By Stephen Brown
BERLIN (Reuters) - The leader of a new Eurosceptic party competing in Germany's election has blamed its failure to gain more support on voters' ignorance of economics.
The anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) made headlines when it launched early this year, but has run out of steam and looks unlikely to clear a 5 percent bar for entering parliament on September 22, when Chancellor Angela Merkel will seek a third term.
Party leader Bernd Lucke said that "only a minority of people care about the issues and have an approximate understanding of them".
"Talking with people in the street ... we've seen that maybe 20 percent of voters are really interested in economics and the euro and have even a rudimentary knowledge of it," the Hamburg-based economics professor told foreign correspondents in Berlin.
Such sentiments are unlikely to win voters over to a party that has struggled to shake off a right-wing image despite a drive to cleanse its ranks of unwanted extremists.
Lucke contrasted the AfD with another "issue" party, the Greens, who have grown from radical roots in the pacifist, feminist fringe in the 1970s and '80s into probably Germany's third biggest national party.
"Everyone understands what a nuclear bomb is," said Lucke. "But the euro is abstract and requires a degree of knowledge."
Lucke believes the common EU currency is fundamentally misconceived, and said even Germany's neighbor and fellow founding EU member France should leave it, along with southern states such as Greece.
As output data from France, Germany and others signaled an end to recession in the 18-member bloc, Lucke said the crisis was far from over because of the lack of competitiveness of other member states including France.
"Personally, I have always believed that France is also a candidate for withdrawal from the euro zone," he said, citing its shrinking industrial base and high unemployment.
"France traditionally competed with Germany by depreciating but has not been able to do that for 13 years. From an economic point of view, I think it would make sense for France to bring back a national currency," said Lucke. "Then France could depreciate against Germany and improve its competitiveness."
He said tension between bailout recipients such as Greece and donors such as Germany showed the euro was not always a source of harmony, while Franco-German relations had been better in the era of the franc and the deutsche mark.
"Relations were much better in times of a flexible currency under (Helmut) Schmidt and (Valery) Giscard d'Estaing than today with Merkel and (Francois) Hollande," said Lucke. "I think we could have a very good relationship with France if we went back to separate currencies."
(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Kevin Liffey)