BERLIN Germany's newly launched anti-euro party will clear a key hurdle this weekend to taking part in September's national election but has yet to rally enough support to win seats in parliament.
"Alternative for Germany" (AfD), which wants the country to quit the euro and reintroduce the deutsche mark, said it would found its 16th and final regional association on Sunday - a requirement to be able to contest national votes.
Around 11,407 people from across the political spectrum have joined the party since it was launched just two months ago by a group of academics, journalists and businessmen.
Yet AfD has failed to generate broader support, languishing in opinion polls at 2 to 3 percent, below the 5 percent threshold needed to enter the Bundestag lower house.
"They have a chance of getting into the Bundestag, they have potential, with around 24 percent of voters saying they could imagine voting for them," said Klaus-Peter Schoeppner of Emnid pollsters, adding that a quarter of those at most would actually vote for AfD as things stand.
"A lot depends on whether they can get away from being a single issue party and whether a charismatic personality emerges."
Single issue parties have rarely gained much traction in Germany, Europe's largest economy and paymaster.
Opinion polls regularly show a majority of Germans still back the euro, but AfD is trying to tap into concerns about the mounting costs of bailouts for heavily indebted countries in the southern euro zone.
AfD spokeswoman Dagmar Metzger said the party, funded by supporters' donations, was becoming more professional and would soon establish a leadership team in Berlin.
THREAT TO MERKEL?
Analysts say even if AfD fails to enter the Bundestag, a strong result could influence German euro zone policy by making Berlin even less willing to back future bailouts.
While it is drawing supporters from across the political spectrum, AfD looks set to siphon most support from Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right "black-yellow" coalition.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble last month attacked AfD's core goal for Germany to leave the euro as "economically insane" but warned that support for the anti-euro party could cost his coalition crucial votes.
Oskar Niedermayer, political scientist Berlin Free University, said AfD could steal enough votes from junior coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDP) to prevent them getting above the 5 percent hurdle.
"If black-yellow does really badly, then two percent of the vote for AfD could spell the end for the current government," Niedermayer said. A regional member of parliament for the FDP last week revealed he had switched to AfD.
But the complex nature of German politics means support for AfD could also paradoxically help Merkel's coalition stay in power, said Peter Matuschek at Forsa pollsters.
If such small parties take a large share of the vote without individually reaching the threshold to enter parliament, their votes are then redistributed among the remaining parties. Merkel's coalition could need just 45 percent of the overall vote under such a scenario to win a majority, he said.
(Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens)