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30th Jan 2023

Interview

Adenauer grandson challenges Merkel on euro-policy

Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union is gathering this week (4-6 December) in Hannover for a party congress, but the descendent of CDU founder Konrad Adenauer will not be among them.

Stephan Werhahn, Adenauer's 59 year-old grandson, has broken his life-long membership of the CDU in March and is now a leading candidate for the "Free Voters" - a conservative, euro-critical party so far represented only in the regional parliament of Bavaria and in municipal councils across the country.

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  • Stephan Werhahn during a rally against the eurozone bailout fund (Photo: Lars Haise)

Speaking to EUobserver from Munich, Werhahn said that the reason for leaving the CDU was Merkel's "no-alternative policy" of keeping countries inside the eurozone at any cost.

The trained lawyer and investment consultant said he was angered in 2010 when Merkel decided to bail out Greece even though it was, to his mind, "going against the EU treaty which has no-bailout clause."

"As a CDU man and Adenauer's grandson I had serious concerns that this cannot go on like this, that Europe will fail if the euro is forced upon these countries instead of letting them go and devalue their currency," Werhahn said.

He said he was essentially forced to take his fight outside the CDU.

"Merkel is levelling everyone like a steamroller. Anyone who presents opposition is personally attacked, some become sick."

"This is not the tradition of my grandfather. The CDU was founded by my grandfather because the centrist parties were unable to govern. The same is happening now with the CDU, it has become a bureaucratic machine and the Free Voters will challenge that."

Werhahn says his new party will seek to attract CDU voters who no longer feel represented by their party.

"CDU strategists are trying to spin Europe as a positive idea that needs to be saved. But the reality is different, Greeks are out in the streets, Germans don't like this policy either."

"People may still like Merkel, she's hard working, she's quite friendly and nice, but they don't see very clearly that she's taking more and more risks. Private companies have to disclose their risks and liabilities, but the German government fails do do so, it is keeping the truth from its citizens," he said.

Last week, the German government admitted that the adjustments to the Greek bailout programme will actually take a toll on the national budget - even though in a small amount - €730 million for next year and some €2.7 billion over the next decades.

"Seventy five percent of Germans are against the bailout policy, that is why Merkel doesn't want debt restructuring . But clearly taxpayer money is at stake. Once Germans will notice they will not have money for investments, for kindergartens, then all hell will break loose," Werhahn predicts.

A critic of the euro-crisis summitry, Werhahn deplores the lack of "sound commercial thinking" underpinning the euro system. "The euro is not some romantic idea, it is a currency that needs to be fixed."

With less than a year to go until general elections in Germany, the Free Voters are working on their slogans along the lines of "Yes to Europe, but No to the euro system as practised today." Instead, they want a parallel, stronger eurozone which would stick to all the rules countries including Germany have broken in the past "and let the others keep the old one."

Germans trust big parties

The political establishment in the CDU and its Bavarian sister party - the Christian Social Union (CSU) - does not see the Free Voters as a serious challenge.

"It's true that people have an uneasy feeling, but they feel very well represented by the Chancellor. We are benefiting in the polls as CDU/CSU union because people appreciate Merkel's euro-policy," Markus Ferber, a member of the CSU and euro-deputy told this website.

"Free Voters are not a party yet, they tried in Bavaria but now they are rowing backwards. Let's see next year if they will be a political power able to pool euro-critical voices," he said.

The CSU itself has prominent politicians who share many of Werhahn's views and publicly advocate a Greek euro-exit or challenge the establishment of eurozone bailout funds with taxpayer money. But, as Ferber points out, all the court challenges have so far proved unsuccessful.

Political scientist Gero Neugebauer from Berlin's Free University is also sceptical of the success Free Voters could have in next year's elections.

"They have no experience and even though people may feel betrayed by the CDU, particularly if the crisis worsens, this will not lead to a 'new hope' type of vote in their favour."

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