When Bernd Lucke, the head of the euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD), visited the United Kingdom before the summer break, he was courted as an honored guest. Lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party met with him in private. The country's main news show, BBC's "Newsnight," brought him in for a prime-time studio interview. Instead of being berated as a right-wing populist, he was praised for his intelligence.
"He is an extremely impressive figure", says Douglas Carswell, one of the leading euroskeptics of the Conservative Party. "He's very highly thought of by conservatives."
The AfD's election results are eagerly awaited in the UK, where the anti-euro party is seen as an overdue new arrival on the German political scene. Conservatives like Carswell hope to find kindred spirits in Germany. While the AfD has been marginalized in the election campaign, the British don't see it as disreputable. "In Britain, Lucke would be a mainstream moderate Conservative," says Carswell. "He'd probably be a member of cabinet."
Bill Cash, a veteran euroskeptic who was part of the Tory rebellion against the Maastricht treaty in the early 1990s, describes the AfD as "the only realists in Germany."
Praise for Breaking Taboos
In June, when Lucke was sitting in front of the black-red-gold flag in the "Newsnight" studio, moderator Jeremy Paxman described him as a taboo-breaker. There is a new party in Germany that is "ready to say what has been unsayable," said Paxman. Namely, that "the euro is nuts." Lucke laughed politely and answered the sympathetic questions in fluent English.
According to the conservative politics website ConservativeHome the AfD's policies are, from a British perspective, "wholly unremarkable." The site's Mark Wallace argued the party shouldn't be compared to the UK Independence Party, which wants a withdrawal from the EU. According to Wallace, the AfD's policies are much closer to the Tories', who also reject the euro and want to reform the EU. "In German eyes," he wrote, Prime Minister David Cameron's party "counts as a right-wing populist movement."
On the same site, conservative commentator Andrew Gimson wrote: "If I were a German voter, I think I would be infuriated by the refusal of the two main parties even to have a proper debate about Europe, and would be tempted to express my anger by voting AfD." Gimson also argued in the Times that, if the new party does well on Sunday, the election's big story could be that "an honest and eloquent group of euroskeptics has broken through Germany's stifling political consensus and entered the Bundestag."
The impact of AfD on German political debate could be big, argues Cash. "It's like us Maastricht rebels. We started out in a minority 20 years ago, and now we've won the argument."
But AfD sympathisers like Carswell and Cash sit on the back benches of the British House of Commons. The Conservative cabinet continues to bank on the governing Christian Democrats (CDU). Prime Minister Cameron hopes that, in her third term, Angela Merkel will help him get national powers back from Brussels.
AfD: 'Bad News' for Cameron?
From Cameron's perspective, the rise of the AfD is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the pressure from the right could lead Merkel to sharpen her criticisms of the EU and support the British repatriation project in Brussels. London believes recent positive signs from the German government can be linked to the AfD.
On the other hand, the entry of the euro-opponents into the Bundestag would most likely prevent a governing coalition made up of the CDU and the liberal Free Democrats, and lead to a grand coalition between the CDU and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD's inclusion in the government would scuttle hopes for German support of EU renationalization.
In a Telegraph blog post, Mats Persson of the euroskeptic Open Europe think tank argued an AfD win would be "bad news" for David Cameron because "Merkel will almost certainly have to rule with the SPD" and such a grand coalition would align itself more with Paris than London.
These kinds of tactical considerations aren't as important for Carswell, who's keeping his fingers crossed for Lucke's party: "We'd all benefit if Merkel was forced to take German euroskepticism seriously."