Germany's Political Landscape in the EU Elections

Shifting Winds: Germany's Political Landscape in the EU Elections Spotlight

​​With only a couple of weeks to go before the EU elections, the party campaigns in Germany are gaining remarkable momentum. In late April, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Free Democratic Party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) launched their election campaigns. ​​​

​​​​Central Domestic Issues Influencing Voter Sentiment​​​

Domestic issues remain at the centre of attention: recent disputes within the government coalition on topics such as the economy, social welfare and military support for Ukraine have recently highlighted the considerable disagreements among the three governing parties. Moreover, the German Constitutional Court ruling in November 2023 on the “debt brake”, which declared the government's special funding plan for climate and energy programmes unlawful, is looming over upcoming state budget negotiations for 2025. While the Social Democrats and the Greens demand special purpose funds and more debt for future investments, the Liberals deem substantial cuts in the welfare state as the only viable solution. In addition to the EU elections in June, the parties are already gearing up for the German federal elections in 2025, as well as three crucial upcoming state elections in East Germany later this year.

​​​German ​Public Interest in the EU Elections​​​

​Although the parties have started their election campaigns​ in Germany​, including public appearances by candidates and the display of election posters across cities and villages, similar to the pre-election period of 2019, German public interest in the European elections is relatively low. Accordingly, only 44% of Germans (March 2019: 41%) currently say they are very interested or generally interested, while the remaining 56% (March 2019: 59%) indicate taking little to no interest at all in the continent’s largest democratic event. Instead, Germans tend to focus more on national politics where a deep sense of dissatisfaction at the current ruling government dominates the country’s political debate prior to the EU elections, with two-thirds of Germans saying their government is doing a rather poor job. As the country is headed towards the EU elections, this perceived discontent at government performance is primarily rooted in the weakened state of the German economy: Economy Minister Robert Habeck recently gave bleak prospects by announcing that the government would only expect a 0.3% growth rate for 2024. This outlook comes after Germany performed worst among all major economies in 2023, denoting a GDP decrease of 0.3%. Nonetheless, Germany remains the third strongest economy in the world, behind the US and China. For 2025, a GDP increase of 1.0% is expected.  

​​​​Germany's Economic Outlook and Competitiveness​​​​​

​​A key factor expected to be decisive for German voting behaviour in the European elections is Germany’s competitiveness within the European Union and beyond. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s curtailing of natural gas exports to Europe, Germany has seen domestic energy prices surge as a result of heavy investments in renewable energy infrastructure and more expensive LNG imports from the United States whilst simultaneously juggling its planned phase out from cheap nuclear energy and coal power. In addition, long-term structural issues like demographic decline, a shortage of skilled labour, a derelict infrastructure, as well as regulatory hurdles like bureaucratic burdens from corporate disclosure legislation, long permittance granting procedures, and slumbering digitalisation efforts are hurting the country’s competitiveness. Major German industries have either curbed production or announced relocation abroad to continue operating in more economically favourable environments like the United States or China, where access to state funding and bureaucratic red tape appear to be less problematic. Although these competitive issues are less pronounced in Germany’s better-performing EU partner countries, Germany’s faltering economic competitiveness is slowing down overall EU growth, with consequences for the entire single market. One way in which the European elections could boost the German - and therefore European - global economic edge is by focussing on political groups that favour swift negotiations of free trade agreements (in particular with Mercosur countries), hence providing Germany’s heavily export-oriented model with new investment opportunities and improved market access. ​​​

​​​​Security Concerns and Foreign Policy Debates​​​​​

​​The global security situation will undeniably shape this year’s EU election ​in Germany ​as well, with most parties calling for a more robust European security and defence strategy. The contested debate about the delivery of Taurus cruise missiles and the Chancellor's persistent refusal to do so has dominated Germany’s foreign policy discourse for weeks. The topic has led to internal and cross-party tensions, with the main arguments focusing on a potential escalation of the conflict due to the particularly far range of the missiles and the need to secure the continued support of the US. Instead of the Taurus missiles, Germany has recently agreed to send another Patriot air-defense missile system to Ukraine. It has also launched the Federal Foreign Defence Ministry’s “Immediate Action on Air Defence” initiative, which aims to finance artillery ammunition jointly, with Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands being the main contributors. The German parties’ perspectives on how to balance between strengthening Ukraine’s defence capacities and avoiding a more extensive engagement in the war differ greatly. Members of the Greens, as well as from the FDP, have harshly criticised the Chancellors’ stance on weapon deliveries and warned that hesitation can just as well lead to escalation. The Social Democrats have condemned the smaller coalition partner’s public defiance, which they argue fuels ammunition for opposition parties. ​​​

​​​​​The Impact of Political Scandals on AfD's Prospects​​​​​

Although the AfD is expected to gain more seats compared to 2019, recent investigations into espionage and corruption could potentially influence their election prospects. Leading candidate Maximilian Krah MEP is under pressure as investigators have arrested one of his parliamentary assistants. Jian G. stands accused of a particularly serious case of espionage on behalf of a foreign secret service. The federal prosecutor's office described G. as an "employee of a Chinese secret service”. Despite these accusations, the AfD leadership duo, Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla, reaffirmed their support for Krah but indicated their plans to minimise his public presence at upcoming party rallies in the run-up to the European parliamentary election. Campaign posters bearing his face and details of his candidature would also be withheld.  

​​Meanwhile, Petr Bystron, current MP and number two on the AfD list, faces accusations from Czech investigators of having received at least €20,000 from a pro-Russia network. According to Manfred Güllner, head of the opinion research institute Forsa, the scandals surrounding the AfD could lead to setbacks or even a debacle at the European elections. He expects protest voters to withdraw their support for the AfD. ​​​

​​​​Emergence of New Political Forces​​​​​

Another recent development in the German political landscape is the emergence of small but significant fringe parties. The Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW) had split from Germany’s left party, Die Linke, only in November over ideological differences and is already expected to gain more seats in Brussels than Die Linke. The BSW could, therefore, reshape the European parliamentary groupings, with their lead candidate, Fabio De Masi, confirming the split-away party would garner sufficient support to create and lead a new group in the European Parliament following the elections. Another party that made headlines in recent months is the newly founded Democratic Alliance for Diversity and Awakening (DAVA), which prioritises fighting islamophobia and strengthening "traditional values" as the party seeks to appeal to Muslim migrants in Germany. However, political observers accused DAVA of being no more than a mouthpiece of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

​​​Voter Attitudes Towards Political Stability and Change​​

​​As Germany is battling economic decline and facing heated public debates over immigration and defence, all whilst tackling the green transition in an increasingly challenging geopolitical climate, German voters may wish to seek political and economic stability with more conservative-leaning parties in the upcoming EU elections. Indeed, with the competitiveness of Europe’s strongest economy in dire straits, political voices on the far right and left of the political spectrum are expected to decide the elections for themselves in their attempt to offer a European alternative to the sense of dissatisfaction at the political status quo in Berlin. ​​​

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