from all major parties and “Die Linke” (“The Left”),who claimed that the money will be only spent on rescuing banks and not countries, nearly the whole Parliament accepted the additional required money which Angela Merkel, only months before, proclaimed as a red line she wouldn’t overstep.
Then, on 28th February, a fifty year-old economics professor, Dr.Bernd Lucke from Hamburg, announced from the podium at a small assembly hall outside Frankfurt that there is an alternative in German politics, and that he and a group of concerned Germans have founded a new party called “Alternative für Deutschland” (“Alternative for Germany”). The movement so far consists of fifty-five supporters–mostly economists, some industrialists, journalists, publishers, entrepreneurs, engineers, medical doctors and scientists. The spokesmen for this loose group are the aforementioned Bernd Lucke, FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) journalist Konrad Adam and former state secretary in Hesse, Alexander Gauland. Other prominent supporters are the industrialist and former president of the Federation of German Industry, Hans-Olaf Henkel, and well-known eurosceptic economists Stefan Homburg (Hanover), Charles Blankart (Berlin), Wilhelm Hankel and Karl Schachtschneider, who were also the main plaintiffs in actions before the Constitutional Court of Justice opposing the repeated Euro rescue packages.
The press conference was attended not only by the international press, but also by 1200 spectators who filled every seat and standing place in the hall. To thunderous applause Bernd Lucke attacked Merkel’s lack of alternatives and her government’s breaking of treaties, especially Maastricht, concluding that she repeatedly broke her promises to the German voter. He proclaimed that a trench is splitting Europe into Southern states with non-competitive economies and a Northern Europe with high wealth-transfer commitments. He wanted an end to the Euro Bureaucracy, an end to the lack of democracy, and an end to the degradation of the German parliament where MPs become just “intimidated extras”. Bernd Lucke also called for a simplification of the entire German tax system.
- Adherence to the Maastricht Treaty, which means, inter alia, no guarantees for the debt of other countries
- It should be politically and legally possible for countries to leave EMU
- Transfer of sovereignty should be legitimized only by a prior plebiscite
In their website, AfD has also written up a wish list: dissolving the Eurozone currency as it is, introducing local currencies or small stable currency unions, and forcing the European Treaties to change by blocking any rescue packages with a veto on the basis of the only beneficiary of “rescue politics” seeming to be big banks and hedge-funds, and not the ordinary German taxpayer.
Germany’s established political parties so far are trying to ignore the founding of this new Euro- sceptic party, hoping it will sink into oblivion as others before have done, like the “Die Freien Wähler” who got less than 1% in a recent ‘Länder’ election. Although this party reached 10% in the Bavarian election, it now seems to be mainly focused on local issues.
Most of the established media in Germany are covering the news of the new anti-Euro party by publishing the AfD’s list of well-known and prominent supporters. For the first time it seems anti-Euro sentiment has moved out of the fringes into mainstream thinking. The left-leaning press has been predictably dismissive, and German State TV, funded by the taxpayer, has already tried to put AfD into the right-wing loony category, even placing them, in a recent web article, close to the Nationalistic Party of Germany. It will be difficult for them to maintain this bias in the face of the legitimacy of the party’s democratic supporters.
The big question is whether AfD will be successful in the general election on September 22nd. As the party was established last month, two dates will be important : they have to be officially registered by June 17th with a manifesto and party structure with at least 150 party members (so far they’ve got already 2000) and they need to collect at least 2000 signatures by July 15th. It seems both those requirements will be easily achieved.
The bigger challenge for the AfD will be how to avoid fragmentation in leadership and goals. They also have to get their mostly conservative/liberal target group mobilized and raise money. There is an urgent need for a coherent programme in other policy areas, and they have to find a charismatic leader to keep the public attention.
There are also hard-to-predict factors like financial markets remaining calm in the next few months and German monetary guarantees not being called in. Under those circumstances it will be difficult for AfD to demonstrate to the electorate the urgency of having an alternative approach. On the other hand, a recent poll showed that no fewer than 26% of Germans are willing to vote for a Eurosceptic party. At the same time, sadly, Angela Merkel is still perceived by a majority of Germans as a skilful negotiator and crisis manager.
Finally, what will the German liberal party, the FDP, do if polls nearer the election show a huge support for AfD. Will the FDP resume a tougher rhetoric to stop a voters’ migration?
Overall, “Alternative für Deutschland’ will ruffle feathers in the monolithic German political landscape. Certainly the entrenched, Euro-at-any-price mainstream parties will have taken note of Bernd Lucke’s recent statement in an interview that he was astounded by the overwhelming positive reaction from the German public.