The eurozone is in turmoil. Crisis, debts and protest have been dominant themes for people in worsening difficulty for several years now. The south of Europe is indebted while the north demands rigorous and painful austerity programmes in return for throwing out a financial life line. For most people in the south, ‘north’ means mainly Germany. As a result of ill feeling, ordinary Germans have grown increasingly reluctant to spend their holidays around the Mediterranean any more.
Hamburg-based economics professor Bernd Lucke is among those saying that rather than uniting, the single currency has divided Europe.
“The countries in the south are heading for economic disaster. With the unemployment and youth unemployment which we already see, the radicalisation of people living in the southern European countries is to be feared. I’m not sure how long democratic governments will be able to hold on there, before the political pendulum swings over to populist, extremist leaders.”
Recently, Lucke and some like-minded people founded their own party, naming it ‘Alternative for Germany’. They are certain that a single currency for national economies of widely differing strength is not workable. They want to end the single currency. In their vision, countries would perhaps return to their drachma, lira or deutsch marks.
“If our political ideas were realised, we would see an orderly disintegration of the euro zone, just as there have already been with currencies in the past. Consider Czechoslovakia, which today is two states with two currencies. That could happen with the euro zone, too – gradually and carefully, and with respect for the individual countries’ economies.”
In Lucke’s opinion, the end of the euro would not only improve the image of Germans in the eyes of Greeks and Spaniards; it would have positive effects on the south itself.
“Take the example of Greece, about which people perhaps know best. Greece’s neighbour Turkey was heavily in debt, and close to bankruptcy in 2003. But it has a free currency, its own national currency with a flexible exchange rate. Today, Turkey is booming. Turkey has essentially the same assets as Greece: beautiful coasts, prospering tourism, for example. These are strengths that Greece could take advantage of itself, if it were only allowed to devalue its currency.“
Alternative for Germany has almost 16,000 members, including economic experts and university professors. Like many other Germans, they’re afraid that their taxes and savings could vanish into seemingly bottomless pits. Apart from the euro, the party also wants European Union power reduced. It wants referendums and stricter immigration rules. Many critics see the party as a bunch of closeted right-wing populists.
Lucke was attacked while giving a speech in Bremen, probably by radical leftists, but got away with no more than a fright. He says that his party has won praise from the right but that the AfD had nothing to do with them.
“Those, who don’t want to look closely at our demands always link us with the extreme right-wing party NPD. But what do they have to do with us? We criticise the euro, because it has failed as a European currency. We criticise the enormous liabilities that we have taken on for the southern European countries. We criticise all that, because it goes against the Maastricht treaty and against our government’s promises not to be liable for other countries.”
A party that wants to enter the German parliament has to win at least five percent of the votes. In the latest opinion polls, the eurosceptic AfD party is running at around three percent.