* Unlike peers, Germany has no strong Eurosceptic party
* Euro-zone bailouts fuel growing resentment in Germany
* Eurosceptic Bavarians set sights on 2013 national vote
By Stephen Brown
BERLIN, June 15 Konrad Adenauer must be turning
in his grave.
The founder of Germany's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU)
did not live to see the ultimate expression of his vision of
European unity - the single currency - come into being.
Nor did postwar West Germany's first chancellor live to see
his own grandson abandon the party to join a small but growing
band of German Eurosceptics.
Announcing his defection to the Bavarian "Free Voters" party
last week, Stephan Werhahn said bailing out struggling euro zone
states like Greece had "nothing to do with the European vision
of the founding fathers", including his own grandfather.
Werhahn, a businessman who has never run for office, doesn't
carry the moral authority of the ancestor once voted "the
greatest German of all time". But his decision highlighted
growing volatility in German party politics, where Eurosceptics
see untapped potential for protest votes.
Other northern euro zone countries which are also paying
into the bailout funds, such as Austria, the Netherlands and
Finland, have seen the rise of Eurosceptic parties. A German
taboo on nationalism in politics, rooted in atonement for the
crimes of the Nazis, has so far kept a lid on such trends.
But one clear sign that many Germans are tiring of the
perceived cost of the single currency and welcome challenges to
such taboos is the success of a new book by former central
banker Thilo Sarrazin, called "Europe Doesn't Need the Euro".
The book, which argues that Germany is paying for the debt
crisis to make amends for the Holocaust, went straight to the
top of German best-seller lists on publication in May.
So far, Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced down revolts by
Eurosceptics in her own ranks, where backbenchers from her CDU,
its Bavarian CSU sister party and the conservatives' coalition
partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), grumble about the bailouts.
As the debt crisis grinds on and Germany takes on more and
more obligations for stricken euro zone partners - most recently
for Spanish banks - the dissidents in Merkel's own coalition
appear to be overcome by a sense of fatalism.
"I sense resignation among many party colleagues because we
have got tangled in an ever more inscrutable mesh of guarantees
and aid promises in the euro zone," CDU parliamentarian
Klaus-Peter Willsch, a prominent euro rebel, told Reuters.
Into the breach step the Bavarians, led by Hubert Aiwanger
who predicts that the Free Voters' debut campaign for the lower
house of parliament (Bundestag) will not only win seats, but put
them in the king-maker role played until now by the liberal FDP.
"Conservatives who voted for the CDU/CSU or FDP but are now
against the bailouts are looking for a political alternative and
I think we can get their votes," he told Reuters.
The party is so far only represented in Bavaria's state
assembly, where it more than doubled its votes to 10 percent in
the 2008 vote. The federal party organising the national
campaign has 2,500 members, but Aiwanger said there are more
than 300,000 supporters at state, county and municipal level. It
was not possible to verify that figure independently.
With Bavarian regional elections also due next year, the
Free Voters hope to hold the balance of power in the state and
influence whether Merkel gets re-elected with a centre-right
coalition, or has to team up with the Social Democrats.
Such optimism would once have appeared naive. But the sudden
rise of the maverick Pirates, who have come from nowhere to take
seats in state assemblies from Berlin to Saarland despite a
conspicuous lack of policies other than promoting Internet
freedom, suggests the Bundestag is more open to newcomers than
it may ever have been.
"The chances have never been better for new parties in
Germany as voting behaviour is characterised by an ever
increasing volatility," said politics professor Thorsten Faas at
the University of Mannheim.
"Having said that, it is still a huge challenge to gain more
than 5 percent of the vote (the threshold for winning seats) and
I don't really see that for the 'Free Voters'," said Faas,
citing their very local power base.
"I am Bavarian but that doesn't mean the Free Voters are
Bavarian," responded 41-year-old farming engineer Aiwanger, in a
thick Bavarian accent.
Previous anti-euro platforms have been a signal failure in
state elections. A Eurosceptical FDP campaign for Berlin's city
assembly last year contributed to the party's most humiliating
result - 1.8 percent - in a string of disastrous elections.
Despite Merkel's attempts to rally Germans behind her in the
cause of the euro in one state vote after another, the issue is
not top priority for voters who tend to express concern about
more local bread-and-butter matters such as jobs and education.
"Europe and European foreign policy issues are rarely the
criteria voters employ when making up their minds," said Faas.
EU'S CASH COW
Opinion polls reflect nostalgia for the old Deutschemark and
expectations that the debt crisis will get worse before it gets
better, but that the single currency will survive. They show
widespread opposition to further bailouts. The CDU's Willsch
expects the Spanish banking rescue to exacerbate such sentiment.
"It sends a terrible signal. Spain will get money from the
European stability mechanism without constraints," he said.
Germany's export-oriented economy has thrived thanks to a
weaker euro and low interest rates, but a common complaint is
that Berlin is a "cash cow" for EU rescue schemes. One cover of
business daily Handelsblatt depicted a cow in German black, red
and gold being milked into a pail in European Union blue.
Designer Mark Flierl, who is selling wallpaper decorated
with Deutschemark notes, told Reuters: "It's very topical
because of all the debate going back and forth right now, with
around 40 million Germans apparently wanting the D-Mark back.
"I think people feel the D-Mark solved problems whereas they
think the euro creates as many problems as it solves," he said.
Aiwanger insists he is pro-European but fears the single
currency could put German economic stability at risk. He blames
Merkel for letting bailouts spin out of control and wants the
Bundestag to throw out a permanent euro zone bailout fund, which
awaits German ratification to come into effect.
If the euro cannot be "fixed", he said, Germany will have to
think about leaving the currency bloc.
"The carousel just keeps getting faster and the question is
should we jump off it now, or hope it will it slow down? I think
we should jump off now and risk a few broken bones rather than
sitting on it longer and breaking our necks," Aiwanger said.