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German euroskeptics cut into Merkel’s wiggle room

Reuters Breakingviews delivers agenda-setting financial insight. Its global correspondents react to stories as they develop, delivering sharp and provocative commentary on big financial news as it breaks.

The biggest surprise about Germany's fledgling anti-euro party is that it took so long to emerge. Many Germans object to the bailouts for stricken euro zone members, are haunted by fears of inflation, and just don't trust the euro. But unlike in Finland and the Netherlands, German euroskeptic voters have had no place to turn to, as all the respectable parties are staunchly pro-European.

Now they do. The "Alternative fur Deutschland" (Alternative for Germany) party, founded in March by conservative economists and commentators, openly campaigns for a "Ger-exit" from the single currency. Surveys show about one fifth of Germans could imagine voting for such a party, which has received benevolent coverage in the conservative press and has pledged to keep right-wing extremists away.

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The actual support for AfD is likely to prove much more modest in the elections later this year, even if extremists are successfully kept out. Germans have traditionally shied away from one-issue parties and the AfD lacks prominent faces and money. It will struggle to attract enough votes from around the country to cross the legal threshold for entering the national parliament.

Furthermore, even voters who grumble about the cost of rescuing the euro are often confident that Angela Merkel is the best person to run the country during the currency zone's crisis. She is still by far the most popular politician in Germany, followed by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Ms. Merkel's popularity is helped by a fairly benign domestic economic environment – the labour market is in good shape and inflation is at bay. Indeed, the euro crisis still is largely an abstract issue known from the TV news. For voters, social policy issues such as a possible minimum wage are more directly relevant.

Still, the AfD will influence the political debate with its mistaken claim that there is an economically and politically viable alternative to the current rescue policies. Ms. Merkel will be more cautious about supporting further concessions to crisis-hit countries. The leaders of those states should take note. Rather than blaming Germany for not helping enough, they should acknowledge Ms. Merkel's domestic predicament.

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