German Policy Watch

 

March 4, 2013

Alternative für Deutschland: A German Eurosceptic movement?

  • Recent newsflow suggests that the eurosceptic movement Alternative für Deutschland could form a political party in Germany in April in order to run at the upcoming federal elections in September. Key elements of their electoral platform are : (1) Back to Maastricht: no guarantees for the debt of other countries, (2) Countries should be able to leave EMU, (3) Any transfer of sovereignty should be legitimized by a plebiscite.
  • The main challenge for the movement would be its internal fragmentation. The economists that make up the movement have quite differing views on how to achieve their political goals. They are just at the very beginning of their opinion-forming process. The chances of the party succeeding at the federal elections mainly depend on (1) its ability to overcome internal fragmentation, (2) its ability to draw up a convincing election manifesto that is not too monothematic, (3) the will of prominent personalities and economically powerful agents to support it.
  • Apart from these endogenous factors, it remains open how the party would perform in the next federal elections. Inter alia this would depend on (1) whether the debt crisis remains muted or re-escalates until September; (2) the possibility of Angela Merkel’s crisis management squeezing out the AD from the public’s perception and (3) possible reactions of other parties – in particular the FDP which could attempt to stop voter migration from the coalition by taking a more eurosceptic stance.

 

What is the Alternative für Deutschland (AD)?

It is a eurosceptic movement that could soon turn into a new political party in Germany. The movement Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) is centered around the German economist Bernd Lucke, a professor of macroeconomics in Hamburg. Other spokespersons are former FAZ journalist Konrad Adam and a former state secretary in Hesse, Alexander Gauland. Another prominent supporter is the former president of the Federation of German Industry (BDI) Hans-Olaf Henkel – a prominent and colourful eurosceptic who wrote a book about establishing a North-EMU and a South-EMU. Other supporters are well-known eurosceptic economists such as Stefan Homburg (Hanover), Charles Blankart (Berlin), Wilhelm Hankel and Karl Schachtschneider (both multiple plaintiffs at the German Constitutional Court of Justice in various euro-proceedings).

What are the movement’s goals?

Three goals are mentioned on the movement’s website

(1) In accordance with the Maastricht Treaty: no guarantees for the debt of other countries.

(2) It should be politically and legally possible for countries to leave EMU and to re-emerge in alternative monetary unions or establish parallel currencies.

(3) Transfer of sovereignty should be legitimized by a prior plebiscite.

Other goals, such as tax policy, family policy, security policy and broad economic policy have not yet been specified.

Will party foundation be successful?

Most likely yes. In order to found a party in Germany, you need seven people to register as an association, a name that differs from that of other parties, a foundation assembly that decides on the manifesto and the party statutes and democratically elects the party board according to the statutes. The minutes, the statutes, the manifesto, a list of the persons in responsible positions (down to state level) has to be forwarded to the federal election office that assesses whether the manifesto and party structure comply with minimum democratic standards.

However, that does not mean that the party will be authorised to participate in the federal elections in September.

Will the party be authorised for the federal elections on 22 September?

Probably yes. While the logistics seem to be doable, the timeframe is tight and will only suffice if there are no internal conflicts on substantive issues.

Two dates are of critical importance.

  • By 17 June 2013 at the latest: registration of the party and its state sections at the federal election office for the next federal election. The office will assess whether manifesto and party structure comply with democratic minimum standards. One aspect is the number of party members. Although the German party law does not give any indication on minimum numbers, the number of members should ensure stable structures around the whole federation of Germany in different state sections. For the federal elections in 2009, parties with about 150 members were accepted. The federal election committee issue the final approval by 5 July.
  • By 15 July 2013 (69 days before election): in order to run for election the party has to collect supporting signatures: the party cannot compete in those German states where it has not been able to collect a number of supportive signatures higher than 0.1 percent of the electorate or 2,000 signatures – whichever of the two numbers is lower.

Why were eurosceptic movements in Germany unsuccessful in the past?

This is not the first attempt to found a eurosceptic movement in Germany. At least one eurosceptic party was founded back in the late 1990s, got some traction but was dissolved after a few years. However, movements in this direction faced the following challenges.

(1) Fragmentation: fragmentation of their electorate kept mobilization momentum low: German conservatives as their main target group are sticky in their electoral behavior.

(2) No money: Lacking financial resources gave an unprofessional appearance.

(3) Narrow content: Monothematic manifestos often lacked coherent positioning in other policy areas.

(4) No appeal: Lack of charismatic leaders kept public attention low. That has often led to infiltration by the far right and, in the end, to negative media coverage.

Does the AD have higher chances of success than previous eurosceptic movements?

Looking at the four challenges that led to the failure of previous eurosceptic movements in Germany, the AD’s chances of electoral success are mixed.

  • Fragmentation remains the crucial issue: The economists that make up the movement have quite differing views on how to achieve their political goals. They are just at the very beginning of their opinion-forming process. While their communication is professional, they have almost no experience in policymaking. Also, fragmentation within the eurosceptic party spectrum remains an issue: AD offered to cooperate with the eurosceptic Freie Wähler (free voters) during the state elections in Lower Saxony in January but the Freie Wähler refused to agree. The Freie Wähler ended up with 0.5% in Lower Saxony.
  • Money: The financial resources of the movement are scarce. Additional funding from economically powerful sources remains unlikely as long as the degree of internal fragmentation remains high.
  • Content: As long as AD does not further carve out its position in other policy areas, campaigning on just one topic will remain a risky strategy that has not paid off in the past.
  • Appeal: In contrast to other fragmented eurosceptic movements, the AD has some prominent supporters in its ranks. Most prominent supporters of the movement are highly professional media personalities as well as well-known eurosceptics like Hans-Olaf Henkel. Thus, a new eurosceptic party with prominent supporters could attract the media’s attention as Angela Merkel’s euro rescue politics remains a recurrent issue in German public debate and talk shows.

Apart from these endogenous aspects the electoral performance of a eurosceptic party will also depend on a number of other factors that are either difficult to predict or cannot yet be fully assessed as the position of the AD is not yet entirely clear.

  • The sense of urgency concerning the public debt crisis: As long as markets remain relatively calm and German guarantees are not called, any euro-sceptic party will find it hard to campaign on the theme. Even if the euro crisis should escalate again, whether the new party’s success would depend on being able to provide answers to it or leveraging the escalation of the crisis to its own benefit.
  • Incumbents’ reaction: Will the AD turn out to be a political non-event due to the popularity of Chancellor Merkel which is largely founded on voters’ perception of her skilful crisis management?
  • Party strategies: Finally, how will other parties react to the new movement appropriating the eurosceptic approach? What role will the FDP play? Will it assume a tougher rhetoric on the euro crisis as well (as it tried before in a policy aborted soon thereafter) in order to stop voter migration?

How will they fare at the federal elections on 22 September?

This cannot be fully assessed yet. Even if they were more successful than previous eurosceptic party movements in attracting public attention this does not mean that the party will clear the critical 5 percent threshold at federal elections. Provided that the movement manages to become a registered party by September, its chances of success in the federal elections mainly depend on (1) the ability to overcome internal fragmentation, (2) its ability to draw up a convincing election manifesto that is not too monothematic, (3) the will of prominent personalities and economically powerful agents to support it.

Given the fact that no party manifesto has been drawn up yet, it cannot yet be assessed which group of voters the party is targeting. It is also too early to assess whether the established parties would react to the movement in their respective election campaign manifestos.

 

Author :
Nicolaus Heinen +49 69 910 31713, nicolaus.heinen@db.com
 

 

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