An Alternative for Germany
Euro-skeptic political parties have been far from uncommon over the last half-decade. Finland, Greece and Britain have produced loud political voices who have long since lauded the policies of the monetary bloc, though they have been staunchly resisted by the rest of Europe and large segments of their own populations.
Yet now, for the first time since the Euro crisis arose, Germany may well begin offer up a dissenting voice of its own.
The "Alternative for Germany" party, which kicked off its election campaign in Frankfurt this month, looks to become Germany's first strongly anti-Euro party that seems capable of seriously challenging the country's major pro-Euro political parties.
The party's platform and high-profile membership makes it attractive to several voters across the board, and could actually force Chancellor Merkel to form new political alliances in order to maintain power after this September's federal elections.
The Alternative for Germany party is "convinced that the eurozone should be dissolved," according to one of its leaders Bernd Lucke, and that every country in the EU should be freely able to leave the eurozone. While being anti-Euro, the party still believes in the EU as an institution.
According to recent polls, this message may garner considerable support from large portions of the German population. The German television station ZDF ran a poll showing that almost half of the country believes Germany would be better off without the euro. 25% of Germans would consider voting for a party that advocates Germany's exit from the eurozone, according to a separate poll by Focus magazine.
In response to the emergence of the Alternative for Germany party, Volker Krauder, the head of the conservtive parliamentary group, has said that "we will stand firm" in the face of criticism of the euro. Despite this self-confidence, the existence of the Alternative for Germany party may well pull some pieces out from under Merkel's already shaky house of cards.
The Wall Street Journal has published a poll showing that no German party seem in any way likely of gaining an absolute majority in September, and Merkel's pro-business coalition partners, the Free Democrats, have lost 66% of their support. The Alternative for Germany party seems set to reduce Merkel's support even further.
Though anti-Euro parties have raised their heads in Germany before, they have had little success. The Pirates, an internet based group, has fizzled out, and the Free Voters have failed to gain support outside of Bavaria.
The Alternative for Germany, however, commands an authority that previous groups have failed to hold. Its leaders are comprised mostly of senior economists and professors who have been battling the euro for several years.
These include Wilhelm Hankel, Karl Albrecht Schachschneider, and Joachim Starbatty, who have all written anti-Euro books and who jointly brought a case to the German Constitutional Court in 2011 in which they unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of euro bailouts.
Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist from Berlin's Free University, believes that the new party will draw the support of middle class citizens who are unafraid of losing their jobs, and hence they will damage Merkel's Christian Democrat party base rather than the Social Democrat party base.
The party also has the potential to mobilise a segment of society that may have been keeping its head low during the euro crisis. The party sees itself as breaking the "political taboo" that exists in Germany of speaking ill of EU integration. An anti-EU sentiment here can be interpreted as a nationalistic one, which is indeed how leading economist Rudolf Hickel has described the new party. Nationalism is often associated with the far right, is very off-putting for Germans.
The Alternative for Germany party, however, has managed to distance themselves from nationalistic associations by calling for a strong EU, even a common currency with economically healthy countries such as Austria and the Netherlands. As such, they may unlock support from those voters who are anti-euro but who have previously not spoken up for fear of being seen as anti-EU or nationalistic.
The Alternative for Germany party needs to garner 2,000 signatures in every German state, or signatures from 0.1% of the German population, in order to be eligible to run in the September elections. Should it succeed in translating the support the German people showed for its policies in the polls into actual votes, then Merkel's party may be forced to reach out to the Social Democrats in order to stay in office.
Things are being shaken up.