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German Anti-Euro Group Has Big-Name Backers


European politicians seeking to abolish the euro are plentiful, but they tend not to win elections. So, when a political party was founded in Germany this month to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel's euro policies, her allies quickly dismissed the group as unpopular. But this party, called Alternative for Germany, may not be easy to ignore. The party supporters include economists and business leaders playing to a German electorate that is growing weary of bailing out the eurozone with German funds. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin.

CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: To Hans-Olaf Henkel, protests like this one in Cyprus signal that it's time for Germany to give up the euro. Henkel, who headed Germany's top industry federation and IBM in Europe, says it is distressing to see the German government paying bailouts and then being vilified to boot.

HANS-OLAF HENKEL: When Chancellor Merkel visited Athens some weeks ago, she had to be protected by 7,000 policemen. Her picture, her photo together with our finance ministers is very often associated with a swastika.

NELSON: Henkel says he'd like to see Germany and other stronger eurozone countries create their own currency while allowing the weaker ones to get their houses in order. That idea is taboo as far as the German government is concerned, but it's an idea Henkel believes may appeal to German voters. It's why he's decided to back the Alternative for Germany Party. Founded this month, the group seeks to replace the euro with individual currencies in each country or to create smaller unions like Henkel proposes. One of the new party's leaders is University of Hamburg economics Professor Bernd Lucke, who belonged to Merkel's Christian Democrats Party for three decades.

BERND LUCKE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: At a recent meeting in a Frankfurt suburb, Luca said Merkel should answer for violating the treaty that led to the euro's creation by agreeing to bailout after bailout of struggling eurozone countries. NPR reached the professor in Hamburg.

LUCKE: I believe that these policies are false, that they actually endanger the European unification process. So, I thought it was very necessary to form a new political force which offers an alternative to what the current parties think is right.

NELSON: Luca says more than 5,000 voters have joined his party that is holding its first official conference next month in Berlin. A recent poll in the weekly news magazine Focus found one in four Germans would consider voting for an anti-euro party.

OSCAR NEIDERMEYER: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Still, German analysts, like Oscar Neidermeyer of the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science, predict the party won't get the 5 percent required to win parliamentary seats in September's election. Marcel Fratzcher, who heads the German Institute for Economic Research here agrees. He adds he doesn't take the new party seriously.

MARCEL FRATZCHER: It's a typical example that there is a lack of understanding of what's really happening, what's really going on.

NELSON: Fratzcher, who previously worked at the European Central Bank, blames the eurozone crisis on politics not the currency.

FRATZCHER: The problem is that countries don't produce the right goods. They have lost competitiveness. But this has nothing to do with the euro. This has to do something structural policies in the countries with excessive consumption with the failure to reform.

NEIDERMEYER: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Analyst Neidermeyer says while Alternative for Germany may not achieve its goal of getting rid of the euro, the party could nevertheless take away votes from the government, which is already facing a tough reelection battle. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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