July 15. 2024. 8:03

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Small German parties have become a power factor in new EU parliament

Fringe parties received a sizeable boost in Germany’s EU elections, finding themselves in an influential position in post-election negotiations as their collective weight rivals that of entire countries.

Since the EU’s most populous member state is one of the few members with no electoral threshold for EU elections and it has 96 seats to distribute among its parties, relatively obscure German outfits – from animal rights activists to the Family Party – can enter the European Parliament.

In the 2024 elections, voters even gave them a boost, with parties under 5% of the vote gaining six more seats than in 2019 and a total of 13% of the vote.

With 15 lawmakers between them, smaller German parties have now more influence in the Parliament than many EU countries, as a third of them, including Ireland, Slovenia, and Croatia, get fewer seats overall.

“The influence [of Germany’s ‘smaller’ parties] is solid if they belong to a parliamentary group,” Engin Eroglu, delegation leader of the Free Voters (Renew), told Euractiv.

His party, which is headed by a former farmer and includes liberals and conservatives, is a case in point. While they received less than 3% of the vote, they are a medium-sized group in parliament with three MEPs, given the average delegation size of 3.5.

“We currently have around 198 parties over 705 MEPs. With three MEPs, the Free Voters are not a ‘small’ delegation,” Eroglu said.

The hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group demonstrated on Wednesday (19 June) what difference small delegations can make: The group narrowly overtook Renew to become the third-largest group in parliament – at 83 to 81 lawmakers, respectively – in part, by taking in three one-person delegations.

Competition for German fringe parties to join groups is therefore fierce.

There was particular demand for the German branch of the pan-European party Volt, which rose from one to three MEPs, bringing Volt’s EU delegation to five in total. After talks with both Renew and the Greens, they will likely stay with the latter, following the recommendation of Volt MEPs.

Who benefits?

The presence of smaller German parties mainly appears to harm right-of-centre groups, given their strong showing in the last German election.

As of now, only one lawmaker from smaller parties will join the centre-right EPP group, with the other 14 likely to join centrist or leftist groups or remain independent.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation yields that the 15 seats would have been distributed roughly equally between left-wing and right-wing groups, had there been a 5% threshold.

Above all, the absence of a threshold boosts fringe causes from Germany, given that other larger EU countries have electoral thresholds, Luise Quaritsch, a European politics expert at the Jacques Delors Centre, analysed in a recent policy brief.

“Under the current system, the distribution of seats in parliament is distorted by the fact that small parties can win seats in Germany (…) but not in France and Italy, for example,” she wrote.

Aside from the Free Voters and Volt, the Animal Protection Party, the Family Party, the satire party PARTEI, the environmentalist ÖDP, and the avowedly unideological Party of Progress (PdF, have brought their niche to the Parliament. Additionally, there is the progressive Linke, whose place among the larger outfits over 5% was taken by the new BSW.

So long, small parties?

The upcoming term could be the last hooray for Germany’s more exotic representatives, however.

The German constitutional court scrapped previous national thresholds in 2011 and 2014, arguing that the EU Parliament did not have enough importance to justify measures to counteract fragmentation at the expense of smaller parties.

Yet, anticipating a change in EU law that would make electoral thresholds mandatory, German lawmakers reformed election procedures last year, which entails a yet-to-be-defined threshold between 2% and 5% for the next election.

“Given the changing party landscape, I consider it sensible to counteract excessive fragmentation in the European Parliament and thus maintain its functionality,” Ansgar Heveling, a lawmaker of the centre-right opposition party CDU (EPP), involved in drafting the legislation, told Euractiv.

In the best-case scenario, only the Linke, Volt, and Free Voters would make the cut next time; in more extreme scenarios, none of the eight parties below 5% would enter parliament again.

Read more with Euractiv

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