There is a new metric in Germany to measure its “normalization.” Just like many of its neighbors, Germany now has a political movement forming as a backlash against the euro. The “Alternative for Germany” group is preparing itself for the next elections in September and its timing may be quite prescient.
The basis for this single issue movement is of course the unease in the German public with the instability and unpredictability of the euro system as the fiscal crises in southern Europe unfold. It doesn’t help that the appearances of Nazi comparisons with Merkel in a mustache are part of the media landscape in Greece, Cyprus and elsewhere. With five months left before the September elections, there is plenty of time for this political firework to blow itself out. The eclectic nature of the support sources—from the left and the right—can open up doors to extreme clusters damaging momentum. The recent experiences of the Pirate Party offer many lessons of such reactionary movements.
At the same time, there are a number of formidable figures in the lead who can articulate the frustration with the euro that is widespread in Germany—many of whom were once supporters of Chancellor Merkel’s party. Bernd Lucke, the economics professor who has assumed the leadership role of this new group, may want to recall the fate of another professor, Paul Kirchhof, who got into national politics a few years ago only to get severely burned in the process and almost cost Merkel her election in 2005.
Merkel was already facing a tough race to gain a third term. While she is carrying her party, the Christian Democrats, with her own personal popularity so far, the recent regional elections have all been very tight. A loss of a few thousand votes in September can make a difference between victory and defeat. Her coalition partner—the Free Democrats—continue to struggle with their own polls. Yet pollsters are also saying that the SPD and the Greens are vulnerable to the call of this movement. Again, with such movements and political parties active elsewhere in Europe, why should Germany be any different at this point? Why should it surprise anyone that some voters are not happy, particularly when it’s obvious that Germany is being asked to carry the major load for much of the economic challenges facing not only the euro zone, but also the European Union in general?
Since all of the parties, with the exception of the left, have made it clear that they are more or less on the same page with regard to supporting the euro, some voters simply have a feeling that their frustration is not being given sufficient voice in the system. Can we hear echoes of the tea party in the United States perhaps? One might recall that the original letters used by the tea party stood for Taxed Enough Already. The tea party eventually became a complicated and confusing cluster, not only of economic complaints, but also social and cultural debates—opening the doors to both truly concerned citizens as well as many clowns in and outside of the political framework.
It is far too early to tell where this newest expression of political frustration in Germany is going to end up. The political party system is seeing yet another example of voters seeking to express their anxieties elsewhere—even if it takes the form of still another party. American voters don’t have that option. The battles between the fractions and the factions of voters takes place within the two major parties, with the result that the decision making process can be gummed up easily in a system based on seeking compromise. In a parliamentary system, in which six parties compete for increasingly frustrated voters, the results can mean more shifts in majorities and coalitions in a system in which no one party has a majority. Still, gridlock can also result in such a framework.
If nothing else, the formation of the “Alternative for Germany” has certainly generated a lot of political steam for the moment. But that steam may not turn into water to pour on the mills of enough voters to clear the hurdle of entering the Bundestag after the September elections. It does remind politicians that they can sometimes get very far out in front of their voters if they are not careful, even when they are trying to lead the voters in dealing with tough issues, such as the future of the euro and Germany’s role in that effort. It is a delicate balance for any politician in today’s democracies. But then again, what are the real alternatives? Whether this initiative is one of them remains to be seen.
Further analysis on the “Alternative for Germany” movement: