In German election, economics is anything but dismal
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Three men are out campaigning in the center of Berlin and they are causing a bit of a stir. All three are clad from head to toe in bright blue leotards.
They run around handing out leaflets and, with their features flattened and obscured by the blue Spandex, the men urge the slightly alarmed passersby to: “Vote for Alternative for Germany!”
“I look a bit like a blue Spiderman,” concedes one of the campaigners, Freidrich Hilse. “But we see ourselves as superheroes. We are trying to show the voters that we are different!”
Germany’s newest political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), formed barely six months ago. The party represents a kind of rebellion by the economics profession. Among its members it counts almost 300 university professors of economics. And it is breaking a taboo of German politics by calling for an end to the euro in its current form.
“We would like to have most of the southern countries leave the eurozone,” says another blue body-stockinged crusader, Christian Schmidt. He’s a founding member of the AfD and — of course — an economist. “We would like to see Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Portugal and possibly even France quit the euro.”
“It is better to face up to what doesn’t really work in economic terms today,” says Schmidt. “Because the final bill will be much higher, the longer you wait.”
The AfD believes that the euro is unsustainable in its present form because there is too big a divergence between the economies of northern member states — like Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland and their southern partners. And the North will constantly be required to bail out the South.
However, the AfD has had trouble getting this message across and opinion surveys suggest that it may not enough votes to win any seats in the German parliament. Here’s the problem for the anti-euro party: So far, Germany has done very nicely out of the single currency.
The euro is weaker than the old German currency — the deutsche mark — and that has made German exports cheaper on the world market.
And that has helped keep unemployment relatively low.
“No one is actually feeling the crisis here. They see it on the news. They read in the newspapers: something is going on,” says Nora Hesse of the Open Europe think tank. “But they just don’t feel it in their everyday life. They have their jobs. Life is good in Germany.”
And another thing: The cost of the eurozone crisis hasn’t hit home. Germany has lent hundreds of billions to southern Europe but so far, it hasn’t lost a single cent of that money. Yet.
Christian Schmidt claims that after this election, it’ll be a different story.
Greece will need another bailout and will have to write off some of the billions it has borrowed. That will not go down well with German taxpayers.
“Seventy-seven percent of the German public no longer wishes to send one more euro to Greece,” says Schmidt. “And once the haircut will be done — and it’s inevitable — then definitely taxes will have to go up and the German public feels it in their pocketbook.”
That will be the moment, he says, when the AfD won’t need Spiderman suits anymore to grab the public’s attention.
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