Another Crack in the Ice?

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Commentator has a report on some interesting observations from the new secretary general of Germany’s Christian Social Union, the more conservative half of Angela Merkel’s center-right alliance:

In a move which close observers of German politics are hailing as a radical shift towards British style euroscepticism, the new secretary general of the Christian Social Union, (CSU)…has come out with a scathing attack on the leadership of the European Union in Brussels….

In an interview with the respected Die Welt newspaper, CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer… was questioned critically about a new party document for the forthcoming local and then European elections which said: “We need a withdrawal therapy for commissioners intoxicated with regulation.”

“But that sentence is true,” Scheuer protested. “The CSU as a whole has the goal of junking the Eurocratic ballast.”

In language that is rarely heard about the European Union in mainstream German politics but is common among the centre-Right in Britain, he added:

“We are sounding a warning against developments which could subsequently impact negatively on Germany. The CSU operates an early warning system.”

Echoing criticism from eurosceptics that the European Union has moved against democratic principles and its leaders live remote lives on high salaries at taxpayers’ expense, he went on to say: “Maybe some EU functionaries need to get out of their luxury offices now and then, and talk to the people. Then they’ll be able to carry out policies which are rooted in practical life.”

But as a practical matter, comments like these have — sadly — no immediate significance. The CDU, the other half of Germany’s center-right partnership, still remains wedded to the stale Brussels orthodoxy, as does the center-left SPD, Merkel’s other coalition partner. At the same time, these remarks are a hopeful sign that some in Germany’s political class are, at last, wising up.

The prospect that the AfD, a more forthrightly conservative party opposed to the euro (but not the EU), might make a respectable showing in May’s elections to the EU parliament is something that may also be on Scheuer’s mind.

And not just Scheuer’s.

Here’s The Economist gazing anxiously into 2014 from the vantage point of last November:

The only fundamental change in 2014 comes from a party founded as recently as 2013, the Alternative for Germany [the AfD]. It is openly Eurosceptic, clamouring for an “orderly” dissolution of the euro area, and thus breaks a post-war German taboo. Led by articulate populists, it came within a whisker of being seated in parliament in 2013. In 2014 the Alternative will probably enter the European Parliament, then ride this momentum to more victories in state elections, and perhaps seats in the federal parliament in 2017.

The presence of this new force on the right, a non-centrist alternative as its name implies, will test the German political culture of middling through. Fortunately, Mrs Merkel is ideally suited to lead the defence. Her central task in 2014 is to make the centre hold, lest things fall apart.

That “fortunately” says it all, as does the sneer word (in this context) “populist,” even when qualified by a condescending “articulate.”

Back in September, the same magazine (or at least its columnist, Charlemagne) felt freer to be somewhat more open-minded:

Contrary to what the conspiracy theorists might expect from me, I cannot say from personal experience that [AfD leader] Mr Lucke or other members/sympathisers of the party I have talked to have right-extremist tendencies. Instead, Mr Lucke uses liberal reasoning to arrive at his Eurosceptic conclusions. And he is very good at this–on talk shows, in press conferences, in interviews. A soft-spoken professor, he can even seem shy. He refuses to be provoked and always keeps it polite. One thing he insists on clarifying is that his “euro-scepticism” is directed at the currency called the euro, not at the European Union (EU). In fact, he feels that you must ditch the euro to save the EU.

Some of the other members of the Alternative see that differently. Beatrix von Storch, a former duchess of Oldenburg, told me this week that she is Eurosceptic in both senses, since Brussels over-regulates. That still doesn’t sound extremist, if you’ve recently listened in on Britain’s House of Commons, for example….

As I noted at the time, that “doesn’t sound extremist under any circumstances at all,” but perhaps if I worked for a magazine that has strayed a long way indeed from its classical-liberal traditions it might.