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New German Party Declares War On Euro

Bernd Lucke, co-founder of Germany's antieuro party Alternative for Germany, addresses the audience during the first informal meeting of his party in Oberursel, Germany, on March 11.
Bernd Lucke, co-founder of Germany's antieuro party Alternative for Germany, addresses the audience during the first informal meeting of his party in Oberursel, Germany, on March 11.
Political rebellion against the euro has spread to Germany, the largest contributor to the European Union and a driving force behind its single currency.

Alternative for Germany stands as proof. The new party, launched this week by a group of high-profile economists and academics, calls for the dissolution of the euro in favor of national currencies or smaller currency unions.

One proposal is for Germany to create a breakaway currency with some of the eurozone's healthier economies, namely Austria, Finland, and the Netherlands.

The movement, which will formally become a political party in mid-April, believes no country should have to take on the debts of other states and wants the European Stability Mechanism bailout rescue fund to be dismantled.

Spokeswoman Frauke Petry says Alternative for Germany wants Europe, but not the euro. "The euro in its current form is harming Europe," she says. "Because of the varying competitiveness of individual countries, for example Greece or Portugal, the weaker nations have been forced to introduce very harsh social measures that have led to high youth unemployment. Every country should have the right to leave the euro."

German Disenchantment

Euro-fatigue is not new, even in a country like Germany. Germans, once staunch euro-enthusiasts, appear increasingly frustrated with the cost of saving the embattled currency.

A recent poll by the state ZDF television station showed that almost half of Germans believe their country would be better off without the euro. According to another poll by "Focus" magazine, about 25 percent of German voters would consider voting for a party that advocates Germany's exit from the eurozone.

Petry says Alternative for Germany was born out of the failure of mainstream parties to address this sentiment. "Germans are not taking to the streets because things are still relatively quiet on the German job market. Germans don't like protesting anyway, they are very disciplined and very patient," she notes.

"But we receive thousands of messages every day from people telling us how good it is that we are finally talking about these issues, which have become a political taboo," Petry continues. "We have the feeling that we've hit a nerve in the population."

Strong Voices

The list of personalities who have joined the movement perhaps best reflects Germany's mounting disenchantment with the euro.

Many of them were once members or supporters of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who left the party in protest at its handling of the euro crisis. Alternative for Germany's founder, Bernd Lucke, is a professor of macroeconomics and a former World Bank adviser who quit the CDU in 2011 after 33 years as a member.

Its most famous supporter, Hans-Olaf Henkel, the former president of the Federation of German Industries, is a former europhile who is now one of Germany's most vocal detractors of the common currency. He and five other prominent German euroskeptics unsuccessfully challenged the Greek bailout aid in Germany's Constitutional Court last year.

Thus far, antieuro rhetoric had come largely from right-wing populist parties. Alternative for Germany seems to be different. Although it is likely to take votes from the right, it presents itself as a citizens' initiative driven by disgruntlement over the country's fiscal policies and the lack of public debate on the issue.

The clout of its supporters, and the fact that many of them are seasoned economists, lends it added credibility.

Cloaked Nationalism?

But the new party also has its detractors. Leading economist Rudolf Hickel, who formerly headed the Institute of Labor and Economics at the University of Bremen, says its calls to do away with the euro are unhelpful and even "dangerous."

Despite its stated goal to make political processes more democratic, he says the party's agenda has strong nationalistic undertones. "I know the authors. They pretend to be deeply committed to Europe, but their party essentially has a nationalistic discourse and nationalistic characteristics," Hickel says.

"What most angers me is that it evokes the golden days of the [German mark] and -- I will use a controversial term here -- the [German mark's] imperialism. This is a renationalization, anti-European policy that looks backward instead of forward."

Hickel says Alternative for Germany stands "no chance" in general elections this September.

Making Angela Sweat

New parties have certainly had trouble making their mark in the German political arena.

The Pirate Party -- which advocates Internet freedom -- is not expected to enter the Bundestag despite its surprise electoral win two years ago, when it gained seats in four regional parliaments.

The Free Voters, another euroskeptic movement that has stopped short of calling for the euro's demise, was able to gain seats in the Bavarian regional parliament in 2008 with pledges to balance budgets and offer better education. But it wields only marginal influence outside Bavaria.

Alternative for Germany nonetheless hopes to collect enough signatures to run for national elections this fall. But it may not have to cross the 5 percent threshold needed for seats in the Bundestag to unsettle Merkel's ruling coalition.

The CDU, while still popular, has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in key German states as resistance builds against Merkel's demands for fiscal discipline in the eurozone.

As for the Free Democrats, Merkel's pro-business coalition partner, they have crashed to a mere 4 percent in polls, down from nearly 15 percent of the vote in the last Bundestag election.

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