The Euro, introduced as a symbol for Europe´s unity and integration after the fall of the wall, has recently become the focal point for disunity and discord among Europeans. Since the Eurozone crisis began, support for Eurosceptic parties has risen across the European Union. Up until now, Germany had been an outlier case with no major anti-EU party so far. That has changed with the forming of the Eurosceptic “Alternative for Germany” („Alternative für Deutschland“, AfD) in April of this year. Because of its’ formation only months before national elections in September 2013, media attention has been high. What is the importance of this new party and how can it challenge the current government coalition? Is Angela Merkel´s government coming to an end with a powerful Eurosceptic contender on the right?
The AfD is a typical single-issue party with a clear message coined in the phrase „Germany does not need the Euro”. The party sees itself as an alternative to the prevailing pro-euro politics among Germany´s mainstream parties and political elites. Founded by a group of professors and professionals in business and law (the vast majority of the first signatories hold PhDs), the party promotes its anti-Euro campaign by positioning itself as a bourgeois protest party to the right of the CDU/CSU, but without an ideology. Its speaker and most founding members are defected from the governing CDU, but also from the left and the FDP. The party platform uses a mixture of economic arguments, legal interpretations of EU treaties and populist democratic claims that draw on fears and concerns about European integration. While most of the arguments are by no means new – several of the supporters already lobbied against the monetary union, the EU-Constitutional Treaty and the European Stability Mechanism – the forming of the party, which was professionally prepared and orchestrated, marks a new step in anti-EU opposition in Germany.
Opinion polls conducted in Germany over the past few weeks vary greatly in their assessments of potential electoral support for the Eurosceptic party. Just three percent of Germans currently intend to vote for AfD according to the latest polls, but another showed that 25 percent would consider voting for a party advocating German withdrawal from the Euro. According to another poll published by the business daily Handelsblatt, more Germans approve of the Euro today than when it was first introduced; 69 percent of Germans supported the Euro, while only 27 percent wanted to return to the D-Mark. And a study conducted by the independent Bertelsmann-Foundation in April 2013 shows that Germany is benefiting greatly from the Euro due to the reduction of transaction costs and the elimination of currency risks. Yet, nearly two-thirds of Germans believe that they would be better off with the old D-Mark. Depending on how the questions are being phrased, surveys are somewhat inconclusive regarding the Eurosceptic party’s potential among Germans. But, it is quite clear that the new party is tapping into a growing field of disenchanted voters. Party volatility and anti-establishment sentiments have prevailed for some time and an increasing fragmentation of the German party system have made coalition formation more difficult. The rise of Eurosceptic parties in other countries has encouraged similar formations in Germany, with a nationalist and protectionist agenda, and the rise of anti-German sentiments in many EU-countries may further fuel the nationalist backlash.
While the Eurozone crisis has deepened a North-South divide in economic growth and development, there is no clear regional pattern in the rise of Eurosceptic parties. Even before the Eurozone crisis, Eurosceptic parties gained support in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, and Ireland. Starting with the sovereign debt crisis in 2010, however, the impact has been to double, and in some cases, such as Italy, Greece, Finland, and the UK triple the combined support for those countries’ various Eurosceptic parties. If Germany is just embarking on its Eurosceptic odyssey, then the recent experience of the rest of Europe suggests that support for the Eurosceptic parties could rise further . The European elections in 2014 will provide an important test case and an opportunity to expand the power base of Eurosceptics.
The five percent threshold needed to enter the Bundestag may prove too high for the Eurosceptic AfD in September´s federal election and the party may end up competing with other minor parties in the field. There is also the risk of early disintegration since the world of politics is quite different from the world of academia and the party may suffer from its heterogeneity. But, there is strong indication that they may drain enough votes away from the CDU/CSU as well as from other parties and act as the election spoiler for Angela Merkel in which case the formation of a grand SPD-CDU coalition after the federal election might be unavoidable.