A Class Apart

by Andrew Stuttaford

With the German election due in under three weeks, the Financial Times reports on an opinion poll that is a reminder of the disconnect between Germany’s political class and the country’s voters:

A clear majority of voters said their next government should have no mandate to forgive the debts of its eurozone partners, or to guarantee their borrowing in the form of mutualised eurozone bonds, according to the YouGov poll. Seventy per cent object to any suggestion of direct fiscal transfers to eurozone partners, while 52 per cent oppose any further loans, it says.

With one possible exception (the unwillingness to accept that at least some of the German money that has gone to Greece—and perhaps Portugal—has gone for good), those are reasonable enough opinions to hold, at least for any Germans who believe in hanging on to what shreds remain of their national sovereignty, or who, for that matter, are unwilling to agree to a ‘transfer regime’ (to use the euphemism) that will see them paying a fortune in perpetuity to create a continental economic convergence that will probably always remain out of reach. Well, how long do you think it will take to turn Lisbon into Berlin?

The FT continues:

The [poll] figures also suggest that the newly-formed anti-euro party in Germany, Alternative für Deutschland, could gain more votes than the 3 per cent it registers in current polls…. Although 60 per cent of those questioned said they did not want to return to the Deutschmark as the national currency, 55 per cent said they believed the eurozone should be reduced to fewer members that are more similar to Germany. That is the policy advocated by AfD, which wants countries such as Greece to leave.

And if you think that sounds a lot like our old friend the Northern Euro, you’d be quite right, but:

 If AfD wins more than 5 per cent, it would gain seats in the Bundestag, almost certainly compelling Ms Merkel, German chancellor, to form a grand coalition with her [left-of-center] SPD rivals.

But a Merkel/SPD coalition would be considerably more in favor of closer European integration than the existing arrangement.


And if you think that sounds much like the dilemma faced by many British euroskeptics wondering to vote for the Conservatives or UKIP, you would also be quite right. Of course, the German electorate is not, to put it mildly, nearly so euroskeptic as its British counterpart:

On political union, 52 per cent said the eurozone should become a “political union, with stronger central budget controls” to save the euro….

Then again:

…when they were asked if that political union should include “permanent fiscal transfers and a common budget”, only 29 per cent agreed, while 55 per cent were opposed.

And that could could only have a chance of working if the members of that political union had reached a level of economic convergence that simply does not—and will not—exist within the euro zone as it is currently constituted.

But within a (northern) euro zone, it just might.

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