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Apr 25, 2013 | 13:01 GMT

4 mins read

In Germany, Support Grows for an Anti-Euro Party

Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Summary

Growing public support for Alternative for Germany, a new Euroskeptical party, reveals a developing awareness among German voters of economic risks related to the eurozone. Although it is unlikely to challenge mainstream parties in September elections, support for this new group could prompt those parties to adopt a Euroskeptical stance, a phenomenon that is already occurring in other European countries.

Ten days after the formal presentation of Alternative for Germany, an opinion poll showed that the party has about 5 percent popular support, a level that would allow it to enter the German parliament in September's general elections. While that number does not begin to approach the levels of support for the ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union (around 39 percent) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (around 27 percent), the importance of the new party lies in its open criticism of the eurozone, an issue the country's mainstream parties have long treated as a taboo.

Alternative for Germany's agenda, which was officially presented April 14, is based on a few main points. The party calls for the dissolution of the eurozone and the reinstitution of national currencies, or at least the creation of smaller currency unions among countries with similar levels of economic development. The party rejects the use of the European Stability Mechanism — the European Union’s permanent bailout fund — to aid countries in economic distress, and it opposes the intervention of the European Central Bank in the sovereign debt market — a tool that was designed to reduce borrowing costs for countries in the eurozone.

The party will operate within well-defined constraints. It lacks the structure and the economic resources of the mainstream parties, so it will base its campaign on the media exposure of its leaders, most of whom are university professors and journalists. Most important, Alternative for Germany will have to deal with an electorate that is largely supportive of the euro. Recent polls show that around two-thirds of Germans want to remain in the eurozone, even if bailouts to other countries are unpopular. Moreover, there is a general pro-euro consensus among the German establishment — which includes mainstream political parties, business associations and labor unions.

Germany

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has retained high levels of popularity in large measure because most Germans approve of her management of the European crisis. Germany is one of the few eurozone members whose economy is growing slightly, and its unemployment rate is half the average of that of the other eurozone members.

Despite its constraints, the importance of Alternative for Germany is twofold. This is the first moderate German party to openly demand the dissolution of the eurozone. So far in Germany, only fringe parties on the extreme right and the extreme left had criticized what they perceive to be negative aspects of the common currency.

Second, mainstream parties might increase their own criticism of the European project if they fear that they could lose voters to Alternative for Germany. This is already happening in the United Kingdom, where the ruling Conservative Party has increased its anti-immigration rhetoric and demanded the devolution of powers from Brussels under pressure from the United Kingdom Independence Party, the country's main Euroskeptical party. Moreover, Italy's Euroskeptical Five Star Movement obtained more than 8 million votes in the February general elections, proving that criticism of the euro can be electorally successful. Alternative for Germany could also steal votes from smaller parties such as the Free Democratic Party — Merkel’s coalition partner — making a grand coalition between the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party more likely.

Since the beginning of the eurozone crisis, Merkel has tried to balance strong demand for economic reforms in countries on the European periphery with tolerance of softer deficit targets in those states. This strategy is increasingly reducing Berlin’s options as concessions to the periphery become politically costly at home. Conversely, domestic interests have begun to influence foreign policy decisions, as was the case with the bailout for Cyprus.

In France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands and countries in Nordic Europe, the popularity of Euroskeptical parties has grown as the European crisis has deepened. Germany has been an exception to this trend. The modest success of Alternative for Germany, which managed to achieve 5 percent popular support after only a week, suggests that public awareness of the economic risks related to the eurozone — and the common currency in particular — is growing in Germany.

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