German chancellor Angela Merkel was accused yesterday of polarising Europe by backing flawed rescue measures for a “failed” single currency.
Some 1,500 delegates of the new protest party, “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), gave a sustained standing ovation in Berlin yesterday, applauding claims the euro was surplus to requirements in Germany and damaging to its neighbours.
In his first address, AfD party lead candidate Bernd Lucke launched a full-frontal attack on Dr Merkel's crisis-era rallying cry that a failed euro would mean a failed Europe. "Europe isn't going to fail if the euro fails," said Prof Lucke, a youthful 50-year-old economist from Hamburg and, until recently, a member of Dr Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) for 33 years. European failure was more likely, he said, by clinging to the currency, which was polarising the continent into an economically successful north and poverty-stricken south.
Back to deutschmark
The AfD wants to dissolve the euro or at least demand Germany's exit and return to the deutschmark. After attracting 7,500 members in a month, it hopes to contest September's general election by attracting crisis-weary conservative and economic liberal voters from Dr Merkel's CDU coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP).
A poll published yesterday found that 7 per cent of voters could “definitely” imagine voting for the party, while 17 per cent “might” consider voting for them. An orderly dissolution of the euro zone would, Prof Lucke suggested, ease nationalist friction between European states and end euro rescue measures he dubbed “egregious breaches of fundamental principles of democratic, legal and economic rules”.
It was time, he said, to return the EU to the integration tradition of "great German statesmen: Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Schmidt, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Helmut Kohl".
Mr Genscher, former German foreign minister, was in no mood for flattery yesterday, insisting there was “no responsible alternative” to the EU.
"Those who, either in an open or hidden fashion, call for the end of the currency union are putting the whole achievement of unity at risk," he told Focus magazine.
“The historical achievement of European integration since the second World War is being called into question.”
However, conservative euro critics within the CDU struck a milder tone towards the new arrivals. "Too often the impression has been created in the CDU that no [euro] debate is wished for," said Wolfgang Bosbach, warning that the AfD could steal votes from the ruling coalition in the autumn.
Mr Bosbach, a long-serving CDU MP and long-suffering euro critic, said it was a “mistake” to put the new arrival in the “bold child corner”.
Political scientists suggest it is unlikely the AfD will make it into the Bundestag. However, "at the very least, the AfD could set in motion a debate on the euro which Merkel will struggle to master", said Dr Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at Berlin's Free University.