Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Germany is the nexus of the eurozone, Berlin the fortress of continental finance. Her center-right government has served as the regional fiscal enforcer, demanding austerity of its neighbors as it (often nervously but never meekly) watches their balance sheets. Domestically, the payoff has been considerable: as the incumbent hurtles towards September parliamentary elections with the crises in Cyprus, Greece, and other troubled E.U. economies seemingly contained, she is the runaway favorite.
Of course, if the European Union’s economy takes further turns for the worse, a new domestic party of Euroskeptics will likely be there, ready and waiting to capitalize. And while the emerging organization — called the Alternative for Germany, or AD — is comprised at the moment of just a handful of economists and political figures, it appears to have the intellectual heft and elite connections to achieve what previous German Euroskeptics could not: some measure of electoral relevance.
At the center of the new party would be Bernd Lucke, the economics professor who serves as both its intellectual godfather and, presumably, organizational leader as it tries to overcome the logistical hurdles to getting on the ballot. It faces strategic challenges, as well, including the potential of established political parties that already have a stake in parliament to steal its thunder and make populist and/or anti-E.U. appeals. After all, there is no rule in European elections these days that says only one anti-austerity euroskeptic can take part, as the deadlocked results in Italy reminded us. The German FDP — the Free Democrats, a libertarian party that is in coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats and has seen its poll numbers sag in recent months — has flirted with anti-E.U. sentiment in the past, and Merkel remains vulnerable to challenges from left and right on the question of whether Germany has overextended itself.
But the space for that kind of argument will only be there if things head south and Germany’s finances are strained to the breaking point by guarantees of its fiscally troubled neighbors. Otherwise, clearing the five-percent threshold for representation in parliament could be too tall an order for such a structureless cause, one that reaches out to an electorate that, perhaps ironically, has enjoyed much more bountiful times (and little austerity) compared to some of its southern European neighbors. In that sense, Merkel can make the case for the status quo — one that in Germany, anyway, is just fine by most voters.