Merkel's Deputy Says German-Led Austerity Helps National Front

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence on fiscal austerity in the euro area is empowering France’s anti-euro, anti-immigrant National Front, the leader of her junior coalition partner said.

“I always warned Angela Merkel against trying to impose austerity on France because it was predictable already two years ago that only the National Front would profit,” Vice Chancellor and Social Democratic Party head Sigmar Gabriel said in a speech to an SPD convention on Friday. “It makes no sense to tighten the austerity screws and thereby give a boost to the National Front.”

Gabriel’s comments in Berlin reflect long-standing misgivings about Merkel’s stance in Europe’s debt crisis and concern that nationalist parties are gaining ground across Europe. Marine Le Pen’s National Front won the most votes in the first round of French regional elections Sunday, ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republicans and President Francois Hollande’s Socialists, part of the same political family as Germany’s Social Democrats.

“If people had listened to us more closely, maybe Mrs. Le Pen wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has today,” said Gabriel, whose party is Merkel’s junior coalition partner.

Christiane Wirtz, a deputy spokeswoman for Merkel’s government, declined to comment, saying Gabriel spoke in his role as party chairman.

Support for Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc was steady at 39 percent while the SPD declined 1 percentage point to 24 percent in an FG Wahlen poll for ZDF television published Friday. Among opposition parties, the Greens polled 10 percent and the anti-capitalist Left, 9 percent. Alternative for Germany, an anti-euro party that advocates limiting the number of asylum seekers allowed into the country, was unchanged at 9 percent. Germany’s next general election is due in the fall of 2017.

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