Friday

9th Dec 2016

Focus

German eurosceptics on the rise ahead of EU elections

  • Alternative fuer Deutschland is expected to get 5-6 MEPs in the new EU Parliament (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The EU: a remote bureaucracy bent on spewing out meddlesome laws; taking more and more power from national parliaments and governments; sitting idly by while immigrants flood in, taxpayers are looted and banks are bailed out.

These perceptions have become mainstream in German politics ahead of the May elections for the European Parliament.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Curbing Brussels' "regulation fury" and the size of the European Commission have become the EU bugbears of the centre-right parties in the ruling coalition.

Chancellor Angela Merkel in a speech before the Bundestag in January said that EU politics should "make people's day-to-day life easier, not more difficult".

In her party's draft manifesto for the EU elections there is talk of an "effective regulation brake" and the possibility for competences to be repatriated from Brussels to member states.

Further south, in Bavaria, the political discourse is shriller.

Merkel's sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which has a super majority in the Free State of Bavaria, wants the EU commission to have fewer powers and fewer members.

Meanwhile, its campaign slogan – "Whoever cheats gets kicked out" – is stirring up migration fears, enflaming an issue that already featured, albeit less prominently, in the run-up to the federal elections last autumn.

Bavarian conservatives speak loudly and often about how citizens from poorer member states only come to Germany to abuse the country's welfare system.

"The CSU is leading an absolutely irresponsible campaign. This is an inflammable campaign," says Gideon Botsch, a researcher into right-wing extremism at the University of Potsdam.

Botsch notes that with neo-Nazi rallies organised around refugee centres in several German cities and "very strong resentment" against migrants, centre-right politicians should be more responsible in their campaigning.

"The CSU seems to feel the need to establish themselves as hardliners given that the Chancellor has become more social and moved the Christian Democrats more to the centre-left," says Botsch.

He says it was "typical" of Angela Merkel to condone such hardline campaigning because "EU elections are seen as soft elections" whose outcome will not influence domestic policies.

Despite official figures showing that rhetoric on "welfare tourism" is exaggerated, Merkel did not confront her Bavarian allies. Instead, she opted for her well-known delaying tactic, setting up a cross-ministerial taskforce to look into the issue and come up with legislative proposals by the summer.

Alternative to the euro

Merkel's tolerant stance towards the eurosceptic, anti-immigrant rumblings from Bavaria can also be traced back to the surprising success of a newcomer on the German political scene: Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD).

Less than a year after it was founded, the AfD managed to score 4.7 percent of the vote, almost making it into the Bundestag in September.

Current polls for the EU elections put the AfD at seven percent, leaving a comfortable margin for the lower threshold of three percent required for the European Parliament as opposed to the five percent threshold for the national elections.

The party's main message is to challenge Merkel's claim that there is "no alternative" to saving the euro and bailing out countries in trouble.

"The European debt and currency crisis has convinced many people that the old parties are either not able or not willing to make sustainable, transparent, citizen-oriented, law-abiding and democratic politics. We are formulating alternatives to the alleged 'no-alternative' policies," the party says in its mission statement.

Critical of the single currency but not anti-EU, the AfD is currently seeking to expand its political platform beyond the issue of dissolving the eurozone and returning to the Deutsche Mark.

Its discourse is similar to the CSU: fewer powers for the EU commission and no "social tourism".

AfD leaders Bernd Lucke, a hawkish economist, and Hans-Peter Henkel, a former chair of the Federation of German Industries, are very vocal in rejecting any associations with the neo-Nazi scene.

A demographic breakdown of their voters in the federal elections shows that while the AfD did score well in east German regions where the extreme right is also very popular, it was mostly disgruntled Liberals and Conservatives who voted for them.

Lucke is also keen on a post-EU election alliance with the British Conservatives, rather than the eurosceptic UK Independence Party – even though the latter is doing better than the Tories in recent polls.

The AfD leader has also excluded any alliance with Marine Le Pen's party in France or Geert Wilders' PVV party in the Netherlands.

"AfD is not anti-European. They are against the euro-rescue and the way it was managed. But they do not want their country to leave the EU like UKIP does," says Oskar Niedermayer, a political scientist with Freie Universitaet in Berlin.

Niedermayer expects the AfD to get five to six seats in the European Parliament.

"The question is what they will do afterwards and whom they will form a group with. The leadership is clearly in favour of the Tories, but there are members who are flirting with UKIP," says Niedermayer.

Michael Wohlgemuth, who chairs the Berlin office of Open Europe, a pro-reform think-tank, also speaks of AfD's efforts to dissociate themselves from the extreme right.

"AfD is struggling to keep these extreme members out of the party, but they have not been very successful."

There is a stronger "taboo" within German society to vote for the extreme right compared to other EU countries, he says.

The National-Democratic Party (NPD) – which is also facing a potential ban due to its links to the neo-Nazi scene – only scored 1.3 percent of the vote in the September elections and is not expected to overcome the three-percent threshold for the EU elections.

This three percent hurdle was last year challenged in the courts by the NPD and other fringe parties including the pro-internet freedom Pirate Party.

The German Constitutional Court previously agreed the threshold for EU elections was too high when it was set at five percent, but it is unlikely to reject the current three-percent threshold, which is the minimum in most EU countries. A verdict is expected before the elections, which are scheduled for 25 May in Germany.

Out of the 751 available seats in the new legislature, 96 will be taken by German MEPs, the largest national contingent among the 28 member states.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debated on the Future of the EU at the Winter Mingle
  2. ACCASets Out Fifty Key Factors in the Public Sector Accountants Need to Prepare for
  3. UNICEFSchool “as Vital as Food and Medicine” for Children Caught up in Conflict
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  5. CESICongress Re-elects Klaus Heeger & Romain Wolff as Secretary General & President
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  7. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  8. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  9. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  10. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  11. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  12. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children

Latest News

  1. No joke: Russian propaganda poses EU threat
  2. ECB reshapes its bond-buying scheme
  3. Digital content directive threatens app development sector
  4. EU says Greece fit to take back migrants
  5. MEPs back plan to 'revitalise' complex financial products
  6. EU offers Denmark backdoor to Europol
  7. EU nationals fighting for IS drop by half
  8. EU targets Germany and UK for not fining VW's emissions fraud

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  2. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  3. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)
  4. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  5. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World
  6. Swedish EnterprisesNew Rules for EU Anti-dumping Measures
  7. European Jewish CongressTakes Part in Building Resilient Communities
  8. UNICEFUniversal Children’s Day: UNICEF Calls for Global Action on Child Rights Violations
  9. Counter BalanceThe EU Bank Cannot be a Key Player in Europe's Response to the Plight of Refugees
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEvidence of Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Crimea
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Climate Solutions at COP22 in Marrakech