A small problem in Germany

By Theodoros Benakis

The view in many parts of Brussels is that the future of Europe, at least for the next few years, will not be decided by the ever more unpopular elections for the European parliament in 2014, but by the German electorate on 22 September.


Chancellor Merkel is set to be elected for the third time, consolidating her position as the de facto leader of Europe and, according to Forbes, the second most powerful politician in the world.


On the business publication’s list of the 71 most influential, none of the EU’s leaders, Ashton, Barroso, Schulz or Van Rompuy appear.


Germany has come out of the crisis with growth, low unemployment and banks stuffed with euros. On the downside, Germany is not well loved in large parts of the union.


Merkel’s persistence in resolving endemic budgetary problems with emergency surgical procedures created a wall of discontent in the EU. Not only in southern Europe, other partners also feel threatened. 


The crisis has also opened up the hidden flaws of the union to the gaze of the public. While some talk of greater and deeper integration, UK Premier, David Cameron has found in Angela Merkel an ally in his aim to urge reform of the EU, including transferring more power to member states.


This was demonstrated during their recent meeting, where Merkel made every effort to welcome Cameron, even resorting to the lengthy informal family visit, including a rare apparence from her husband. The pair got on well, but on Merkel’s desk New Europe has been informed, was a note concerning the activities of some of her guest’s party members, who have been very busy in Brussels and Berlin.


Together with the Eurosceptic think tank, Open Europe and the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) think tank, New Direction, there has been quiet support for a new party, Alternative for Germany. 


This party is openly against euro, which it considers a failure. They hope to break the 5% barrier and sending deputies to the Bundestag, which could create several and serious problems, not only to the German government, but also to the whole process of European integration.


The party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), was formed last April at the initiative of economists, professors and journalists, all of them former members or supporters of CDU and FDP. 


‘Amateurs’ according to their enemies from the right-wing parties, xenophobes according th the left, they focus on the problems euro created for the European economy. 


According to the leaders of The Alternative, the euro has failed as a currency and if European countries desire to proceed towards further European integration, they will have to abandon it.


For them it is clear that Germany has to stop any further financial aid to the South. The old glorious German currency, the Mark, should be readopted if possible. As an alternative to the Mark, they could accept a two class euro. 


A first class ‘saints euro’, the currency of the rich and budgetary ordered countries. A second class ‘sinners euro’ of the poor, good for the South and any budgetary ‘weak’ country.  


The party has not actually a Leader, but the most prominent personality is Bernd Lucke, the party speaker. Lucke, a 50 years old economist, professor in Macroeconomics at the University of Hamburg has been an advisor to the World Bank and he has a long experience in the state bureaucracy.


The party is leaded also by the economist Joachim Starbatty, the entrepreneur Frauke Petry and the former editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,  Konrad Adam. A strong supporter seems to be the former President of the Federation of German Industries Hans-Olaf Henkel.


Henkel wrote in the Guardian, “I suggest splitting the euro into two zones, reflecting the cultural differences in mentality between the countries in question – a “northern zone” centred around Germany, Austria, the Benelux countries and Finland, whose adherence to monetary stability and budgetary stability would be represented by the hard northern euro; and a “southern zone” centred around France, Spain and Italy, whose soft variant of the euro would reflect their free-spending mentality and talent for monetary improvisation. Considering that it suffered primarily from an absurd banking policy rather than a lack of budgetary discipline, Ireland should be part of the north.”


Although is evident that there is a serious lack of a carismatic leadership, the topics treated by the party found a positive echo in some parts of the public.


The target group of the party seems to be the market oriented middle class but many professors declared their support, leading to accusations of being ‘the party of professors’. 


The ‘alternatives’ reject any charge of xenophobia. But, there were cases in which its supporters proposed ideas reminiscent of social racism. Statements like “the unemployed have to sell their organs to survive” or “the poor people couldn’t have the right to vote” made by some supporters, strengthened the image of a radical party, pushed in the far right political spectrum of the country.  


The major part of the votes for them could be stolen by the already weak liberal party. That means there could be a problem for the governing coalition.


The conservative supporters know how to use the Court for delaing any procedure they don’t like. They could exploit the possibilities the German constitution offers, to ask from the Federal Court a judgment of constitutionality on each decision made on a European level.  


But is it seriously possible that the Alternative for Germany overcome the barrier of 5%? According to the initial polls in the first months of the year, 24% have positive views of their politics. In a May 2013 poll however, their sympathisers dropped to 2-3.5%. 


However pollsters underlined the fact that in Germany the voters traditionally are reluctant to declare support for a new party.


Anyway, a good result for the Alternative for Germany, even below the 5% barrier, would prove once more the emergence of a new tendency in European countries. Abandon the euro and replace it by national or other currencies. That means abandon any further and real integration process. 


It also means that the next meeting between Cameron and Merkel is unlikely to be ‘family friendly.’


New Europe