Populist parties are on the rise across Europe and have nudged public opinion rightward on issues like immigration, public spending, and the euro. Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party have all surged as Europe has trembled. Even Germany hasn’t been immune to this trend. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which advocates exiting the eurozone, nearly vaulted into the Bundestag on its first attempt in last year’s election, and its leader, Bernd Lucke, is set to be elected to the European Parliament in May.Now it appears that even Angela Merkel’s governing CDU is itself trying increasingly euroskeptical rhetoric on for size. As Germany’s Handelsblatt reports, the party’s draft manifesto for the European elections calls for an “effective regulatory brake” and suggests that the European Commission should be required to scrap any EU law that a majority of parliaments declare would be better managed at the national or regional level:
The CDU is attempting a political balancing act: it wants to present itself as pro-European, but neither does it want to go light on its criticism of Brussels. […] Thus the party is reacting to a growing euroskepticism in the country. (Handelsblatt)
Notably, the manifesto even states that “a repatriation – Rückführung – of competences to the national level should be possible.” As the Open Europe blog points out, the word Rückführung is something of a rightwing populist dog whistle, for which several other, less connotative terms exist. Its deliberate use is therefore very revealing.Fundamentally, Merkel’s position remains pro-European. The CDU’s manifesto states that policies designed to turn away from the euro are “economically and politically totally irresponsible.” But there may be more to Merkel’s strategy than mere cynicism here. By validating Germans’ frustrations with the bureaucrats in Brussels who seek to regulate everything from the condiments restaurants can place on their tables to the kinds of sunshades beer gardens can install, Merkel is also blunting the appeal of sentiments farther right, which can easily spill over into knee-jerk isolationism and outright xenophobia.