• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train

The Local · 22 Oct 2014, 14:45

Published: 22 Oct 2014 14:09 GMT+02:00
Updated: 22 Oct 2014 14:45 GMT+02:00

There’s another reason why he’s overjoyed. He receives €33,000 a month for himself and his five or so staff - he doesn’t know what they all do but “they’re always very polite," he tells The Local in an interview.

He also has access to a chauffeur-driven limousine, gets to fly business class and only worked for a total of 120 seconds in one week recently when he annoyed two aspiring EU Commissioners during the parliament’s confirmation hearings.

He enquired whether Tibor Navracsics, a former justice minister in the right-wing Hungarian government who wanted to become Culture Commissioner, planned to make Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” compulsory reading for Europe’s youth.

And he invited Günther Oettinger, the designated Digital Commissioner, to talk about how he lost his driving licence for being over the drink-drive limit in 1991.

But driving has become a thing of the past for Sonneborn. “I don’t yet use the limousines to go shopping, it takes a little time to lose one’s inhibitions, but that’s sure to happen."

‘Hintner Youth'

Sonneborn, a former editor of satirical magazine Titanic, set up Die Partei in 2004 for a laugh.

But its manifesto proved compelling and it found itself actually getting votes as it gradually adopted all the trappings of a proper party, with an executive board, regional groups and even a youth division, the "Hintner Youth," named after its general secretary, Thomas Hintner.

It injected much-needed humour into Germany’s often dour elections, and finally won local council seats in 2013 and 2014.

Then came its greatest triumph when some 180,000 Germans, or 0.6 percent, voted for them in the EU election in May this year. 

Die Partei lured them with pledges to build a wall around Switzerland, put Chancellor Angela Merkel on a show trial in the Berlin Olympic stadium and to frack the rotund politicians Sigmar Gabriel and Peter Altmaier for cheap gas.

Sonneborn, 49, tall and always respectably besuited, wouldn’t look out of place behind a bank counter or selling sofas in department store Karstadt.

Yet he has a long history of delivering biting satire and entertaining stunts with a deadpan face that inspires confidence, at least initially. 

In 2010, when Greece was on the brink of defaulting in the euro crisis, he walked around Berlin with a camera team and a Greek man in national costume, asking residents to adopt a Greek. Many refused, but some kind souls considered it.

He has erected a symbolic stretch of wall along the former border with East and West Germany.

He has also demanded that eastern Germans pay retroactive licence fees for all the West German TV they secretly watched under communism.

And he has called for Dresden's famous Frauenkirche church, destroyed in a World War II air raid and painstakingly rebuilt after unification, to be dismantled to provide stones to build a new wall.

He even claims to have ensured that Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, by “bribing” seven Fifa delegates ahead of the 2000 vote. He sent them a fax offering baskets of sausages and cuckoo clocks if they backed the fatherland.

‘As committed as Napoleon and Hitler’

And now, Europe. Sonneborn’s vote-winning slogan was “For Europe, Against Europe.”

He points out that opinion polls show 70 percent of Germans aren’t interested in Europe. “We’re the party for those 70 percent. But we also say yes to Europe so everybody opposed to or in favour of Europe can vote for us.” 

He describes himself as a “committed European, as committed as Napoleon and Hitler.”

A propos Hitler, his seat in the Brussels plenum is just in front of Udo Voigt, the former leader of Germany’s neo-Nazi National Democratic Party. “I took a look at his desk to see if he’s scratched any swastikas into it yet, but he hadn’t.” 

Sonneborn is also wedged between members of the French National Front, the far-right Austrian Freedom Party FPÖ and the eurosceptic, immigrant-sceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD). It’s something of a rogues’ gallery, he feels, and the old-fashioned black headphones don’t help. 

“They make the place look like the Nuremberg trials,” Sonneborn said. “I’m going to bring extremely big Mickey Mouse headphones so I don’t look like a criminal.”

He doesn’t hold his new place of work in high regard. “The parliament is a kind of State Duma, like the East German People’s Chamber that merely rubber stamps what the Commissions and its officials have formulated.

Ukip and I

His aims are manifold. He wants Britain kicked out of the EU, for one. “It doesn’t belong to the continent, just take a look at the map.”

And he wants to cement Germany’s utter hegemony of the 28-member European Union by ensuring that more top posts are allocated to Germans. 

“Having foreigners in leading positions in Europe is unacceptable. I want a core Europe with 26 satellite states plus a rainy offshore island that doesn’t really belong and that shows much too much respect for bankers.”

He was wooed last Thursday by Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), to join the eurosceptic parliamentary group Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), which collapsed after Iveta Grigule, a Latvian MEP, left.

'More walls please!'

He has another venture: to bring back a version of the EU’s legendary bendy banana/curved cucumber directive, repealed in 2008, that sought to limit the curvature of the fruit. 

Sonneborn wants the EU to rule that the barrels of all exported German rifles and tank cannon be curved by an angle of one centimetre in five.

“I already have the backing of 20 MEPs and I only need forty MPs to force the Commission to seriously consider this idea. That should be possible," he says.

Instead of exporting weapons, Germany should be exporting its expertise in building walls, says Sonneborn. 

“Demand for walls is increasing around Europe. Petro Poroshenko (the Ukrainian president) has seized on the idea and we’ve invited him to Berlin to see how it’s done. 

"The Scots want one, the Spaniards too, Switzerland needs several walls, Belgium needs them urgently because they hate each other more than anyone. We’d like to help. 

"We’re in touch with the Israelis to make sure we keep up to date on design. This wall building programme can also help us overcome the euro crisis.”

'Satire, it's all I know' 

So what is his point? Did he get into politics to create satire? Or vice versa? A bit of both, it seems. 

“I don’t know how to do anything else. I can only work with satire. But I do have an authentic desire for power.” 

He believes that his stunts, and his televised reports on his experiences in parliament for Spiegel TV, are getting more young people interested in the EU. 

“We post a lot on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and get a lot of comments from people saying they’ve heard more about the EU in the last three months than in the 20 years before. 

"Young people are interested, so I think it’s a good situation for the EU. Although I suspect they might not see it that way.”

By David Crossland: @DavidCrossland3

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
President who pioneered Moscow ties dies aged 97
Former Cold War President of West Germany Walter Scheel. Photo: DPA.

Former West German president Walter Scheel, who helped pave the way for his country's rapprochement with the communist East, has died aged 97, his party's spokesman said on Wednesday.

Former East to lag behind West for years to come: study
Poverty in eastern Germany. File photo: DPA

Eastern Germany remains economically anaemic with little prospect of catching up with the rest of the country by 2030, a study published on Wednesday said.

Turkey's spy network in Germany 'thicker than Stasi's'
Photo: DPA.

Turkey has around 6,000 informants working in Germany, which experts say means they're each monitoring more people than the Stasi did in West Germany during the Cold War.

Germany's first 'intelligent' bridge to open in Nuremberg
File photo: DPA

An €11 million bridge, which is nearing completion in northern Bavaria, is set to include technology never seen before on the German Autobahn.

Stockpile food in case of attack, Germany tells citizens
Photo: DPA

Germany on Wednesday urged its population to stockpile food and water in case of terrorist or cyber attacks, as it adopted its first civil defence strategy since the end of the Cold War.

Ten injured after freight train crashes into bus in Osnabrück
The crash site in Osnabrück. Photo: DPA

A freight train crashed into a bus in Osnabrück on Wednesday morning, leaving several people badly injured, local media report.

Man wins ten-year court battle over €2.50 surcharge
Photo: DPA

An Austrian man has won a ten year court battle over an extra €2.50 he was asked to pay to get into a swimming pool in Bavaria a decade ago.

In Pictures
Düsseldorf swoons as Prince William comes for royal visit
'Well hello Mr. Prince'. Photo: DPA.

Prince William paid a visit to the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf on Wednesday to celebrate the state of North Rhine-Westphalia's 70th birthday. Here's a look at his royal stay.

Brexit
Frankfurt attempts to charm banks away from London
Frankfurt am Main. Photo: DPA

Germany's finance capital has spotted an opportunity with the Brexit-wary banking beasts of the Square Mile.

How did this bike end up on top of Berlin’s Molecule Man?
A professional climber 'rescuing' the bike hanging from the Molecule Man. Photo: DPA.

Berliners are still scratching their heads over how a bicycle ended up dangling from the capital’s iconic statue.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,566
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd