Earlier this year, Spiegel International provided this English-language guide to the current Germany political parties, From Black to Orange: SPIEGEL ONLINE's Guide to German Political Parties 02/28/2013, which could be a helpful reference when seeing news about the German elections.
It's a failure of the left-leaning parties in Germany and much of the rest of Europe that they haven't developed a consistent criticism of the neoliberal austerity policies that are wrecking Europe's economy and which German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel, aka Merkiavelli, has been successfully pushing on eurozone countries caught in the currency trap of the euro during a depression.
As a politician who is gets what she wants done, you have to respect her effectiveness. American Democrats can only wish that President Obama could be so successful in getting legislation passed he nominally supports.
Merkel's accomplishments in imposing austerity, though, are having bad results. (See: Manfred Ertel, 'Like 1930s Germany': Greek Far Right Gains Support Spiegel International 04/18/2013.
The European Union that we know today is the product of a long process that began just after the Second World War. The EU's official history website describes it this way:
The European Union is set up with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, which culminated in the Second World War. As of 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community begins to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. The six founders are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. [my emphasis]And it is based on democratic principles, each member country being required to meet certain minimal standards of democratic process and rule of law before being allowed entry. The free trade aspects were meant to facilitate and encourage the process of furthering unity on the basis of peace and democracy.
I'm not starry-eyed about the motivations of the Union's supporters. Many of them were primarily interested in the money that could be made from freer trade and economic integration. And if it does encourage the development of democracy and "secure lasting peace," that's perfectly fine.
But what has happened since 2009 with the depression and the euro crisis is that the economic motivations of the Union have come to dominate all others. And dominate them in the form of a newly bullying Germany under Frau Fritz' leadership, in which she poses as the stern schoolmistress of Europe.
But because the left felt a strong stake in the construction of "Europe" (the EU), the opposition in most places has tended to be among conservatives promoting own-country nationalism and worried that Europe would establish high, social-democratic standards of social insurance and public services and thus endanger "free market" policies favoring concentration of wealth among the already-wealthiest. And so today we have the odd spectacle in Germany, where Frau Fritz is returning the country to its reputation of arrogance and bullying that the postwar "never again" sentiment was supposed to avoid. But instead of the antiwar and pro-democracy left leading the criticism against Frau Fritz' austerity programs, it's still conservative nationalists, playing on resentments that Frau Fritz herself has deliberately stoked over Germany taxpayers having to bail out countries like Greece and Spain that supposedly are getting the austerity punishment they deserve for their misbehavior.
Wittrock illustrates the appeal of the anti-Europe message to hardcore nationalists:
[T]he [new AfD] party ... is already having trouble controlling its membership roster. In Germany, mainstream parties have to carefully check each new member to make sure that he or she doesn't have former associations with radical right-wing extremists, which could reflect poorly on the party itself. But Lucke says there is so far no evidence that any political radicals are trying to infiltrate the party. For weeks now, Alternative for Germany organizers have been sending out the message that they are in no way seeking to attract right-wing populists or right-wing radicals with their criticism of the common currency.Polls are currently showing their support below the 5% they would have to get nationally to win representation in the Bundestag. But Frau Fritz and her CDU/CSU party have to worry that they will pull votes from them, since they are competing for the same constituency. That pressure also constrains her flexibility in European politics. It's to a major extent a trap of her own making; but it will be a calculation on her Merkiavelian mind. (See: Günther Lachmann, D-Mark-Partei wirbelt Parteiengefüge durcheinander Die Welt 17.04.2013; Christian Endt und Lenz Jacobsen, Sie wollen die Alternative für Deutschland sein Die Zeit 18.04.2013)
Keeping track of new members, though, is no easy task. The party claims that it is reviewing each new member for signs of a right-wing past. At the same time, though, all it takes is a quick scan of the party's Facebook page to find the kind of language that is often used by right-wing extremists in defining their enemies. They include official entries with loaded terms such as: "state media," an allusion to a media that supposedly filters out alternative viewpoints; "bloc parties," the term used by the far-right, neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) to describe the mainstream parties; and "multicultural re-education." Little wonder, then, that the NPD itself has praised Alternative for German for the "important function it serves in breaking the ice and opening doors for the NPD's criticism of the euro and the EU."
Wolfgang Münchau discusses Frau Fritz' political dilemma with the AfD in "Alternative für Deutschland": Warum die Anti-Euro-Partei Merkels Sieg gefährdet Spiegel Online 17.04.2013. He takes the position that Germany should save the euro by pursuing a banking union and common bank insurance and other policies that would actually give the euro the possibility to function without driving millions of people in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain into poverty. That is not the position the AfD is taking. They just want Germany to bail on the rest of Europe for nationalistic reasons. The party is name Alternatives for Germany, after all!
Technically, the AfD isn't calling directly for a euro exit by Germany but for a national referendum on German membership. They presumably assume that the appeal of "Europe" is still too widely shared to directly oppose it at this early stage of their party's growth.
Münchau describes one of the huge ironies in all this. If Germany left the euro and the eurozone remained, the euro would drop in value and immediately increase the competitiveness of the other countries who are now pursuing austerity policies aimed at enhancing their competitiveness within the current eurozone. The new German mark would go up and value and hammer Germany's export-oriented economy. Germany is benefiting enormously from euro membership. So Frau Fritz is pursuing her own version of nationalistic politics within the eurozone in trying to maintain that advantage while crushing the economies of the countries currently implementing her austerity policies.
Tags: angela merkel, austerity economics, eu, euro, european union, greece