5 Things you need to know about the EU elections in Germany

5 Things you need to know about the EU elections in Germany

Vivien Zuzok April 2019

1. As Europe’s economic powerhouse, Germany is arguably the most influential EU country

Germany is Europe’s strongest economy and the fourth largest globally behind the US, China, and Japan. Due to its 80 million population, Germany also has the highest allocation of seats in the European Parliament – 96.

Together with France, it is also the most influential EU country in the Council when it comes to setting the EU’s political agenda and pushing through legislation. No wonder that on dossiers that require unanimity (think digital tax) smaller countries like to flex their muscles and block legislation to gain a bargaining chip over Germany on other files. That said, Germany’s power is significant, but EU policy-making is still very consensual, perhaps reflecting the fact that German politics is often characterised by multi-party government coalitions, and consensus over conflict is a driving motto in all political institutions.

2. A job in Brussels is perceived as a political downgrade in Germany

Brussels is sometimes used as a useful place of exile for politicians who are unpopular back home. Think back to current Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s face-off with Angela Merkel in 2010 when he was a rising star in the German conservative party and may have well threatened Merkel’s 14-year tenure as German Chancellor.

Despite her decision to send him to Brussels to cool off, Oettinger has made a name for himself, first as Digital, and then as Budget Commissioner. Apart from a scandal around controversial comments at an event and the occasional attack on Merkel from a safe distance, Oettinger is well-liked in Brussels and has certainly made the most of his stay – which has changed the perception of Brussels as a useful exile. High-ranking German politicians like Oettinger’s colleague and Brussels-insider Manfred Weber, as well as centre-left SPD General Secretary Katharina Barley, and MEP Udo Bullmann are all hoping for a Commissioner nomination this year.

3. German internal politics are less stable than they may seem

Despite Merkel’s 14-year reign, she has said that she will vacate the Chancellery and will not run for office again. Whether she stays until the end of her mandate in 2021 is unclear, as her party is struggling to redefine itself as the centre-right party. This is because, despite international praise for her humanistic approach in the 2015 refugee crisis, Merkel’s political course has angered some of her party colleagues and driven her party to the left, which some say has benefited the populists.

The announcement that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will assume Merkel’s political legacy as party leader of the CDU has appeased conservatives. The Saarland-native, dubbed AKK, has made it clear that she is seeking to return to traditional values (whilst making questionable jokes about gender-neutral toilets which led to an outcry in Germany). It remains to be seen how AKK will impact the conservative’s chances in the EU elections.

4. Populist movements remain influential

The populist AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) came in third at the last Parliament elections in autumn 2017. It is expected that populists will make major gains in the upcoming EU elections, and with 96 seats to play for, concerns are running high that many of these could come from Germany. While companies lobbying the European Parliament have often chosen to not engage with populist MEPs unless absolutely necessary, they may not have this luxury in the next mandate if key files are led by populists.

5. Voter turnout has been declining – but could increase once again

Voting in Germany is a Sunday activity. Only 43% of the 60.8 million Germans eligible to vote in the EU elections made their cross on the ballot in 2009, marking a steady downwards trend from the 65% turnout during the first European Parliament elections in 1979. There may be some hope though, with the 2014 elections showing a noteworthy increase from 43% to 48% voter turnout.

Well-established scientific groups have also recently published data suggesting that interest in the EU elections is larger than during the previous election. Western regions in Germany have shown higher interest than former GDR regions in the East.

Forecasts predict the centre-right CDU will remain the largest party in the European Parliament with 33 seats, followed by the Greens who are expected to almost double their share of seats to 19. The centre-left SPD is expecting significant losses down to 18 seats but should remain the third most popular party, while the AfD is estimated to secure 10 seats. Liberals rank lower with just 8 seats predicted.