German eurosceptics strong enough to nudge Merkel

A new anti-euro party is unlikely to make it into parliament in the 2013 elections, but its appeal will make it harder for the chancellor to appear too generous to troubled periphery nations, despite her popularity. The rest of the euro zone should understand her predicament.

The biggest surprise about Germany’s fledgling anti-euro party is that it took so long to emerge. Many Germans object to the bailouts for stricken euro zone members, are haunted by fears of inflation and just don’t trust the euro. But unlike in Finland and the Netherlands, German eurosceptic voters have had no place to turn to, as all the respectable parties are staunchly pro-European.

Now they do. The “Alternative für Deutschland” (Alternative for Germany) party, founded in March by conservative economists and commentators, openly campaigns for a “Ger-exit” from the single currency. Surveys show about one fifth of Germans could imagine voting for such a party, which has received benevolent coverage in the conservative press and has pledged to keep right-wing extremists away.

The actual support for AfD is likely to prove much more modest in the elections later this year, even if extremists are successfully kept out. Germans have traditionally shied away from one-issue parties and the AfD lacks prominent faces and money. It will struggle to attract enough votes from around the country to cross the legal threshold for entering the national parliament.

Furthermore, even voters who grumble about the cost of rescuing the euro are often confident that Angela Merkel is the best person to run the country during the currency zone’s crisis. She is still by far the most popular politician in Germany, followed by finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Merkel’s popularity is helped by a fairly benign domestic economic environment – the labour market is in good shape and inflation is at bay. Indeed, the euro crisis still is largely an abstract issue known from the TV news. For voters, social policy issues such as a possible minimum wage are more directly relevant.

Still, the AfD will influence the political debate with its mistaken claim that there is an economically and politically viable alternative to the current rescue policies. Merkel will be more cautious about supporting further concessions to crisis-hit countries. The leaders of those states should take note. Rather than blaming Germany for not helping enough, they should acknowledge Merkel’s domestic predicament.

This article was initially  published as a Reuters Breakingviews comment on 03 April 2013.


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2 Responses to German eurosceptics strong enough to nudge Merkel

  1. I haven’t spent a lot of time studing that Alternative für Deutschland but what I read here
    I like them because they are not ideologists, they are pragmatics.

    It seems they won’t have a chance in elections right now but things might change, specially if there is going to be some bailout between now and september. :)

    “Two third of Germans believe Merkel has handled eurozone crisis “properly and decisively”; 59% of Germans no longer believe their savings are secure following Cypriot bailout”

  2. Young Inder in Germany

    “Germans have traditionally shied away from one-issue parties…”
    Exactly! How can a political party have just one issue? The same is the case with Piraten-Partei. If every issue had a party supporting it, the country will have a million parties in one day with 80 members each!
    University professors are generally in a different world most of the time. A world of “Textbook Idealism” so to speak and the university Economics that has abandoned the very theme of “normativeness” in favor of “positive economics” just because it was easier to write papers on and publish, is never going to be the solution provider.