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'Brexit will hinder AfD success': What you need to know about the EU elections in Germany

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'Brexit will hinder AfD success': What you need to know about the EU elections in Germany
The Greens' Annalena Baerbock, Sven Giegold, Ska Keller - the top candidate for the European elections - and Robert Habeck. Photo: DPA
16:22 CEST+02:00
Who's going to be the big winners and losers of the Euro elections in Germany? What do voters care about? Our analysis breaks the important points down for you.

When is the election and what can I do?

Germany goes to the polls on Sunday May 26th for the European Parliamentary elections, which take place every five years. Polling stations are open between 8am and 6pm. If you’re an EU citizen who’s registered to vote and you’ve received your voter’s notification from the local authority where you live, you can cast your vote on Sunday.

Bring your ID (just to be on the safe side) to the polling station as well as your voter’s notification which you should have received in the post.

What’s going to happen in Germany?

We don’t know for sure but recent polls indicate that the left-leaning pro-climate protection Green party is expected to continue their recent track record (in the Bavarian elections last year they surged into second place, winning 17 percent of the vote) and score a significant amount of votes.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is also likely to make gains, especially in eastern Germany where the party is more popular.

READ ALSO: Five reasons why the European elections really do matter

The parties poised to lose a lot of votes are the so-called Volkspartei - people’s parties. They are the Social Democrats (SPD) as well as the centre-right Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union.

The CDU/CSU is expected to get around 28 to 30 percent, a drop from 35.3 percent/34 seats in the 2014 vote.

The Greens are polling at around the 17 to 19 percent (up from 10.7 percent/11 seats in 2014) while the SPD is expected to get around 15 to 17 percent (down from 27.3 percent/27 seats in the last elections).

The AfD is expected to get around a 12 percent share of the vote, up from seven percent/seven seats in 2014.

Meanwhile, the Left (Die Linke) is polling at about seven to eight percent, around the same as 2014 when they scooped seven seats, and the pro-business Free Democrats are expected to get around a 5 to 7.5 percent share. Five years ago, the FDP received 3.4 percent of the vote/three seats.

Other parties are expected to make up between 10 and 12 percent of the vote.

Graph by Statista for The Local shows the results of recent polls in Germany.

Why?

Dresden-based political scientist Werner Patzelt said a new party system had emerged in Germany which had seen the Volkspartei significantly lose support.

“The Green party and the AfD are the poles of this new party system,” Patzelt told The Local. “So both the Greens and the AfD will be the winners of these elections. The Greens will attract votes from the Social Democratic, liberal camp.

"The AfD will attract votes from the conservative Christian Democratic camp. The Social Democrats and Christian Democrats will be the losers.”

The result also hinges on how people have perceived the lead candidates during the campaign. 

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

Munich-based Ursula Münch, political scientist of the Bundeswehr and director of the Academy for Political Education (Akademie für Politische Bildung), said the Greens benefit from an impressive top candidate.

Ska Keller is a good public speaker, has lots of experience in the European parliament and “might impress young people," Münch told The Local.

Manfred Weber, the high profile candidate for the CSU is “reliable” and trustworthy but some people “might think he’s a bit boring,” said Münch. Interestingly, Weber is quite liberal and pro-European which may pose problems for the Union and drive the more conservative right-wing voters to other parties. 

Meanwhile, SPD’s Euro offering, Katarina Barley, “isn’t a very convincing main candidate,” said Münch, but she is a "good speaker".

Germany's leading EU candidates. Top l-r Manfred Weber (CSU), Udo Bullmann (SPD), Katarina Barley (SPD). Middle l-r: Nicola Beer (FDP), Sven Giegold (Greens), Ska Keller (Greens). Below l-r:  Özlem Alev Demirel (The Left), Martin Schirdewan (The Left), Jörg Meuthen (AfD). Photo: DPA

What are the Euro issues concerning German voters?

Climate change has been a topic that’s increasingly become more visible in the media and gaining significant attention across the globe, helped by the Fridays for Future demonstrations organized by young people and led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

Münch said this also gave the Greens, a party built on climate protection, a big advantage. “The Greens are dealing with issues that seem to be important for quite a big part of the population,” she said.

The AfD has, however, embraced climate change denial in its campaign for the Parliamentary elections.

“Climate change has now become like a religious question,” Patzelt observed. “‘Do you believe in God’ is the equivalent to: ‘Do you believe in human-made climate change?’ It’s a topic of high mobilizing power.”

The AfD denies global warming, opposes wind farms, defends diesel engines and coal mines, and has been mocking Thunberg as a green "cult" leader.

SEE ALSO: How an EU hoodie became the street cred emblem of German politicians

But experts say there are many voters who this rhetoric might appeal to, which shows that it's a polarizing issue.

“There is a significant number Germans who, although they accept that there is climate change, do not accept that it’s exclusively the human factor which accounts for this climate change,” said Patzelt. “This is the position of the AfD, giving expression to the significant minority in Germany.”

Other topics of interest are security, including border control and terrorism, as well as migration, industry as well as digital privacy and copyright laws.

Will these elections have an impact on German domestic politics?

Yes. Commentators will be watching closely to see how parties perform, especially because there are important state elections coming up this year — Bremen's vote is on the same night as the Euro elections, May 26th, while Brandenburg and Saxony are on September 1st and the vote in Thuringia takes place on October 27th.

SEE ALSO: Germany chemical firms plan pro-EU campaign to get staff voting

“There are some differences but in the case of Germany, and I presume it’s the same thing elsewhere, the elections are seen through the lenses of domestic politics,” said Patzelt. “ For most people in Germany it’s a test for the upcoming state elections in the fall.”

It’s also a test for the leaders of the parties, including SPD's Andrea Nahles, as well as Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who succeeded Angela Merkel as chairperson of the CDU last year, and will be eager to see if she’s had any effect on winning back votes.

What about the turnout?

Traditionally there’s been a poor turnout for the European elections (it was 48 percent in Germany in 2014 and 42 percent overall)  but there has been a big push to emphasize the importance of these elections.

Has it been enough? Experts aren’t sure.

The SPD's Katarina Barley on the campaign trail. 

Münch said she wasn’t convinced there was an appetite for voting, and that the campaigns hadn't been very interesting.

“Politicians are trying to tell voters that these are important elections with regards to populist parties getting votes but I’m not really sure that’s enough,” she said. “We don’t have enough European issues which are treated in a way that shows they are really interesting.”

Even though roughly three quarters of Germany’s population is in favour of the EU “it’s difficult to mobilize these people to vote, by only telling them these are very important elections,” Münch added.

Meanwhile, a recent poll showed that half of all voters don't know who the top candidates are.

Will Brexit affect voters' decisions in Germany?

There’s only one party that’s spoken out against the EU and that's the AfD. The party's draft manifesto states that if the EU is not reshaped in line with the party's ideas "in an appropriate timeframe", Germany must leave the bloc.

A recent poll found that one in 10 Germans was in favour of a so-called "Dexit" but the majority of the country is in favour of the EU.

Furthermore, Germans have been watching the big bad Brexit mess unfold in recent months, and it’s fair to say the UK has been branded a disorganized laughing stock by many people in the Bundesrepublik. Will this mobilize residents in Germany to vote and fight for the EU?

Jörg Meuthen, lead candidate for the AfD. Photo: DPA

“I think Brexit will hinder the success of the AfD,” Münch told The Local. “What’s happening in the United Kingdom — a lot of people have learned that they don’t want Germany to leave the EU. And that’s a problem for the AfD. We don’t want this mess that the Brits have.”

How many MEPs does Germany have?

A whopping 500 million EU citizens are called upon to elect 751 Members of the European Parliament who represent residents of the 28 Member States. Germany will send a total of 96 MEPs to the European Parliament – the number of MEPs from each country is decided based on population size.

SEE ALSO: Voting in Germany: What you need to know about the European elections

MEPs are elected every five years in general, direct elections. The elections are taking place between Thursday, May 23rd, and Sunday, May 26th when polls close at 6pm. Preliminary results are expected to be announced later that night.

Are you going to vote on Sunday in Germany? Would you like to talk to us about it? Contact us at news@thelocal.de

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