An unlikely fan

Will the European Parliament become German neo-Nazi’s best friend? It might sound ludicrous, but it may very well be so…

How?

Germany’s high court ruled on the 26th of February that the country’s 3% threshold to enter the European Parliament is unconstitutional because it discriminates small parties. This might come as a surprise coming from a country with a high electoral barrier (5%) for national parliamentary elections, but the Constitutional Court believes such measure is not necessary in the European arena.

The German electoral threshold tries to prevent a chaotic crowd of little parties from paralyzing the Bundestag and lawmaking as occured during the Weimar Republic. However, the high court found this cannot apply in a European contest because national parties, always small in the European context, form big groups in the European Parliament and also because the Parliament does not have legislative initiative.

The court had already ruled against a 5% threshold in Europe in 2011 for the same reasons and the new requisite (3%) was fixed by law only last year. But even this reduced barrier the Constitutional Court has found unjustified and too discriminative of small parties under the circumstances. Effective immediately, or more precisely May 25th, this will have both obvious and unexpected consequences.

The aftermath

The sufferers of the  change will be both the SPD and the CDU. It will be them who will lose seats to small parties that make it to the European Parliament for the first time.

As you can see in the graphic (HT @eleccionista), if there had been no threshold in 2009, the CDU, together with the CSU, would have obtained three seats less and the SPD two.

All seems to indicate that Alternative für Deutschland, one of the most enthusiastic opponents of the polemical threshold will be little affected by its elimination. Latest polls indicate it should get around 5% of votes and some expect it could get as much as 7%. In any case, well above 3%.

The more mainstream FDP might after all benefit much more than AfD, even if it is just for the tranquillity. Polls suggest a 3 to 4% of votes which would have assured representation anyway, but the party has every reason to fear marginality after not making it into the Bundestag in September by a small margin.

However, the most obvious benefiters are all those small parties that could never dream of making it into Strasbourg. It will now be enough to get approximately 1% of the vote, which as many as 7 or 8 new parties could attain. This includes the Pirates, a sui generis anti-system movement mostly advocating against intellectual property and for internet freedom; the ÖDP, an environmentalist and conservationist force; the populists Free Voters and the far-right liberals The Freedom.

So far so good as 2.8 million votes that were virtually “lost” in 2009 election will now get representation in the European chamber. However, this might have some unwanted consequences, and not only for the European Parliament. The neo-Nazis NPD can very well get at least a seat.

The NPD

The National Democratic Party of Germany or the only significant patriotic force in Germany, as they would put it, is represented in two of Germany’s state parliaments but has never made it into the Bundestag. In the 2004, 2009 and 2013 Federal elections it obtained around 1.5% of the vote, very far from the 5% of national threshold and also very far from the 3% of the European threshold that would have applied without the Constitutional Court rule. Although it is very hard to predict the results of such small parties, this could be the picture (HT @watchpoll2014)

poll watch

If they do make it, it will not be much of a threat to the functioning of the European Parliament (as the high court noted in its ruling) but rather to German politics. Just as the euro-sceptics do, the NDP will use the European Parliament as a platform for notoriety and financing and will try to influence the political agenda back home, rather than at European level.

Such a victory as getting a seat in the European Parliament, will be a moral thrust for a very marginalised party and it might reinvigorate it when it seemed it had reached its ceiling.

Moreover, this new competitor might heat up even more the immigration debate. Both AfD and CSU have been playing this card for a while now and they will have to do so even further if they want the anti-immigrant vote to stay with them.

Whatever the short term consequences, it appears the ruling against the threshold will fuel the neo-Nazis and give them renewed influence in Germany. As long as the party does not get banned altogether, as the 16 regional governments have asked the Constitutional Court to do.

In the meantime the NPD will be the unlikely fan of the European Parliament.

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