Why the Alternative für Deutschland Simply Not Matters
There is some buzz in the English-language media (Reuters, EU Observer, Bloomberg, Spiegel English) about reports of a new anti-euro party having been founded in Germany. This, in combination with the fact that “one in four Germans would back anti-euro party” (Reuters), is seen as spelling trouble for Merkel (see the Telegraph). Observers – especially Anglo-Saxon ones – tend to over-interpretate euro- or integration-sceptic voices, here is why they are wrong.
Most obvious is the misleadingly titled Reuters article above, a proper summary of the cited survey should instead read “one in four Germans could imagine voting for an anti-euro party.” In reality a huge majority of these seemingly eurosceptic voters will line up behind their usual mainstream party of choice in September.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph cites Hans-Olaf Henkel as an inspiration for the newly-founded Alternative für Deutschland and then mentions only one of the astounding amount of professors of economics that can be found on the new party’s supporters’ list: Bernd Lucke. Now, the first of these, Henkel, is a common feature on the German TV-talk circuit who holds little political credibility, the other hardly anyone has heard of before. There is little threat of a Grillo-style populist success based on this line-up of old, conservative intellectuals far removed from the public at large. Maybe a Thilo Sarrazin could change that, I doubt even that personally.
What else then? The Pirates of course in a number of Länder and the Free Voters in Bavaria had impressive showings in regional elections that would pose a significant problem to Merkel if it were repeated by a party chipping away at CDU/CSU votes nationally. How realistic is that in the case of the Alternative though? The fundamental problem for this top-down party is that successful protest parties – and this includes Beppo Grillo also, or the American Tea Party – are built bottom-up. Without a broad grassroots net of supporters willing to go out – online arguably in the case of the Pirates – and campaign, no significant electoral support can be achieved. Evans-Pritchard even admits this himself when he cites “Michael Wohlgemuth from Open Europe” in saying that the new party “lack[s] the organization for a quick break-through.”
A few more general remarks then, Merkel is not “already in trouble,” “the Left is [not] slightly ahead” and she is thus not “on course to lose office.” This simply as the SPD, especially under its principal candidate Peer Steinbrück, is very unlikely to look to govern in a SPD-Left-Green coalition making the most likely outcome of the elections either a Grand Coalition or a groundbreaking CDU/CSU-Green one.
Finally, if the history of anti-euro German parties is any indication, the Alternative will face an uphill battle. The Initiative Pro D-Mark, during the decade (1998-2007) it survived more than it flourished, had its biggest success on a regional scale with a measly 2.1% in Saxony in 1999. Note that the domestic economic conditions were much harsher than the situation in Germany today and thus in theory much more conducive to the emergence of radical opposition parties – and indeed the Left arose during exactly this period.
Much ado about nothing then.