AfD Fans in Britain German Euroskeptics 'Extremely Impressive'

The Alternative for Germany's anti-euro views are seen as extreme in Germany -- but not in the United Kingdom, where they've found high-profile fans among the governing Conservatives.

Bernd Lucke, co-founder of the euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany was feted on a recent trip to the UK.

Bernd Lucke, co-founder of the euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany was feted on a recent trip to the UK.

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."

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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danm 09/18/2013
1. optional
It makes me sad to see so much of the European press try to diminish the voice of anyone who alters from their point of view on a united europe. Diversity, if it is truely valued, should include diversity of thought even when it is something you do not think is correct. Give these people a chance. Hear them out. Keep an open mind. Maybe you can learn something if you allow for the possiblity that you aren't always right.
bumbleboo 09/18/2013
2. AfD
If i were allowed to vote in Germany it would be for the AfD which is the only party vocalising what Germans are thinking. Why are the other Parties not addressing the issues of Europe and the nonsense that comes out of Brussels? Ever since the introduction of the Euro our cpost of living and standards have gone down and down again. Business may be doing well but our wages and pensions have remained a joke! Why is the immigration issue and the Islamic threat not being addressed also? The main parties are pussy footing around and meantime the threat from a flood of unwanted immigrants and refugees continues unabated. I do hope the AfD do well in this election.
yiannaki 09/18/2013
3. The euro is not the problem.
The AfD does make the mistake that the euro is the problem. No, the countries without a Protestant Ethic ( Max Weber) are not ready yet ( for some decades) for this currency. So we better split the euro in a Neuro and a Seuro. The Seuro can be devaluated. When these countries want to join in again they do know now what the conditions are.
spon-facebook-10000047486 09/18/2013
Dear Danm, Democracy is obviously part of European values, be it at Member-State or European Union level. As such, the emergence of this political party in Germany is also part of the process we stand for. Having said that, I disagree with the principles they defend: The European Union, the Euro (€), and many other elements of European integration have had a very positive effect in past decades. This is regardless of an ongoing (and also to be welcomed) debate on what kind of constitutional framework we wish to work with. Personally, I believe the time has come when we might consider the possibility of adopting federalist forms of government at an European Union level. Namely a Minister of Finance/Economy with powers to intervene in Member-States budgets (especially within Eurozone) to ensure compliance with the Maastricht Treaty. This Minister could very well be the President of the Eurogroup, seeing he already represents a college of Finance Ministers.
sylvesterthecat 09/18/2013
5. Democracy v Populism
It seems that in European states, 'democracy' is something that is exercised rarely, perhaps only at national or local elections. At any time between when an issue is raised which is supported by a considerable section of the public, this is called 'populism'. Attitudes among politicians and commentators are strange, democracy is good but must be carefully 'rationed' while populism is 'suspect' and is therefore frowned on. Could it be I wonder, a case of " if a majority of the people seem to support MY view, that's democracy, if they disagree with MY view, that's populism! " It's an interesting distinction when the exercise of democratic rights is given a name dependent on whether one agrees with the majority or not.
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