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German Euro Skeptics Gain Ex-IBM Europe Head for EU Election

Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Germany’s anti-euro AfD party announced the candidacy of Hans-Olaf Henkel, a former European chief for International Business Machines Corp, in a coup that might help broaden its appeal in European Parliament elections.

The Alternative for Germany, or AfD in German, took 4.7 percent in September’s federal elections to narrowly miss out on seats in the country’s lower house of parliament. Recruiting Henkel to run in May’s European elections may help the party to clear the 3 percent hurdle and gain its first legislative seats.

“The fact the AfD is still there, despite the euro crisis having taken a back seat, shows that a large number of AfD supporters aren’t just euro skeptics, but that the AfD taps into a pool of right-wing voters,” Manfred Guellner, who heads the pollster Forsa, said in an interview. That makes it “more than likely” the AfD will enter the European Parliament.

The AfD’s failure to win Bundestag seats last year bucked a trend that has seen anti-European parties gain support in countries from the U.K. to Greece, raising the prospect of a shift in power in the 766-seat European assembly. By contrast, German support for the European Union rose to a record in a poll last week.

Henkel, 73, a former president of Germany’s BDI industry federation representing companies including Siemens AG and Daimler AG, said the AfD will campaign for a “better” Europe.

‘Disastrous Trend’

The party, which he joined last month, will oppose “the disastrous trend toward centralism, egalitarianism and socialization in Europe, and will instead strive for subsidiarity, competition and personal responsibility,” he told reporters in Berlin today.

While the AfD opposes the euro and advocates Greece’s exit from the 18-nation single currency, it is not expressly anti-EU. AfD leader Bernd Lucke has said he won’t ally with parties such as France’s Front National and Dutchman Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, which have said they may form an anti-EU bloc.

AfD delegates will vote on the party’s list of candidates for the European elections at a Jan. 25 convention in the southern town of Aschaffenburg. Polls suggest the AfD would take about 5 percent if elections were held now.

Discontent in northern donor nations spread during the sovereign debt crisis that came to light in Greece in late 2009 and went on to prompt taxpayer contributions to five bailouts.

Deeply Shaken

Henkel described himself as a “once-enthusiastic supporter” of the euro who has been “shaken deeply” by the developments of recent years.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Die Zeit newspaper in September that the AfD was “backward” and “inciting fears against Europe.”

Henkel said the AfD will advocate three euro breakup options in its campaign platform: the voluntary or involuntary exit of countries such as Greece; the voluntary exit of northern countries including Germany to form a “northern euro”; or a return to national currencies.

“I have tried again and again in speeches and in writing to point out the disastrous economic and political consequences and set in motion a discussion in Germany about alternatives” to the euro, said Henkel. By joining the AfD, “I am at the disposal for the European election campaign and to occupy a place on the party list.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rainer Buergin in Berlin at rbuergin1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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