The winners and losers: Six things to know about the EU elections in Germany

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
The winners and losers: Six things to know about the EU elections in Germany
Young people demonstrate in Munich the Friday before the EU election. Photo: DPA

The results of the European Parliamentary elections are in and Germany has spoken. Here's what it all means.


Who won in Germany?

The Greens. Okay, that's not true. Technically, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) received the largest share of votes (28.7 percent) but the environmental party experienced the biggest surge.

The Union suffered heavy losses – their support dropped by about seven percent compared to the last election in 2014 when they took a 35.3 percent share of the vote. It was even worse for the centre-left SPD, who took 15.6 percent of the vote on Sunday, a drop of 12 percent compared to five years ago.

Crucially, the Green party, which won more than 20 percent of the vote in Germany, increasing by about 10 percent from 2014, took more than a million votes both from the SPD, led by Andrea Nahles, as well as from the CDU, which is led by Angela Merkel's successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

READ ALSO: Greens surge amid heavy losses for Germany's ruling parties in EU elections

Meanwhile, voter turnout in Germany was significantly higher than in the previous European election, reaching 61.4% compared to 48.1% during the 2014 ballot, according to preliminary results shared by the German government.

The Greens also did well across Europe. Why?

Commentators are putting it down to the ‘Greta effect’, pointing to the young Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, who has managed to mobilize people across the world to call out governments on environmental protection issues through Fridays for Future demos.

"It's the first time that climate change has played such a role in an election," said Greens chief Robert Habeck on Sunday.

Leading Germany student activist Luisa Neubauer counted the vote as a success for the climate cause.

She wrote on Twitter: "The European elections show that we're not only bringing the climate crisis to the streets but also to the ballot boxes. This should give food for thought to those who have in the last month laughed at 'youth engagement'."

And she's right. Young people voted overwhelmingly for the Greens: about 30 percent of the under 30s voted for the environmental party.

Graph by Statista for The Local.

The Greens may have also benefited from the impact of a verbal online assault by a young German YouTuber against Merkel's CDU party days before the vote.

Rezo accused the CDU of not doing enough against global warming. The almost one hour long blistering attack had been viewed more than 11 million times by Sunday.

All in all, it points to a massive shift in Germany's political landscape that's seen the Volkspartei - people's parties - crumble.

Dr Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin previously told the Local that the Greens' message was optimism and that was one of the reasons that the party has become so desirable to voters in recent months.

“They have managed to bring various green issues together – climate change, air quality and transportation – and promote it as an answer to making the lives of Germans better,” he said.

Meanwhile, voter turnout in Germany was significantly higher than in the previous European election, reaching 61.4% compared to 48.1% during the 2014 ballot, according to preliminary results shared by the German government.

What does this all mean?

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.

Here are the most provisional results: The CDU/CSU got about 28 percent of the vote (29 seats), the Greens got 20.7 percent (21 seats), the SPD 15.6 percent (16 seats), Alternative for Germany (AfD) received 10.8 percent of the vote (11 seats), both the pro-business FDP and The Left (Die Linke) got 5.4 percent (5 seats each).

Meanwhile, smaller parties, such as the satire party Die Partei, have a handful of seats in parliament.

The votes from each country translate to political groups within the parliament, such as the European People’s Parliament (EPP), which is the traditional centre-right bloc and includes parties like Germany’s CDU.

The seats will be filled by the candidates each party has on their lists. For example, the CDU/CSU’s lead candidate is Manfred Weber, the SPD’s lead candidate is Katarina Barley and the Greens’ lead candidate is Ska Keller.

Weber, the lead candidate for the conservative EPP, is also hoping to claim the post of European Commission president.

He's called for cooperation with other pro-EU countries and gave a special mention to the Greens. This means the ruling parties are aware of the shift in voters' attitudes and have no other choice but to address it.

"We haven't won a great victory, but we are the strongest group," he said in Brussels on Sunday.

"The Greens are also the winners of the day. This makes them a possible partner. We should sit down together and draft a mandate for the next five years," he said.

The elections determine how Europe will act in the coming years when it comes to jobs, business, security, migration and climate change, among other topics.

Greens chief Robert Habeck celebrates in Bremen with Maike Scháfer. Photo: DPA

Is Germany united in its love for the Greens?

No. The vote exposed huge differences across Germany’s states, especially the divide between the east and west of the country.

For example, in Hamburg the Greens' success was unbelievable: the party won 31.2 percent of the vote there to become the strongest force, while in nearby state Schleswig-Holstein, the Greens were also the most popular, snagging 29.1 percent of the vote.

Yet in Saxony, the AfD was the biggest force with 25.3 percent of the vote, followed by the CDU (23 percent) and The Left (Die Linke), with 11.7 percent.

In Brandenburg, the AfD was also top with 19.9 percent of the vote, followed by the CDU (18 percent). The AfD also performed well in Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania although the CDU came out on top in these states.

In Bavaria, the CSU came out on top with about 40 percent of the vote, followed by the Greens with 19%.

With 27.8 percent of the vote, the Greens were the top party in Berlin.

So is populism on the rise?

Far-right parties like the AfD are not going away. The party took about 10 percent of the vote in Germany, signalling that it's still a strong force, although it arguably didn't do as well as many were expecting (earlier polls put the AfD at around 12 percent).

That could be down to recent negative publicity, such as the party's financing laws scandals. To put it in persceptive, the AfD scored nearly 13 percent in the September 2017 general election in Germany.

The AfD was also the only party in Germany to speak out against the EU.

An AfD rally in Chemnitz, Saxon, on May 1st. Photo: DPA

Munich-based political scientist Ursula Münch previously told The Local that she thought the Brexit mess could also hinder the AfD's chances of bigger success in Germany.

“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," she said.

But the AfD is still scooping up votes in the east of the country where state elections are being held later this year (on September 1st in Brandenburg and Saxony, and October 27th in Thuringia).

Dresden-based political scientist Werner Patzelt told the Local: “For most people in Germany, it's (the EU election) a test for the upcoming state elections in the fall.”

READ ALSO: Is Germany one step closer to getting its first AfD mayor?

What does it mean for the 'grand coalition' and Merkel?

This election has given the coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD another jolt. Crisis talks are being held Monday and the question is: can the coalition survive or will it break?

Added by the fact that the SPD is set to lose its stronghold in Bremen after a dismal showing the state elections Sunday, the future of the fragile coalition looks uncertain.

If the coalition does break then new federal elections will be held and Merkel would step down as Chancellor.

Whatever you think, it's certainly not a boring time for German politics.

READ ALSO: Why can't Germany's Social Democrats pull themselves together?


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