Explaining the EP election results: Germany

Commentary

Merkel’s party comes out on top, and Germany’s first Eurosceptic party will be sending delegates to the EP

Merkel’s party comes out on top, and Germany’s first Eurosceptic party will be sending delegates to the EP

 

This was the first election nationwide with no threshold, after the Constitutional Court had declared the traditional threshold of 5% to be unconstitutional in November 2011. Two years later the German Bundestag changed to law to a 3% threshold, which again was taken to court by small parties from the fringes mostly, and in February 2014 the Constitutional Court dismissed the revised electoral law.

Turnout

Though it lacked grand topics and major controversies, the new elements in the campaign contributed to a higher public awareness and thus helped to stop the decline in voter participation, at 48% up almost 5 percent from 2009.

Winners and Losers

The Christian Democrats (35.3%), dominant partner in the governing Grand Coalition, suffered slight losses (-2,6%), whereas the Social Democrats celebrated one of their largest gains ever from one election to the next (up 6.5%), though still with a modest overall result (27.3%). The Greens remained just above 10%, losing 1,4%, the (also EU critical) Linke remained at its 2009 level (7.4%).

Eurosceptics

A truly Eurosceptic party stood for election for the first time in Germany, and it seemed certain the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) would succeed even with the original threshold still in place. Throughout 2014 their rating had been at 6% or more, on Election Day they received 7% or 7 seats in the EP, drawing about 500.000 votes from Merkel's party.

Spitzenkandidaten

Front running candidates, the second novelty of this campaign, attracted quite some attention, both speaking German. The major TV networks hosted long life debates with the candidates, which had not happened on European issues before. Controversy was hard to find, both candidates stressed social issues and employment, consumer protection, and the importance of peaceful cooperation – this was how the debt crisis, TTIP and Ukraine resonated in the campaign. Chancellor Angela Merkel came out rather late in favour of Jean Claude Juncker as the EPP candidate. As on other issues, her rhetoric remained ambiguous, stressing the European Council’s right to nominate the future President of the European Commission.

Upshot

In all, the German outcome does not carry a strong message for Berlin’s EU policy. SPD will feel strengthened, the Liberals failed to come back, the Eurosceptic AfD has established itself for the time being. The aggregated effect of EU-wide populism, however, will be of greater significance. It will lead to more reluctant governments in the European Council, seeking to demonstrate their sovereign control over EU-matters. Once again, “more Europe” has become more difficult, Merkel may feel reassured in her reluctance to lead Europe.

 

Read the views from the other European capitals here

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

Read more on: European Power, Cohesion & Governance, European Elections

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