Some call them renegade academics, others call them euro contrarians, Chancellor Angela Merkel calls them a headache. The new Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) is upsetting German political dogma, and EU politics.
The party is led by a small band of prestigious academics and industrialists, the kind of people whom one could expect to be united with their colleagues in the German establishment in supporting the ever-increasing power of the EU and membership of the euro currency.
But they are not.
AfD’s leadership wants less EU bureaucracy on the shoulders of German people and German business. The party wants powers returned from Brussels to Berlin and most of all they want their country out of the euro.
They do not like the way Merkel has forced the German people to take on responsibility for bank debt and national debt across the eurozone countries in order to save the EU-elite’s political project of the euro.
Hans-Olaf Henkel, the former head of IBM operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is one of seven AfD members of the European Parliament since the elections last month. He financed his own campaign, donating €1m (£800,000) to the party. In an interview with the New York Times this week Henkel said: “Merkel is terrified of us.”
“A country is responsible for its own debts and the stability of its own banks. In order to save the euro they have pushed this overboard. That disturbs me.”
Now the AfD has joined the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group at the parliament, the same caucus as the British Conservatives, and Merkel is reported to be annoyed that Prime Minister David Cameron’s party has allowed the AfD to take on the look of EU mainstream respectability. She and the German establishment would rather the AfD could be pictured as fringe right-wingers.
But the AfD, which has members who are primarily church-going conservatives, refuses to align with any of the far right groups in the parliament such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Geert Wilders’ Dutch Freedom Party.
The party even refused to align with the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which won the elections in Britain last month and beat the Conservatives into third place.
Considering what an earthquake parties such as the Front National and UKIP delivered last month by topping the polls, the seven per cent and seven seats AfD won look meagre to outsiders. But by German standards, their success rattled all the windows, if it didn’t actually make the earth move.
The party’s election manifesto told voters to take “Mut zu Deutschland!”: Courage to stand up for Germany!
In the EU institutions it’s considered bad manners for Germans to talk like that.
Standing up for Germany is entirely against what Merkel calls “the European spirit” of compromise, consensus, “solidarity” across the eurozone and acting in the best interests of an EU of ever-closer union.
For the AfD standing up for Germany means “an EU of sovereign states supporting human rights, democracy and the values of the Christian West.”
It means a stop to “excessive EU centralism, bureaucracy, and a common currency that leads to rescuing incompetent banks, to frustrated jobless young people and to minimal pensions.”
Far from appearing right-wing in the campaign, Reuters reports that “After a professionally run EU campaign in which the party spoke less about its signature issue, the euro, and more about conservative German values, pollsters say the AfD is being seen by a growing number of voters as a legitimate, democratic party to the right of the CDU, and less like a flash in the pan.”
Or maybe like tea overboard in a harbour.