German Euroscepticism - a milder variety


Gavin Hewitt reports on the new Eurosceptic party in Germany

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Beneath the blackened Gothic spires of Cologne Cathedral and the angels high in the architecture was a small tented stage.

A 51-year-old economics professor talked to a passing Saturday afternoon crowd. There was nothing strident about him; it was like listening to a college lecture on why the euro was bad for Germany and for Europe.

This is German Euroscepticism. Its political face is the party AfD, Alternative fuer Deutschland. It is a young party which nearly polled 5% of the vote at the German election last year - the threshold for getting seats in the Bundestag.

The hurdle is lower for the European elections at the end of this month - and quite possibly the AfD will end up with five or six MEPs.

Germany is not fertile ground for Euroscepticism. After the war Germany firmly anchored its identity in being European. The political class is strongly behind the EU which, they believe, has enabled Germany to escape the weight of its history.

The eurozone crisis gave Euroscepticism an opening. At the birth of the euro there were guarantees that states would not have to take on the debts of others. In the heat of the crisis Germany backed bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal. But the fear took root that the European Union was becoming a transfer union, with hard-earned German money propping up weaker southern nations.

AfD founder and main candidate Bernd Lucke (right) and fellow candidate Hans-Olaf Henkel (left) Cologne: The AfD's leaders shun Eurosceptic parties in neighbouring countries
Anti-euro mood

So the AfD was launched, mainly by academics who argued that the euro was bad for Germany and divisive.

Austerity and internal devaluations - the prescribed medicine for vulnerable economies - sowed resentment. (In Italy the current Forza Italia campaign slogan is "More Italy, Less Germany.") The AfD quickly found an audience in a country where around 30% of people remain nostalgic for the Deutschmark.

Some cite the emergence of the AfD as further evidence of an anti-establishment US-style "Tea Party" mood sweeping Europe. It is and it is not. Firstly the party is not anti-EU. Its leader Bernd Lucke firmly rejects any alliance with Nigel Farage and UKIP, a party campaigning to withdraw from the EU. The leaders of AfD shun any link with the parties of Marine Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.

And yet, as the eurozone crisis has eased, the party, like others, has campaigned for much tighter controls on immigration and the removal of illegal migrants. It prompted a small protest in Cologne. One passer-by told us "it's a right-wing party in disguise; I don't like it".

The danger for any Eurosceptic party in Germany is that it is quickly branded right-wing or extreme.

Merkel upbeat

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been campaigning for the European elections this week.

On Monday she was in Ingolstadt. Her message was upbeat. We have passed through a difficult phase, she told the crowd. The euro had won back a good slice of self-confidence. It had been hard times for the currency, but other countries had to play their part in getting economically fit again. Germany offered solidarity, but only if other countries made an effort. Solidarity and responsibility were two sides of the same coin, she said.

I spoke to David McAllister, a former PM of Lower Saxony - a Conservative politician on the rise and of Scottish descent - who reckoned that more than 90% of the votes cast would be for pro-EU parties. There may be dislike of Brussels overreaching itself, but Germany remains solidly committed to the EU.

The think-tank Open Europe has calculated that anti-establishment parties (like the AfD) could win 31% of the vote across Europe, giving them 218 out of 751 seats.

It is most unlikely that such disparate groups would work together, but if they commanded nearly a third of the vote -and the turnout was low - would Europe's leaders and officials just ignore the votes of the disaffected? Would they continue as if nothing had happened, or would they pause and question why so many voters seem so disenchanted with the European project?

As in Germany, a convincing majority of voters will support pro-EU parties. That is not in doubt, and if the past is a guide, the European establishment will simply continue with its project towards ever closer union. But a strong anti-establishment vote will weaken the argument for further EU integration.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    #113 Mario

    --good idea.

    But how would it work if Brits hate Romanians, Bulgarians, French and Germans ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    In Italy, there is a mechanism for referendums very different from the UK. Referendums are called by the people, not by Parliament, and can cancel laws made by Parliament, effectively putting Parliament under the control of the people.

    Probably, all the EU would need is a similar mechanism towards the Parliament and Commission, nothing more and nothing less, without any need for UKIPs or AfDs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Head of Siemens who referred to the West's differences with Russia over Ukraine as 'short-term turbulence' says he now regrets comments.


    ...what he meant to say was that when he learned of the West's differences with Russian over Ukraine, particularly the armed violence, he had said "shotgun? ambulance!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    #109 LucyJ

    ""All Animals are Equal
    But Some Animals are More Equal Than Others""

    --No,-- much more like Mae West.

    " You got the money honey ? --then I got the time"

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    #107 Gideon

    I fully agree with you.

    My fear is that the EU wide elections (no matter the AfD %) will cause Germans to say ´to Hell with it´.

    --then the real ´free for all´ begins.

    Many Brits feel they have nothing to lose in such a situation -- maybe true looking at their present mess.

    -- but I predict that this will only increase Germany´s power --that the population does NOT want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Oaktree: I have long suggested a 2 tier EU

    You mean like that old book Animal Farm? (by a British author ironically)
    "All Animals are Equal
    But Some Animals are More Equal Than Others"

    A multi-tiered EU would make a mockery of itself by being unequal

    Can't forget 1984
    "War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength."

    Obama is proposing some sort of "Driver's License for the Internet"

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    #103 DH

    I have long suggested a 2 tier EU.

    Those that surround Germany and the others that wish more ´independence´ to go it alone.

    Britain is in the 3rd tier -- presently being discussed on this BBC blog.

    Please do not blame me for my predictions -- that appear true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    The AfD can be seen as a protest party against Germany being so EU and Euro friendly

    Afd are specifically anti-Euro (economist led) & acknowledge that without the Euro the need for such close integration would be removed.
    UKIP are no longer primarily an anti EU party they are now primarily an anti-immigration party, though this tactic may change again

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Oaktree: ´Tea Party´s´ extremism

    American Patriots held American flags outside the California school that banned American flag t-shirts in which the opposing group made up of illegal immigrants said the American Patriots were "full of hate" for supporting USA

    If that is "extremism", we need more of it

    It sounds like there are German Patriots too who are not "extremists"-
    they just love Germany

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    "the EU which has enabled Germany to escape the weight of its history"

    No EU, UN, etc will ever enable a country to escape the weight of its history

    Giving up your freedoms and soverightny to an international organization does not reset the past

    Even if they tell you what you want to hear
    that doesn't mean its the truth

    You just have to learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    #101 Gideon

    The AfD can be seen as a protest party against Germany being so EU and Euro friendly and giving Germany´s wealth to the ´ungrateful´ while receiving insults in return.

    The only way Merkel can escape the accusation is by making conditions for future EU and Euro assistance that demonstrate EU loyalty in return.

    Her failure will cause even more AfD support.

    --then all is possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Haunts us?

    Guides us, maybe, but I feel no guilt over transporting slaves across the ocean, the Boer War concentration camps or the extinction of the Neanderthal.

    I wasn't there.

    Merkel supports the EU because it is economic sense for Germany. Anything else is window dressing for the hand wringers.

    Island of the Uninformed?
    More like the Continent of the Brainwashed

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Oaktree: The Germans reject any political party that smells of Fascism

    Germans today have learned from the past as have Americans
    in which we are not just like our ancestors

    But yet we both still get branded all sorts of names

    Are Germans today Nazis?

    Are Americans today slave-holders and targetting Indians?

    But neither of us can escape our past- it still haunts us

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I still say forget the detail, you either believe in the eu programme or you don't, a bit like Scientology, or Common Purpose

    that's really the UKIP claim but there are many other political parties who do not want an EU superstate or the Euro to exist, afd for example but they are not anti any-EU, they are anti EU in its current form. UKIP do not want people to see this as a option

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    "the EU which, they believe, has enabled Germany to escape the weight of its history"

    I think this is probably the biggest reason why Merkel and some Germans do support the EU

    But no country can ever really escape its history

    It wasn't long after WII that Munich hosted Olympics in which Palestinian terrorists killed Israeli athletes for being Jewish

    What did Germany do?
    They released them

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    #97 Lucy J

    The Germans reject any political party that smells of Fascism -- even nicely presented.

    --from whatever source.

    The AfD (as the UKIP) has attracted some ´undesirables´.

    America is different --it is called ´Freedom of Speech´

    - deliberately ignoring the ´Tea Party´s´ WASP extremism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Here in USA Obama is trying to "transform" America
    (A Letter to the Editor a day ago in our newspaper said the transformation is like Jihad on our Constitution)
    but many of us don't want our country to be transformed

    In Germany Merkel is trying to "transform" Germany into becoming a state of federal EU but not all Germans are in unison on this-
    some still want Germany to be an independent nation

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    The anti-Euro party is every bit as much a part of Germany as the pro-Euro party

    In America, the Democrats block the Tea Party out as much as they can- but it still affects them

    The Tea Party here in USA can still make a difference
    and the anti-Euro party in Germany can too

    Its the hardest thing in the world to stand up to the establishment
    but its the only way for your voice to be heard

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    #95 ciconia

    "I remember that long ago vote. We were lied to then and been kept out of the debate ever since."

    --only the ´island of the uninformed´

    --and as you imply -- perpetually.

    Nothing will change --an opinion based on previous observations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I still say forget the detail, you either believe in the eu programme or you don't, a bit like Scientology, or Common Purpose.
    Ignore the media hype; The politicians have either demonstrated their competence & trustworthiness in putting our interest first, or they haven't.
    I remember that long ago vote. We were lied to then and been kept out of the debate ever since.
    Just an opinion.


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