Anti-euro Alternative for Germany wins seats in Saxony state poll
Associated Press in Berlin
A party that wants to revamp or dump the euro currency has been elected to a German state assembly for the first time.
Preliminary results on Sunday showed the party, Alternative for Germany, receiving 10 per cent of the vote in elections for the Saxony state parliament. This would be enough for it to clear the 5 per cent hurdle needed to enter parliament.
The ruling Christian Democratic Union of Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel received more than 39 per cent of the vote, but coalition partner the Free Democratic Party was predicted to lose all of its seats in Saxony, the last of Germany's 16 states where it was still in government.
The Left party was second in the poll, with up to 19 per cent, followed by the Social Democrats with about 12.3 per cent. The Greens received about 5.5 per cent of the vote, while the far-right National Democratic Party was on the cusp of re-election with 5 per cent.
Alternative for Germany narrowly missed entering the national parliament and the Hesse state assembly last year, but it won seven seats in the European Parliament this May.
The party, known by its German acronym AfD, has shaken up German politics since it was founded last year.
Led by an economics professor, Bernd Lucke, AfD has drawn supporters away from all other parties, but chiefly the Free Democrats.
Their disappearance at last year's general election pushed Merkel into a coalition with the Social Democrats at the national level, an option now also being mooted for Saxony.
Some in Merkel's party have suggested it should be open to a coalition with AfD, although the chancellor has spoken out against this.
Lucke said in Berlin that he would not rule out any possible coalition. But he reiterated his party's line that the euro needed to be reformed, which is a position no mainstream party in Germany advocates.
Experts say AfD benefited from protest votes in a state that has been ruled by the Christian Democrats since German reunification in 1990. Fewer than half of Saxony's 3.5 million on the rolls actually voted.
AfD could enter two more state parliaments in a fortnight, when the eastern states of Thuringia and Brandenburg hold elections.
Spaniards hoard pre-euro currency
Whether they are under the mattress or in the coffee jar, Spaniards are holding on to €1.7 billion (HK$17.23 billion) worth of pesetas, the currency that disappeared when the euro was introduced 12 years ago.
The Bank of Spain says €864 million in notes and €805 million in coins have yet to be cashed in. Last year the bank exchanged 2.5 billion pesetas for €15 million, about €12 million of it in notes and the rest in coins.
When the euro was introduced on January 1, 2002, the Spanish government allowed both currencies to circulate for three months, after which pesetas could be exchanged for euros at any bank up until the end of June of that year. Thereafter, the exchange could only be made via the central bank. In a country with a large parallel economy where many transactions are done off the book, Spaniards struggled because they had only six months to change hundreds of millions of pesetas into euros without attracting too much attention.
The central bank estimates that about 45 per cent of the €1.7 billion worth of pesetas in the public's hands will never be exchanged. It believes they are being kept by collectors, have been lost, or have left Spain in the pockets of tourists. People have until the end of 2020 to cash them in, after which the bank will cease to exchange them.