In Italy, the thundering Beppe Grillo, leader of the Euroskeptic Five Star Movement party, routinely draw tens of thousands of spectators to his open-air rallies. So does Marine Le Pen, president of France’s the even more Euroskeptic National Front.
In Germany, there is nothing of the kind as voters go to polls in the European Union parliamentary elections, the world’s second biggest election after India’s. The squares in the big cities are largely candidate-free zones, the campaign posters sparse, the political graffiti virtually non-existent.
The pre-election sea of calm ahead of the Sunday vote does not just reflect traditionally sober and unruffled Germany behaviour. It reflects the lack of interest in endorsing right-wing nationalistic parties – no surprise given the horrors of the Nazi era – and low enthusiasm for the Euroskeptic, or anti-European Union movement that is sweeping through large swathes of the 28-country EU.
Germans rather like the EU the way it is. They know that integrated economies are unlikely to go to war with one another. They didn’t hate the crisis that crippled the debt-soaked Mediterranean countries. Germany went through the crisis relatively unscathed and was able to boost its exports, thanks the lower value of the euro, which made German products cheaper for foreign buyers.
“Germans are in general satisfied that the crisis was handled well,” says Gunther Krichbaum, the parliamentarian who is chairman of the committee on European affairs in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right government. “Trust is coming back to Europe.”
Germany’s largely benign attitude toward the EU and its institutions helps to explain the expected poor showing by the country’s few far-right parties and its biggest Euroskeptic party, Alternative for Germany, which failed to make the 5-per-cent threshold that would have given it a couple of seats in the 2013 German general election.
In the current EU election, Alternative for Germany is polling between 5 per cent and 7 per cent, enough to give it a mere four or five seats in the 751-member European Parliament. No other German Euroskeptic party will even come close.
German voters, who tend to take democracy seriously, are well aware of the upstart party. But most of them consider it too far right on the political spectrum, too nationalistic or representative of a vision for Europe that does reflect Germans’ traditional pro-Europe views. The party has no love for the euro, is against the sovereign bailouts that rescued Greece, Ireland and Portugal from oblivion, and thinks the weak euro zone countries should hit the road and reprint their old currencies.
“Draghi gambles, you pay,” reads one of its campaign posters, referring to European Central Bank president Mario Draghi and his various programs to keep the euro zone intact.
Kevin Patelscheck, a 22-year-old Berliner who works a hotel and is about to enter a hospitality management school, said he seriously considered voting for Alternative for Germany but will instead go for Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). “I agree with them that Germany is paying too much for Europe,” he said. “When countries make mistakes, it is Germany that has to pay. But they are also nationalistic and being nationalistic in Germany is only really allowed at football games.”
Alternative For Germany knows that it will not do particularly well in these elections, but equally knows that it’s doing fairly well for a party that did not exist a year ago. The party has attracted upper-middle-class conservatives and the small band of Germans who think their country would be better off if the euro zone were dismantled, even though Germany’s economy is expanding and most big German companies are wedded to the the ease of using a single currency in a single market.
“People don’t see wealth coming from the EU, but they see the regulations,” says party candidate Jorge Meuthen, a professor of economics at Kehl University of Applied Sciences. “They are waking up because they see more costs than benefits.”
The polls say otherwise, at least in Germany. Alternative for Germany is bound to be envious of the success of is counterparts in France, Italy and Britain when the votes are tallied on Sunday.