German centre-right party calls for EU referendums
By Honor Mahony
Germany's centre-right CSU party is hoping to tap into anti-European sentiment in the influential state of Bavaria to attract votes for the June European elections.
Horst Seehofer, head of Bavaria's Christian Social Union, on Wednesday (25 February) made a campaign speech that was notable for its break with the more pro-European stance of its sister party, the CDU, currently the major party in Germany's governing coalition.
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In the speech, Mr Seehofer said Europe must become much closer to its citizens and that citizens should have the right to decide on important questions, specifically naming Turkish EU membership as a referendum-worthy issue.
"I want German citizens to be asked whether the European family should be extended to Turkey. Citizens should decide on that," he said.
Earlier in the week, Alexander Dobrind, secretary general of the CSU said: "More direct democracy and a clear no to full Turkish membership, for example, are demands that the CSU could make clearer in its election programme."
"We have to find new ways to allow people to take part more in Europe and to give them more say. More direct democracy, referendums and a change to the election system towards a European direct mandate would do this."
Mentioning referendums and Turkish EU membership in the same breath in traditionally conservative Bavaria is a potentially explosive political cocktail.
There are about 2.7 million people of Turkish origin living in Germany. While most have integrated into German society, there remain Turkish communities with little contact with wider society and there is occasionally tension between the communities.
Mr Seehofer's message against Turkey's full EU membership chimes with that of Angela Merkel and her CDU party. But the Christian Democratic Union – currently in a fractious coalition with the social democrats - has never campaigned on an EU referendum platform, pleading rather for representative democracy. It has also never played the eurosceptic card at election time.
Mr Seehofer's line has largely been seen as a reaction to the fact that the party risks a wipe out in the European elections.
At the moment, the CSU has nine euro-deputies in Brussels but it fears a haemorrhage of votes to the Liberals and independent parties. Parties need to get over five percent of the total vote to enter the EU assembly, seen as a high hurdle for the CSU, which only runs in Bavaria.
In regional elections in September, while still the leading party, its electoral share dropped by 17.3 percent.
The CSU's more populist approach to Europe has prompted speculation in German media about whether such policies – if they are seen to work – will find resonance in the party base of the CDU, which is also suffering in the polls.