Upstart eurosceptic party could upset German poll
Opinion polls unclear of support for anti-bailout “Alternative for Germany”
Bernd Lucke, the leader of the euro-critical Alternative for Germany party (AfD) in front of a campaign poster during an election campaign rally in Berlin. The placard reads “Draghi gambles, you pay”. Photograph: Reuters
Before Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, flanked by mysterious figures in blue lycra bodysuits, Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Bernd Lucke burns fake €500 notes. As a modest audience of 200 looks on, he attacks euro bailout policies as “the greatest waste of money since the 1923 inflation”.
In Frankfurt, inflation was on the minds of some 150 AfD members who gathered near the European Central Bank headquarters last Thursday.
“ECB president Mario Draghi and his people decide how high inflation rises, how low interest rates go, and what’s left over for you and me,” said AfD deputy leader Konrad Adam.
When Germans vote on Sunday they will have a new political choice on their ballot papers: the conservative, liberal and Eurosceptic “Alternative for Germany” – named as a reaction to Angela Merkel’s refrain that euro bailouts were alternativlos (without alternative).
The AfD is running for office by disputing this claim and demanding a euro exit clause to allow southern European states depart the bloc. Outside, the AfD argues, they would be free to devalue a new national currency, boosting competitiveness and growth.
Party leader Prof Lucke is optimistic his taboo-breaking argument will chime with crisis-weary voters on Sunday.
“The euro crisis is not over, though this government tries to kill off all discussion,” said Prof Lucke, a 51-year-old economist from Hamburg. “The [German] government says any modification of the euro is so terrible that it is not even worth discussing. That is unworthy of a democracy.”
Three years after the first Greek bailout, their message has struck a nerve with German voters, particularly after German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble conceded in August that Greece would require a third EU-International Monetary Fund programme worth about €4 billion. Now AfD posters urge voters to transform next Sunday’s poll from federal election to “referendum on the euro”.
The party has drawn support from three groups: academics and economists critical of politicians; comfortable middle-class voters concerned at the effects of the euro crisis on their finances; and political chancers who hop on every new bandwagon.
From a standing start, it has risen quickly. Just how the party will poll on Sunday remains to be seen. Prof Manfred Güllner, head of the Forsa agency, suggests the party’s voters are difficult to assess because they demonstrate a suspicion of the media and pollsters.
Clearing the 5 per cent hurdle on Sunday to enter the Bundestag would shake up Germany’s coalition arithmetic and, Prof Lucke hopes, open the door to political alliances and modified euro policies.
Chancellor Merkel knows the AfD, attracting older voters from her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is no typical protest party. The new arrival’s support in opinion polls corresponds almost exactly to the support her outgoing coalition lacks for a parliamentary majority.