Ireland was forced into bailout, say German Eurosceptics
Alternative for Germany launches election campaign saying France should leave euro
Bernd Lucke, head of Eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany, arriving for a news conference in Berlin yesterday. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
Six weeks before Germany’s federal election, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) hopes to shake up the political landscape with a demand for radical change in the EU crisis strategy as shaped by Berlin.
The AfD wants tough new rules to ban future euro zone bailouts. It also wants an exit clause to allow struggling southern European states leave the bloc. Outside, the party argues, they would be free to devalue a new national currency, boosting competitiveness and economic growth.
Meeting the foreign press yesterday in Berlin, the party leader went one step further.
“I’ve often thought that France would be a candidate that would be better off leaving the euro,” said AfD leader Prof Bernd Lucke, a spry 50-year-old economist from Hamburg.
His suggestion that devaluation would be the best way for France to tackle declining industry and high unemployment applied to Italy too, he said.
Unluckily for the AfD, which has attracted 16,000 members since it was launched in April, the euro crisis appears to have calmed down, at least for now, and voters’ attention has turned elsewhere. German chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is determined to keep it that way in an election campaign pushing domestic issues.
Prof Lucke said his challenge was to “divert voters’ gaze away from the diversionary tactics” of Dr Merkel and back to the unresolved questions over the cost and consequences of the euro crisis – an issue he said most Germans do not understand.
With just 3 per cent support in polls – two points short of Bundestag representation – the AfD is facing an uphill battle to attract enough attention and votes before the September 22nd election.
In recent weeks the party has hurried to expand its manifesto and broaden its appeal beyond the euro crisis. It is critical of Germany’s push to close all nuclear plants by 2020 in favour of renewable energy, something it says will drive up energy prices and endanger industrial production and German jobs.
Another campaign plank is to demand an end to ECB low-interest monetary policy, which the AfD says allows inflation to eat away at private old-age pensions.
Ireland’s place was inside the euro, said Prof Lucke yesterday, the country having mastered a crisis caused by “unwise investments by bankers who counted on being rescued if they got into trouble”.
“But I don’t believe Ireland needed a [EU-IMF] programme, rather that pressure was applied because . . . with Greece coming up, they needed a country that would emerge successfully from the programme to prove its merit,” he said.
Ireland’s best alternative to the programme would not have been to refuse to pay back nationalised bank debt, he said, but to boost competitiveness with its own reforms similar to the troika’s.
Speculation is rife in Berlin about AfD’s election strategy, with many saying it merely hopes to attract enough bailout-critical voters from Dr Merkel’s ruling coalition to hobble its re-election effort.
Prof Lucke said his goal was “not to make Dr Merkel’s life difficult” but to enter the Bundestag and withhold political support as a potential coalition- maker until other parties rethink their euro crisis strategy.
The AfD has attracted a lot of media attention but has struggled to shake its reputation as an elitist, Eurosceptic group pushing academic rather than political solutions to pressing problems.
The image has been underlined by well-known AfD figures disagreeing on the best solution to the euro crisis: some call for north- and south-euro blocs, others have suggested the euro could become a regional rather than national currency across the EU.
Dr Merkel has ordered her party to ignore the AfD and, last month, upbraided senior officials who called for the CDU to take the AfD seriously and counter their criticism with “well-founded arguments”.
“This government tries to kill off all discussion,” said Prof Lucke. “Without naming any reason, they say every modification of the euro is so terrible that it is not even worth discussing. That is unworthy of a democracy.”