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

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

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

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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ELECTIONS

Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne

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