German Conservatives Regard Euroskeptics Warily

A new party that advocates a German eurozone exit could steal right-wing votes.

German chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a press conference in Brussels, February 8
German chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a press conference in Brussels, February 8 (Bundesregierung)

Germany’s ruling party takes “seriously” competition from an upstart Euroskeptic party, its parliamentary leader said on Thursday, but has seemingly little reason to, given German voters’ overwhelming support for incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel.

Volker Kauder, the chairman of the Christian Democrat delegation in the Bundestag, told Die Welt newspaper that he respects opposition from Alternative für Deutschland, a party founded by academics and economists who advocate a German withdrawal from the European single currency, but argued that it “must offer more than a return to the D-Mark.”

The euro, according to Kauder, “will help Europe stay together” while an exit from the eurozone would jeopardize German exports and “thousands of jobs.”

Alternative für Deutschland disputes both claims. Whatever Kauder says, German industry hasn’t actually depended on the euro. Between 1998, when the European Monetary Union was introduced, and last year, German exports have risen, from €488 billion to over €1 trillion. But most of the increase was to countries outside the eurozone.

In 1998, the countries currently in the euro area accounted for 45 percent of German exports. In 2011, their share had declined to 39 percent. German exports to other euro states increased 89 percent but sales to other nations grew faster in the same period.

Macroeconomics professor Bernd Lucke, who leads Alternative für Deutschland in September’s election, argues that rather than uniting the continent, the euro “is actually dividing the European nations as it involves a heavy economic burden on those countries.” That division will only widen, he predicted in an interview with The Telegraph, “if we don’t stop this process and introduce more monetary flexibility for those countries who suffer the most.”

Southern European states like Greece, Italy and Spain should leave the eurozone, he believes, so they can reinstate their own currencies, depreciate them and regain competitiveness relative to stronger economies in the north. Even France might not remain part of a bloc of nations that have comparable characteristics, like flexible labor laws, competitive wages, low debts and modest welfare systems.

Lucke is a former Christian Democrat who believes that “many of Angela Merkel’s supporters will vote” for his party in the fall. An ARD television poll released last week showed 66 percent of Germans approving of their chancellor’s job performance, however, while her party gets 41 percent of the votes in a Forsa poll this week.

At the same time, up to a third of German voters no longer has confidence in the euro. Just 43 percent believes that their country has benefited from joining the single currency, a survey published in Die Welt last month showed. Nearly one in two Germans believes they might be better off outside the European Union altogether.

Alternative für Deutschland might not make the 5 percent election threshold but could siphon off enough votes from Merkel’s conservatives and her liberal coalition partners to enable the left to win a majority.

The liberals, too, are struggling to win the 5 percent needed to get seats in parliament. If they fail, Merkel would lack a right-wing majority and be forced into a coalition with the Greens or Social Democrats. If the liberals do get the necessary 5 percent or more, it would likely come at the expense of the Christian Democrats. When they lose even more votes to the Euroskeptics, the Greens and Social Democrats could end up with a majority between them.