Demanding the Mark Back: Opposition to the Euro Grows in Germany

By Peter Müller

Surveys show that many Germans are worried about the future of the euro, but the country's political parties are not taking their fears seriously. The number of grassroots initiatives against the common currency is increasing, and political observers say a Tea Party-style anti-euro movement could do well.

Photo Gallery: Return of the Mark? Photos
DPA

As a playwright, Rolf Hochhuth knows how to use timing to achieve the greatest possible impact. In the 1960s, he criticized the pope for remaining silent about the Holocaust. When everyone in the world was talking about globalization, he took to the theater stage and unmasked consulting companies like McKinsey as exploitation machines.

Now Hochhuth is campaigning against the euro -- and his stage is Germany's Constitutional Court. "Why should we help rescue the Greeks from their sham bankruptcy?" he asks. "Ever since Odysseus, the world has known that the Greeks are the biggest rascals of all time. How is it even possible -- unless it was premeditated -- for this highly popular tourist destination to go bankrupt?"

In the spring, he joined a group led by Berlin-based professor Markus Kerber that has filed a constitutional complaint against the billions in aid to Greece and the establishment of the European stabilization fund, which was set up in May 2010. Hochhuth wants the deutsche mark back. "I don't know if this is possible. I only know that Germany lived very well with the mark."

It's an opinion that suddenly places this nearly 80-year-old man in a rather unusual position, at least for him: on the side of the majority of Germans.

Better Off with the Mark

Unnerved by shaky, debt-ridden countries and bailout packages worth billions, the majority of Germans want the mark back. In a survey conducted in early December by the polling firm Infratest dimap, 57 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that Germany would have been better off keeping the mark than introducing the euro. Germans, it seems, are gripped once again by their historic fear of inflation: According to the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen polling institute, 82 percent of the population is worried about the stability of their currency.

Now, a network of euro critics is capitalizing on this atmosphere. A group consisting of an aging playwright, a recalcitrant professor, a frustrated member of parliament with the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), the grandson of a former chancellor and a former top manager have decided they don't want the euro anymore -- at least not the way it is now. They are still only united by little more than a common issue, but it wouldn't be the first loose association of individuals that ended up becoming a political party.

"The return of the mark? I can imagine that we could see the rise of a German Tea Party focusing on precisely this issue," says Thomas Mayer, chief economist at Deutsche Bank, referring to the conservative American political movement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) faces a dilemma as to how to deal with ordinary Germans' concerns about the euro. If she takes their fears seriously, she will have to assume a hard-line stance toward countries that are drowning in debt like Greece and Portugal. But if she plays the iron chancellor, she will have no choice but to break with the Europe-friendly traditions of former CDU chancellors like Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl.

Scope for a Protest Movement

For the time being, no political party has focused on the currency concerns. In reaction to the crisis, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who is also a member of the CDU, has urged closer cooperation in European politics -- which is precisely the opposite of what many people want. The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which stylizes itself as the party of the common man, is a strong proponent of euro bonds -- joint European government bonds that critics say would place the burden primarily on German taxpayers.

By contrast, the conservative Christian Social Union, the CDU's Bavarian sister party, can't make up its mind as to which of two party members it should take inspiration from: Theo Waigel, who paved the way for the euro when he was Germany's finance minister, or Peter Gauweiler, who has challenged its constitutionality in court.

Pollsters like Matthias Jung from Forschungsgruppe Wahlen say that they can imagine the formation of a protest movement coalescing around euro-related fears. "The government has to prove that the bailouts for Greece and Ireland serve our own needs in Germany," says Jung. "If the billions in aid are not convincingly justified, it will lead to a legitimation crisis."

Time for Tea

Frank Schäffler, a Bundestag member with the FDP, has been endeavoring for some time now to start a Tea Party-style movement within his party. So far, the group, which he founded last September, has been little more than a meeting place for a handful of politicians who, frustrated by the ongoing demise of the FDP, have created a website with a few smart slogans.

The euro issue, however, is generating attention for the FDP sectarians. "FDP supporters are highly sensitive to currency issues," says Schäffler. "(FDP party leader Guido) Westerwelle and the leaders of the party's parliamentary group are doing too little to address their concerns. So we have to launch a grassroots movement."

On a Thursday evening in early December, boisterous beer-drinking visitors were loudly enjoying themselves at Christmas parties throughout Munich's famous Paulaner Bräuhaus beer hall. Meanwhile, in a separate conference room, Schäffler was giving a dry presentation to the Hayek Society on the sins that led to the euro crisis.

The name of the society is very fitting. Friedrich August von Hayek, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974, was of the opinion that currencies should be a product like any other. Just as companies sell radios, private banks could circulate their own money -- the idea being that the most stable currency would rule out in the end.

The euro, as the presenter and audience quickly agreed, is bad money. It should be abolished. Since the introduction of the European common currency, Schäffler has counted over 70 violations of the Stability Pact, which limits the annual budget deficits of euro-zone countries to 3 percent of GDP. He has also vehemently criticized the European Central Bank, which has been purchasing government bonds from cash-strapped countries, even though EU rules forbid it from buying debt directly from governments. "We buy everything except animal feed," said the FDP politician to general applause.

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1. Only America is guilty
Popateapa 12/27/2010
Europe has a choice! This article on http://www.inpolitics.ro took me think of our frustrations. Eastern Europeans frustrations! At first they were very happy! Wealth, freedom, comfort! This mirage began to disappear! The transfer of national wealth to a new rich class has led to the impoverishment of the majority! This new class has not made his fortune in time. So could know the true value! He accumulated over two decades! Most of the new capitalists in Eastern Europe’s communist era are frustrated people. Given the important positions in the communist state structures have access to information! Many of them worked in the communist secret services. I am Romanian and in my opinion it only authentic capitalist country is Ion Tiriac! Money earned from the communist era, the Court has invested in profitable businesses! The relationships they had with the great wealth of the world helped him! He learned capitalism in the area where the practice! The other “tycoons” have held key positions Romanian! Example Columbeanu Irinel. His father was an important man in the farm party (PCR) which produced food for Ceausescu! After the revolution many of the goods collected disappeared Ceausescu! The money his father had been using the old command Irinel for business. He had relations who could give useful information, where to invest, where to borrow, etc.. In this way, large fortunes were made. Illegal but they exist. By a polarization of society has reduced the number of consumers. Has reduced the great mass impoverishment. The Chinese seem successful. In fact Europe is looking towards the Chinese model for financial reasons. Necessary. Accepting the help of China, 7 U $ 000 billion will make some concessions that will transform us into another China! In fact the Schengen area will not have to valoare.Occidentul avoids invasion of the East Europeans. When the Chinese will come up with money, how they will protect their space invasion? Questions put to me. I ask as a stupid man! That I am! Fatal error was to divide the world in 1945 when the treaty of Yalta! Major world powers have left then fooled America. Now all America has caused the crisis! The political crisis the world has been presented since 1945 until now all of America. They have armed the Taliban in Afghanistan! They have helped North Korea in producing the atomic bomb. They will trigger World War III! http://popateapa.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/doar-america-este-de-vinaonly-america-is-guilty/
2.
BTraven 12/30/2010
Hochhuth’s arguments and legal battles with Peymann about the right to use his own theatre, Das Berliner Ensemble, to stage his own plays in summer is much more amusing. It has provided entertaining of an high level only old and well educated people are capable of doing. So why does he support ultraconservative economists when much more important ones, for example Stiglitz and Krugman, haven demanded much more money for Greek? And there is no doubt that both would like his play about McKinsey which cannot be said of Kerber.
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