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article imageGerman anti-euro party surfs wave of EU bailout hostility

By Celine Le Prioux (AFP)     May 14, 2014 in World

"The euro crisis worries me a lot. It's not over," Kathrin Rommel tells a rally for the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) as it kicks off its European election campaign.

Waving a placard that reads "Stop running up debts for our children", the 47-year-old with long brown hair and pink highlights is touching on a concern shared by many Germans.

Several hundred people have gathered in the bright sunshine outside Cologne Cathedral in western Germany to support the fledgling AfD, which has honed in on opposition to EU bailouts.

"Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to save the euro with little regard to the cost it'll have," says the AfD's top candidate, Bernd Lucke, an economics professor from the northern port city of Hamburg, to enthusiastic applause.

Established in early 2013, the AfD calls for an orderly dissolution of the single currency system and a return to the deutschmark.

The party failed to make a significant impact on September's general election in Europe's top economy, falling just shy of the five-percent threshold.

But its growing support, coming out of nowhere over the past year, has been a surprise in a country that has arguably benefited the most from European integration.

It looks likely to win seats in the EU vote later this month, given the proportional representation system and a new ruling from Germany's top court that scrapped an electoral hurdle for small parties.

- 'A lot of uncertainty' -

Party founder and main candidate Bernd Lucke acknowledges applause after delivering a speech during ...
Party founder and main candidate Bernd Lucke acknowledges applause after delivering a speech during an election rally of the anti-Euro Alternative Fuer Deutschland Party, before the European Parliament elections, on April 26, 2014
John MacDougall, AFP/File

The Ukraine crisis has chased Europe's financial woes from the headlines of late, while there have been signs of renewed confidence in Greece and other crisis-hit parts of the periphery.

But Germans continue to worry about the future.

"There's a lot of uncertainty due to the ageing of the population. People are concerned about their retirement and think they're going to have to work longer," said Andrea Roemmele, a political scientist at the Herthie School of Governance in Berlin.

A poll for Bild daily said recently that four out of five Germans believed the financial and debt turmoil that brought the eurozone to its knees hadn't been conquered.

Germany's most widely read newspaper has run provocative stories over the past few years depicting some in southern Europe as idle and living off hand-outs from Germany, the eurozone's biggest contributor to rescue programmes.

In Cologne, AfD supporters take aim at low interest rates set by the European Central Bank which they criticise for yielding low returns for German savers.

"Savers have lost their illusions. They get practically no interest any more on money they've put in the bank," charged Lucke.

Standing, listening and applauding in the crowd was economics student Alexander Duesing.

Although he was just eight years old when the euro replaced the deutschmark, he has decided to back the AfD in the European parliamentary elections because he says Germany faces a "threat" from heavily indebted southern European nations.

The AfD now boasts 17,000 members from diverse backgrounds, including the former president of the Federation of German Industries, Hans-Olaf Henkel, who had once supported the euro's introduction.

The party has also been able to benefit from the absence of a far-right option, which has been the main source of euroscepticism in other countries, but which has little ballot-box appeal in a country still marked by its painful Nazi past.

The AfD has vowed to stay away from anti-EU partners.

"If we enter the European parliament we're certainly not going to approach the populist right-wing parties," Lucke said.

Pollsters predict the AfD will score between five and six percent in the EU election, while Lucke told AFP that he's banking on a slightly better outcome, of six to eight percent.

Roemmele said the party was trying "to occupy the space on the right, which has been left by the conservatives who have moved closer to the centre" on issues such as family or immigration.

The party has taken to some more provocative campaigning.

One recent election poster featured a photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, with the caption: "What do the fat Korean kid and the EU have in common? Their understanding of democracy."

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