* Anti-euro party says it's not populist or right-wing
* Puts on sober face at first Berlin news conference
* Could siphon votes off Merkel in September vote
By Sarah Marsh
BERLIN, March 18 Leaders of Germany's new
anti-euro party took their nascent campaign to Berlin on Monday,
keen to reassure potential voters that they are neither populist
nor extremist and have come up with a considered plan to bring
back the Deutschmark.
The "Alternative for Germany" has been denounced by the
country's mainstream parties as an irrational group of
scaremongers, keen to profit from anxiety over the growing cost
of euro zone bailouts in Europe's paymaster.
But the leaders of the new movement, headed by economist
Bernd Lucke who until 2011 was a member of Chancellor Angela
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), tried to present a more
sober face and distance themselves from other parties in Europe
that mix their euroscepticism with unabashed populism and
"The return to national currencies is our aim, but we do not
want to pull out of the euro overnight and go back to the
Deutschmark in contravention of treaties," Lucke, a 50-year old
father of five dressed in a grey suit and tie, told a room
packed full of reporters.
"I reckon it would take a gradual process of about five
years to dissolve the euro zone."
The three-year old euro zone crisis has led to the rise of
populist movements across the bloc.
Comic-turned-activist Beppe Grillo and his Five Star
Movement emerged as a surprise force in Italy's election last
month. And 80-year-old car parts magnate Frank Stronach is
threatening to upend an Austrian election in the autumn.
A taboo on nationalism in politics, rooted in atonement for
the crimes of the Nazis, has so far kept a lid on such trends in
Germany, although many voters here are tiring of the perceived
cost of the single currency.Ÿ
Germany's AfD, led mostly by greying academics and besuited
business figures such as the former head of Germany's industry
association Hans-Olaf Henkel, insist they are neither populist
BREACH OF TRUST
On Monday, they denounced Europe's new bailout plan for
Cyprus, which sparked a backlash because it would force losses
on guaranteed bank deposits, as "dangerous" and a breach of
"We feel we have a broad wave of support," said spokeswoman
Frauke Petry, a 37-year-old entrepreneur and mother of four who
has been awarded Germany's order of merit.
She said the party was luring people from across the
political spectrum but above all from Merkel's conservatives and
her Free Democrat allies (FDP).
Ulrich Blum, a prominent economist and AfD supporter, said
the party had considered hijacking the FDP, a pro-business
party, before realising it would not be able to push its
eurosceptic agenda effectively.
The FDP's most prominent eurosceptic, Frank Schaeffler, was
dropped from the party leadership earlier this month. This
weekend a regional FDP leader defected to the AfD.
The AfD, which has just 2,700 formal members, says it
rejects membership applications from people deemed extremist.
Its party programme includes a section on integration policy,
stating that Germany "needs immigrants who are qualified and
willing to integrate".
The AfD also considers itself pro-European, albeit
anti-euro, and has expressed solidarity with Britain's Prime
Minister David Cameron, who wants to shift responsibilities from
Brussels back to the EU member states.
A THREAT TO MERKEL
Eurosceptic parties have made little headway in the past in
a country that regained its political stature after World War
Two through its membership of Europe, although opponents of the
bloc's bailouts have emerged in mainstream parties like Merkel's
CDU, their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, as
well as the FDP.
The grandson of Konrad Adenauer, Germany's first post-war
chancellor, made headlines last year when he quit the CDU to
join the Bavarian "Free Voters" party, which opposes bailouts
but has stopped short of calling for an end to the euro.
Polls in recent weeks have shown that roughly one in four
Germans would consider backing a party that wanted to take
Germany out of the euro.
Pollsters said they did not expect the AfD to make it above
the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament in September
as it was a single-issue party, but it could still become a
threat to Merkel's re-election chances if it siphons off votes
from her conservative bloc.
"All incremental increases in their votes will eat into the
support for the governing parties, which could have a real
impact on the elections given what a tight race it is expected
to be," said David Marsh, author of books on Germany and the
Polls show Merkel's conservatives well ahead of their
opposition rivals the Social Democrats (SPD), but their FDP
allies are struggling, putting coalitions from the centre-left
and centre-right neck-and-neck.
Pollsters said the AfD may also scoop up protest votes from
those frustrated with politics.
Lucke's party took its name "Alternative for Germany" in
response to repeated claims by Merkel's government that there
was no alternative to bailing out countries like Greece,
Portugal and Ireland.
Even the opposition SPD and Greens have refused to challenge
Merkel's rescue policies.
"You don't have any opposition in the Bundestag," said AfD
spokeswoman Dagmar Metzger. "The last few aid packages were
simply nodded through, and that is not what we want, we want an
opposition in this country and a voice once more for those
people who aren't being heard."