Tuesday, March 12, 2013
German anti-euro party makes public debut, buoyed by poll
By Ludwig Burger
OBERURSAL, Germany (Reuters) - A new German party that considers the euro a "fatal mistake" made its public debut on Monday, buoyed by an opinion poll suggesting one in four Germans shares its concerns, but its prospects in September's national election remain dim.
The 'Alternative for Germany' (AfD), which wants to return to the Deutschmark, hopes to tap a vein of public anxiety over the costs of the euro zone crisis, though all mainstream German parties remain solidly in favour of the common currency.
A taboo on nationalism, rooted in atonement for the crimes of the Nazi era, has helped to muffle eurosceptic voices in Germany even as they grow louder in other euro zone countries.
Undaunted, one of the AfD leaders, economics professor Bernd Lucke, said the scale of the euro crisis and the silence of Germany's political elite had compelled him to speak out.
"I'm trying to save Europe. There is a schism in Europe, a divergence not convergence. The current monetary policy is about to test Europe's cohesion to its limits," he told reporters before addressing about 1,200 mostly older people at the AfD's first public meeting in Oberursal, a town north of Frankfurt.
A survey conducted by TNS-Emnid for the weekly Focus magazine showed 26 percent of Germans would consider backing a party that wanted to take Germany out of the euro and as many as four in 10 Germans in the 40-49 age bracket would do so.
AfD and other German critics of the euro say it is unfair and undemocratic to expect Germany to bear the costs of other countries' economic mistakes.
Lucke dismissed suggestions that the AfD, dominated by academics, was too cerebral to win mass support, saying they had a responsibility to warn the German people of the dangers.
"The Federal Republic of Germany is in the deepest crisis in its history," reads the message on the AfD's new website.
"The introduction of the euro was a fatal mistake that is threatening our prosperity. The old parties are grizzled and worn out. They are stubbornly refusing to admit their mistake and correct it," it says.
The AfD said the European Central Bank (ECB) should not be allowed to buy up the debt of struggling euro zone members. It fears this could stoke inflation that will destroy the value of Germans' savings.
But previous eurosceptic parties in Germany have made little headway and pollsters said the AfD was unlikely to fare better.
Emnid chief Klaus-Peter Schoeppner said the results of his survey were partly a signal from conservative supporters of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition that they expected a strong defence of German interests in Europe and would not accept moves towards "euro bonds", a sharing of liability for euro zone debt.
"There is scope in Germany for a protest party to win two or three percent support but it would be very difficult for it to enter parliament," he told Reuters, adding that much would depend on the wider economic situation.
A political party needs to win 5 percent to get seats in Germany's Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.
Despite the euro zone crisis, which has pitched southern Europe into deep recession, Germany, the region's largest economy, is faring relatively well, its exports to non-European markets are booming and unemployment is near two-decade lows.
Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, said AfD was unlikely to gather steam because it was effectively a single-issue party and that Germans had more pressing concerns than the fate of the euro.
"Most of those who talk about the dangers of the euro and long for a return to the Deutschmark will still vote conservative in the end. They believe Merkel will protect them, they feel safer with her than voting for a new party," he said.
Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats are tipped to win most votes in the September election, helped partly by her tough stance on euro zone bailouts and her insistence that heavily indebted countries embrace harsh austerity measures.
The main opposition centre-left Social Democrats and Greens have broadly backed Merkel's efforts to tackle the euro crisis.
The crisis has featured less on the front pages of German newspapers since the ECB pledged last summer to buy up unlimited quantities of sovereign debt if necessary - in return for strictly binding austerity commitments - to save the euro.
But many Germans, including at the Bundesbank, are deeply uncomfortable with this ECB pledge and last month's inconclusive election in Italy, where anti-austerity parties performed well, has reminded Germans that the crisis is far from over.
Back in Oberursal, commercial clerk Iris Nieland - who had driven 130 km (80 miles) with her husband to attend the event - said she hoped the AfD would be able to shed some light on the euro zone crisis for ordinary Germans as the election approaches.
"The amounts of money being handled (in the bailouts) is so unfathomable that no one knows what's going on. Nobody can explain what's going on," she said.
(Additional reporting by Gareth Jones in Berlin, writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Michael Roddy)