Feature

Germany: Bring back the deutschmark!

At the founding convention for the new Alternative for Germany party, speakers denounced the euro.

Who would have thought that a proposal to change the national currency could produce “such cheering, such euphoria”? said Alard von Kittlitz in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany). The founding convention last weekend for the new Alternative for Germany party rang out with stomps and yells as speakers denounced the euro and called for the return of the deutschmark. The party’s name is an allusion—or even a retort—to the long insistence of Chancellor Angela Merkel that Germany had “no alternative” but to bail out debt-ridden countries in the euro zone. “The euro was a fatal mistake that threatens our prosperity,” said party leader Bernd Lucke, a Hamburg economics professor. He said the currency even threatened European integration, since German restrictions on bailout money were leading to widespread resentment of Germany in the poorer nations of the euro zone.

This new party embraces “a uniquely German brand of prosperity chauvinism,” said Derek Scally in The Irish Times. Germans feel they have been responsible and lived within their means, and have nothing but scorn for the profligacy of “debt sinners” on Europe’s periphery, who failed to budget properly and now want Germans to bail them out. Most analysts doubt the new party could actually garner the 5 percent of the vote necessary to win a seat in parliament. But its message certainly appeals to many Germans. Nearly one quarter of voters from across the political spectrum said they would “possibly consider” voting Alternative in September’s general elections.

The German political establishment has reacted by smearing the new party as some kind of far-right fringe group, said Eric Gujer in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland). But in reality, the some 1,500 founding members at the party conference last weekend included “many familiar faces of journalists and professors, prominent businessmen, perfectly respectable people.” In fact, they were mostly “graying, well-off, educated 50-somethings”—the exact demographic that usually votes for Merkel’s party. Still, it’s doubtful whether they can actually draw many voters. “Germans are not politically adventurous.” They may not love the euro, but they would never want to “risk the economic shock waves” that would result from pulling out of the currency union.

Yet Merkel can’t afford to lose even a few voters, said Michael Inacker in Handelsblatt (Germany). The ruling Christian Democratic Union narrowly lost the last state-level election, in January. It’s not hard to imagine that plenty of CDU supporters are fed up “with the arrogance of the party elite, who treat any questioning of their euro rescue plan as either stupidity or anti-European heresy.” If Merkel’s coalition doesn’t get a majority in the September election, she could be forced into a grand coalition with the opposition. Or she could lose altogether, said Heribert Prantl in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). The Alternative party “won’t bring about the end of the euro.” But it just might “spell the end of Merkel.”

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