Former German Euroskeptic Leader Starts New Party

Bernd Lucke splits the German Euroskeptic movement, potentially to the benefit of the ruling conservatives.

Bernd Lucke, the former leader of the Alternative für Deutschland, started a new Euroskeptic party this weekend, splitting a movement that could otherwise have posed a threat to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The new party, called Alliance for Progress and Renewal, reflects Lucke’s liberal economic policy and his focus on taking Germany out of the euro.

The economics professor resigned earlier this month from the party he founded in 2013 after losing a leadership election to the more right-wing Frauke Petry. She represents a conservative, nationalist platform and wants to challenge the ruling Christian Democrats from the right.

Many of the Alternative‘s members of the European Parliament resigned together with Lucke and are expected to join his new party.

Although polling suggests the divide will allow neither Euroskeptic party to win the 5 percent support needed to enter parliament, the implosion of the Free Democrats has created a vacuum on the liberal right. Traditionally the third party in German politics, it was cannibalized by Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the 2013 election and eclipsed by the Greens. Lucke could conceivably take their place.

Merkel’s centrist policy also has some conservatives complaining hers isn’t really a conservative party anymore. Petry’s anti-immigrant and socially conservative rhetoric appeals to this segment of the electorate.

The Alternative‘s shift to the nationalist right saw it win seats in several state assemblies last year. It got 9.7 percent support in Saxony, 10.6 percent support in Thuringia and 12.2 percent support in Brandenburg.

Tension between Lucke and Petry emerged when the former spoke out in favor of a transatlantic free-trade agreement with the United States. The nationalist wing was critical, mirroring the protectionist instincts of Euroskeptic parties outside Germany.

What brought the split to a head were mass protests against the feared Islamization of Germany in the city of Dresden last year.

Lucke urged his party to distance itself from the protesters who called themselves Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes and were widely denounced as xenophobic by the mainstream parties. Petry opposed a ban on contact with the group and argued for a more sympathetic response.