February 13, 2014 / 9:52 AM / 4 years ago

German anti-euro party says won't team up with xenophobes

WINSEN, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's anti-euro party is ready to team up with like-minded parties to block decisions if it enters the European Parliament after May elections, but it rejects cooperation with xenophobic politicians, its leader told Reuters.

Like other fringe parties across Europe with a eurosceptical bent, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is seen winning its first seats in any parliament in the vote despite some ugly infighting over the past few months.

Within months of its creation last year in the throes of the euro zone debt crisis, the AfD scored 4.7 percent in a general election, just short of the 5 percent needed for seats in the German parliament.

Although the crisis has since eased, it is now polling 4-7 percent and needs only 3 percent to join the European assembly.

"We may line up with parties that have similar ideas to ours, but certainly not with xenophobic parties," economist Bernd Lucke said in an interview at his family home in northern Germany. "We might see quite a few new parties in parliament, if pollsters are right."

The AfD looks well placed to enter regional parliaments later this year in former communist eastern Germany, where voter allegiance is less fixed than in the west and the protest vote is stronger.

Although critics accuse the party of pandering to populist, nationalistic views, it says it is neither anti-immigration nor anti-EU and has ruled out working with Geert Wilders' Dutch Freedom party or Marine Le Pen's French National Front.

As the AfD's lead candidate for the European vote, Lucke says it has no concrete plans for alliances with other parties.

AfD officials had so discussed alliances with Britain's anti-EU party UKIP - a move Lucke said he opposes - and with the European Conservatives and Reformists group, to which British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives belong.

He said he was close to the Conservatives but disagreed with their promise of a referendum on Britain's membership.

"A British exit from the EU would definitely not be in the German interest," said the economics professor at Hamburg University in near flawless English.

"GET REAL"

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who also said his party would not ally before the election with Le Pen or Wilders because of their parties' records on race and Islam, told Reuters in an interview that the AfD needed "to get real".

"They have got something that could catch fire, but they don't know how to market it. Academics will never understand that," Farage said.

With or without an official alliance, Lucke said the AfD would be prepared to help block important decisions with other parties in order to get its demands through in Brussels.

"I could imagine we will argue for parliament's refusal to vote for a president of the Commission unless its own powers are increased," he said, conceding he did not expect the AfD to prevail with its more radical ideas.

Amid a European debate about immigration that intensified this week as Switzerland voted to curtail arrivals from the EU, Lucke said he was in favor of freedom of movement within the bloc. But Germany must tighten its laws to ensure only those who pay taxes receive welfare benefits.

It also needs to focus more on recruiting qualified foreign workers with the language and education skills to integrate rather than simply welcoming immigrants from Muslim countries who come to join their families, he said.

Lucke wants euro zone membership restricted to countries with stable finances - which he said could lead to France's exit if it failed to make hard reforms - possibly as a transition towards the reintroduction of national currencies.

Business groups say a return to the strong Deutschemark would be disastrous for Germany's export-oriented economy as the cost of its goods would explode.

Polls show the political consensus in Germany is clearly pro-euro. All the mainstream parties have voted in favor of bailouts for struggling members of the common currency bloc in the last four years.

Editing by Noah Barkin and Paul Taylor

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