German satire party under fire over Nazi-name candidates

Germany's satirical party 'Die Partei' is fielding candidates bearing the surnames of key figures in Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime for Sunday's European elections, but the stunt has left some unamused.

German satire party under fire over Nazi-name candidates
Comedian Nico Semsrott and Martin Sonneborn giving a joint press conference last year on the European elections, holding the names of candidates. Photo: DPA

The left-leaning party won a single seat in the European Parliament in 2014 elections for Martin Sonneborn, a former editor of the German satirical magazine 'Titanic'.

SEE ALSO: The ultimate guide to Germany's top Euro election candidates

In the new campaign, where Sonneborn is joined by comedian Nico Semsrott, Die Partei has campaigned with promises to “Make Germany Two Again” and “Punish Climate Change Deniers” by confiscating their driver's licenses.

One of its pamphlets lists a group of Die Partei candidates whose surnames match those of Hitler's top henchmen and senior Nazis, among them Joseph Goebbels, Rudolph Hess and Albert Speer.

The surnames are printed in large, eye-catching letters for candidates for Sunday's election including Kevin Goebbels, Fabian Hess and Tobias Speer.

While some Facebook users found Die Partei's latest stunt funny, others argued that to make light of any aspect of the Nazi era and related Holocaust crimes was breaking an important taboo.

SEE ALSO: Dexit: One in 10 Germans in favour of leaving the EU

“What we are seeing here is a swastika being smeared onto the ballot paper,” the liberal FDP's candidate Alexander Graf Lambsdorff told media group RND.

“Sonneborn wants the provocation, he wants the misunderstanding.”

Karin Prien, Schleswig-Holstein state's minister for education, science and culture as well as a speaker for the CDU party's Jewish Forum, argued that European elections must not be used as a vehicle for satire.

“To claim that one wants to fight right-wing populists in this way is either naive, a lie or at least not very intelligent,” said Prien.

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The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.