Friday, April 12, 2013

EU politics: revolting parallels

FAZ 012-afd.jpg

There is too much "noise" attending the progress of the euro for there to be any sensible analysis or comment at the moment – the net is awash with speculation and hyperventilation, with very little hard fact to go on.

As for the British political scene, this has been rendered sterile by the media incontinence over Lady Thatcher's death. And when one newspaper carried a eulogy from David Beckham, that really did signal that it was time to depart the field and find a suitable bunker. 

It's worth having a look at Bill Jamieson though. He is one of the few commentators who actually has something interesting to say, and he is by no means alone in his view that the saturation coverage is way over the top. 

Meanwhile, UKIP and its leader are still getting a modicum of coverage so it is interesting to reflect on the coverage of the German equivalent, Alternative für Deutschland (AFD), which is beginning to make serious waves in the Fatherland. 

Amongst others, FAZ is giving the party a fair dose of publicity, reporting that it now has 7500 members, about 2,500 more than two weeks ago. "The influx is huge," says party co-founder Hamburg economics professor, Bernd Lucke. 

What is probably significant is that among the new members are also some deserters from establishment parties, including some regional politicians from Merkel's CDU. By far the must substantial source of new members is in fact the CDU, and many of the members are academics, middle-aged or older, and mostly male. The Left seems to be poorly represented. 

There are, therefore, some parallels with UKIP and, as we observed on Sunday, the current popularity of the British eurosceptic party may owe more to a general, Europe-wide disillusionment with traditional politics than to any specific British phenomenon. 

If this is the case, the effect of the AFD on this September's general election may be quite significant. Lucke is quite confident that the party can surmount the hurdles necessary for it to stand in the elections and, with the media interest in the AFD every bit as strong the British media interest in UKIP. How the AFD performs could be a signpost for UKIP's expectations. 

Not least, the AFD could damage Merkel's vote, sufficient to let some Socialists in, replicating the "UKIP effect" on the Conservative Party. 

Interestingly, with commendable speed, AFD is getting its electoral programme together and, unlike UKIP, it is heavily promoting democracy reform, calling for more elements of direct democracy. It also argues that MPs should be banned from "all paid outside activities".

AFD, though, remains in favour of European integration. It opposes the euro because it believes it splits Europe. "The peaceful unification of Europe needs no common currency", says Lucke. 

But not all is plain sailing. The party has by mid-July to collect signatures - up to 2000 in each province in order to be eligible for election. And they have to put up respectable candidates and organise a campaign. The momentum of the new grassroots movement is great but the obstacles to success are much greater. 

Lucke has high expectations of the party. "If things go well", he says, "it can get a big boost". But he also knows that the party is still very young, inexperienced and heterogeneous - and thus prone to dispute. "The 1500 people have no party experience. There is also a risk that they aggravate each other".

And there is probably another similarity with UKIP. Small party politics is particularly prone to strife, and there is no shortage of that in UKIP. Very often small parties need no external enemies – they create them from within their own ranks.