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Dr Ed Turner

Senior Research Fellow

Ed Turner is Reader in Politics at Aston University, Birmingham, UK, where he is also Co-Director of the Aston Centre for Europe. He is Acting Chair of the International Association for the Study of German Politics. His research is principally focused on contemporary Germany, ranging from sub-national politics to its European policy and political parties. He is currently working on a book on the recent developments of its Social Democratic Party, the SPD, is part of a joint project assessing the territorial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic upon relations between different levels of government in Germany and other countries, and has received funding for work on the state of Germany’s relations with the V4 countries. He spent over two years recently on secondment to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK Government

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7478 [post_author] => 33 [post_date] => 2024-06-17 12:28:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-17 11:28:36 [post_content] => Some aspects of Sunday’s European Parliament election results were expected (a victory for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), declining support for the Greens, some strengthening of the far right), but others were a surprise.[1] Here are ten key takeaways: 
  1. The far right did not make a huge breakthrough, but Europe’s centre of gravity has shifted rightwards. A quick glance at seats won and lost by each of the major European political groups would give the impression of relatively little shift, beyond a decline in the number of Green and Liberal MEPs. Claims of a lurch to the far right would be over-stated, but amongst those MEPs who are not members of a group, there are a good many right-wingers (for instance, the Alternative for Germany is in that category having been kicked out of the ID group which includes Marine Le Pen’s National Rally).[2] Both the ECR group (European Conservatives and Reformists Group – originally co-founded by the UK’s Tories, now home amongst others to Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Spanish Vox) and the EPP have been veering to the right.
  1. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is likely to be re-elected by groups in the political centre, but the margins will be tight. It would be anticipated that, as last time, she would receive support from the three groups clustered around the political centre (S&D – Socialists & Democrats, Renew Europe and EPP), and that they have been holding off full endorsement to strengthen their negotiating position for other top jobs. However, in total they have 403 MEPs out of 720 so there is limited room for manoeuvre and in this secret ballot discipline often wanes – in 2019, von der Leyen should have got 444 votes but managed just 383.[3]
  1. Those hoping for a progressive shift on climate and migration from the European Union (EU) are likely to be disappointed. We should not over-state the impact of relatively small shifts in the European Parliament upon substantive policy – it is just one part (albeit an important one) of the EU’s legislative process. However, the rightward shift referred to above also meshes with some tougher positioning in key member states that will also play into the EU’s legislative process. For months, Olaf Scholz in Germany has been talking a tough game on migration, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union – likely to lead the next German government) has embraced a migration plan akin to the UK’s proposals to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and leave them there even if claims are successful. There is also a nervousness from centre-left to centre-right across Europe about green policies fuelling far-right support, especially if they have adverse economic impacts (with Macron calling for a “regulatory break” to help industry).[4]
  1. Political polarisation and fragmentation are in evidence across Europe. We see polarisation (and particularly divisions between mainstream parties and far-right or populist challengers) in many countries across Europe, including those such as Portugal and Germany which had been assumed to be resistant to it. Mainstream parties also see a declining share of the vote. To take just Germany, France and Spain, and comparing these European elections to those in 1994, we see the proportion of votes going to the two main parties of the left and the right has fallen drastically in the first two cases, and even in Spain, where the moderate right regained much ground, the share was well below that 30 years previously:
  1. Macron’s gamble and Scholz’ defeat will really undermine EU leadership (with implications for the UK). Following the elections and Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call early parliamentary elections, French politics has been plunged into chaos.[5] Any outcome that does not involve the highly unlikely scenario of success for Macron allies will leave him further weakened in authority, distracted and potentially constrained where parliamentary or government agreement is required (including in the Council of the European Union). Scholz, whose rapport with Macron has been patchy at best, will also face further friction and erosion of authority. All in all, Franco-German leadership of the EU feels an unlikely prospect for the coming years. For the UK, which may struggle to gain bandwidth in Brussels for any changes to its relationship with the EU, this is not helpful.
  1. There was a stark contrast in German voting behaviour between those in eastern and western Germany, over 34 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The map showing winning candidates in the European elections in Germany is truly remarkable and has drawn much comment.[6] With just a handful of exceptions (in Berlin, adjacent Potsdam, and the cities of Jena, Weimar and Erfurt, each of which has a university), the AfD (Alternative for Germany) topped the poll across eastern German counties and cities. It failed to do so in a single equivalent area in the west. There is much debate over what drives the distinctive voting behaviour in the east. Explanations range from greater affinity towards Russia and rejection of Germany’s western alignment (something uniting both the AfD and the left-populist BSW (Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance) is their rejection of support for Ukraine), to the relative lack of ethnic diversity there compared to the west and fear of “the other”, through to being “left behind”, with more highly-educated sections of the population having moved away, leaving those with lower skill levels and salaries behind, and poor infrastructure. Yet these latter factors also apply in some parts of the west, where there is a lower propensity to vote for the AfD.
  1. Germany’s far right is established and state elections in eastern Germany in the autumn will prove a major challenge to mainstream parties. In September, three eastern states (Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg) will vote and on current evidence, in each of them there is a good chance of the AfD topping the poll. The party has not been on the journey away from extremism that Le Pen and Meloni have been, it is regarded as potentially extremist by Germany’s secret services, and mainstream parties will therefore try to keep it out of government.[7] However, doing so may require unwieldly, misaligned multi-party coalitions, which could increase the AfD’s ability to claim it is being persecuted. The numbers may force the CDU to choose between ditching a ban on co-operation with the far right and one on co-operation with the far left, likely to fuel internal debates about whether to tag to the right or stick to the Merkelian centre ground.
  1. Age differences in voting behaviour in Germany were stark and should give mainstream parties real cause for concern.[8] The moderate left (SPD) and right (CDU/CSU) together got 59% of votes of over 60s, but just 26% of those of under 25s. Amongst younger voters, minor parties including Volt (pro-European, centre-left) and a satirical party did well, but so too did the AfD (which came second amongst under 25s). Green support imploded amongst under 25s, with just 11% compared to 34% in 2019.
  1. Different attitudes to the war in Ukraine are playing out in Germany and are affecting mainstream parties. While the majority of Germans still support the country’s backing for Ukraine in the conflict (68% want to see western nations do more, or at least maintain current levels of support), there is a substantial minority (28%) that want to see it do less, and that figure is substantially higher in eastern Germany (45%), fuelling (and possibly fuelled by) support for the AfD and BSW.[9] The SPD, rather awkwardly, chose the slogan “Secure peace, vote SPD”, in a clumsy acknowledgement of discontent with German support for Ukraine, and Scholz has given an impression of wavering (for instance declining to send Taurus missiles).[10] The CDU/CSU is apparently steadfast in its support for Ukraine but has begun to criticise benefit entitlements of Ukrainian refugees.[11]
  1. Germany’s ruling coalition finds itself gripped by a vicious circle and the process of budget negotiation, overshadowed by constitutional constraints on borrowing, will make it worse. The three-party “traffic light” coalition of SPD, liberal FDP and Greens is well-practiced in losing mid-term state elections. Following defeat, party figures take to the airwaves to demand their party sharpens its profile within the coalition. This makes governing harder, and creates an impression of strife and disarray (23% of Germans declare themselves satisfied with the government, and 10% are satisfied with the way coalition partners treat each other).[12] The parties have fundamental disagreements over budget policy anyway (with SPD and Greens at odds with the economically liberal FDP), while a constitutional court verdict in 2023 drastically reduced room for manoeuvre without breaching the “debt brake” in the country’s Basic Law, making negotiations harder still.[13] All coalition parties will want to avoid new elections that a collapse of the government would likely entail, but finding agreement on proposals for 2025 by July, in this context, will be immensely difficult.
 All in all, it is a pretty bleak outlook for Germany, and one which points to difficult times ahead for the EU. [1] European Elections 2024, 2024 European election results, European Parliament,[2] Ibid[3] BBC News, Von der Leyen elected EU Commission head after MEPs vote, July 2019,[4] Tagesschau, “We need to deport faster”, October 2023,; CDU, Policy Programme, see:; Paul Messad and Euractiv France, Macron calls for ‘regulatory break’ in EU green laws to help industry, Euractiv, May 2023,[5] Laurent Geslin, The Brief – France’s political scene in chaos, Euractiv, June 2024,[6] Tagesspiegel, Map of Germany for the 2024 European elections, All results by districts and federal states, see:[7] Ed Turner and Julian Hoerner, Far-right AfD makes unprecedented election gains in west Germany, worrying national government, The Conversation, October 2023,[8] Tagesschau, Who did younger and older people vote for?, June 2024,[9] Forschungsgruppe, Politbarometer June I 2024,[10] Tagesschau, The SPD is committed to peace – but which kind?, May 2024,; Joshua Posaner, Germany’s Scholz says sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine is ‘out of the question’, POLITICO, March 2024,[11] Focus online, CDU woman warns of “citizen’s allowance trap”: Only in one country do Ukrainian refugees get more money than in Germany, May 2024,[12] Tagesschau, Ensuring peace is crucial in EU elections, May 2024,[13] Professor Mark Hallerberg, The debt brake and Germany’s international competitiveness, UK in Changing Europe, November 2023, [post_title] => Ten key takeaways from the European Parliament election for Germany and Europe [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => ten-key-takeaways-from-the-european-parliament-election-for-germany-and-europe [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-17 14:48:51 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-17 13:48:51 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7038 [post_author] => 33 [post_date] => 2023-09-07 10:00:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-09-07 09:00:39 [post_content] => Germany’s three party coalition of the SPD (the Social Democrats of Chancellor Olaf Scholz), Greens and the Liberal Free Democrats has had a pretty miserable 2023. A poll in mid-August found that just 19% of Germans were satisfied with the Government’s work, compared to 79% dissatisfied.[1] According to the same poll, new elections would see the SPD score 16%, a long way off the Christian Democratic (CDU/CSU) opposition (29%) and most worryingly the far-right Alternative for Germany (22%), with its mix of xenophobia and distinctly accommodating poise towards Putin’s Russia. Germany’s economy is not doing well – with a real risk of entering recession for the second time this year – and the Government has been beset by conflict.[2] In particular, the Greens and FDP have been at each other’s throats, with the FDP, after a series of dreadful regional election results, especially assertive with its coalition partners and resisting most projects that could increase Government spending. There was an attempt at a ‘reset’ at a cabinet away day in August, but low-level argument continues. In this context, it will be hard for German leaders to put domestic matters, in particular economic preoccupations, to one side at the Summit. As with other G20 members, it faces something of a dilemma in relations with India – seeing substantial and much-needed opportunities for trade, but with concerns (notably on the Green side) about human rights issues in the background. This dilemma is, of course, even more sharply present in the case of China, and the Government’s new China Strategy (published in July 2023) has a fair degree of ambiguity about how it will walk this particular tightrope.[3] Of course, Germany will line up with its allies – including the US and the UK – to try to secure some sort of constructive statement on the war in Ukraine, but that seems an unlikely prospect. Germany has set out a particular priority to promote the global expansion of renewable energy, and keep the goal of restricting warming to 1.5 degrees within reach, requiring a tripling of renewable capacity in the G20 by 2030, and a doubling of progress in energy efficiency measures.[4] The country’s delegation will also be pressing for progress at the Summit on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (a framework which German policy-makers very much endorse). Olaf Scholz, in a pre-Summit interview, pointed to a desire for “fair partnerships” with the Global South, recognising the particular responsibility of former colonial powers, including Germany.[5] As an example, he suggested that, in contrast to China, the West could look not simply to extract raw materials from the Global South, but process them in the countries themselves, to mutual benefit; this alternative offer could also help reduce growing Chinese influence there. Notwithstanding India’s energetic presidency, with rifts notably over the war in Ukraine, but also Chinese frictions with other G20 members (including India), there are reasons to be circumspect about what the Summit can achieve. This will not be helped by the major challenges the German Government faces back at home. Dr Ed Turner is a Reader in Politics at Aston University and Co-Director of the Aston Centre for Europe.  [1] Ellen Ehni, Support for traffic lights at a new low, tagesschau, August 2023,[2] Maria Martinex, Gloomy Ifo fuels fears of second German recession in a year, Reuters, August 2023,[3] Bernhard Bartsch and Claudia Wessling, Germany’s new China strategy: Ambitious language, ambiguous course, MERICS, July 2023,[4] Federal Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection, Negotiations in the G7 and G20 on the global expansion of renewable energies, August 2023,[5] Deutschlandfunk, Interview of the Week: Scholz still believes the G20 is important despite the “BRICS” expansion - “shaping the future on an equal footing and offering partnerships”, September 2023, [post_title] => Germany’s priorities going into the G20 Summit [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => germanys-priorities-going-into-the-g20-summit [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-07 10:00:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-07 09:00:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6741 [post_author] => 33 [post_date] => 2023-02-24 11:55:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-02-24 10:55:40 [post_content] => For anyone interested in contemporary Germany, the war in Ukraine has had a huge impact. First and foremost, Germany has had to rethink some fundamental tenets of its post-war foreign policy: a sense that prioritising peace in Europe meant prioritising peace with Russia no longer worked, and the idea that change could be achieved by trading with Russia has also been comprehensively discredited (posing some difficult questions for Germany’s policy towards China, too).  Germany has shown a willingness to send heavy weapons to Ukraine - it has exported arms in the past, but not with the expectation of them being used against Russia. The German-favoured division of labour amongst NATO members, where Germany was more engaged in diplomacy and economic support for nations in conflict rather than tasked with a harder military edge, has come to an end.  There remains debate, however, about the extent to which Germany has really had a rethink: the domestic opposition, and countries to Germany’s east, are sceptical about the extent to which the country has lived up to the expectations raised by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s “watershed moment” (Zeitenwende) speech in the federal parliament after war broke out. The crisis has also posed other challenges: to Germany’s economic model, arguably dependent upon cheap energy supplies from Russia; and on domestic political cohesion and indeed on keeping the ruling coalition together (with Scholz’s SPD more cautious towards Russia than his partners in the liberals and Greens). Lastly in the sphere of public opinion, the old divide between eastern and western Germany has been exacerbated, with easterners more sceptical about supporting Ukraine than their counterparts in the west. [post_title] => One year on: Rethinking Germany’s defence and foreign policy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => one-year-on-rethinking-germanys-defence-and-foreign-policy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-02-24 12:48:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-02-24 11:48:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5439 [post_author] => 33 [post_date] => 2021-01-14 16:58:11 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-01-14 15:58:11 [post_content] => This Friday and Saturday will see the twice-delayed Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) party conference finally take place virtually. On the Saturday a leader to replace Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (colloquially known as AKK) will be elected. AKK’s time as leader was not a happy one, and she stepped down after being unable to assert her authority over the CDU’s state party in Thuringia, where its parliamentarians had voted with the far-right Alternative for Germany on the choice of a new Minister President there. Yet since AKK stepped down, much has changed, making the conference unpredictable. Three candidates were quickly out of the blocks: Armin Laschet, the Minister President of North Rhine Westphalia, Norbert Röttgen, Chair of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and Friedrich Merz, one-time parliamentary leader of the CDU and AKK’s opponent in 2018, only losing very narrowly after a notably poor speech. Laschet was endorsed by AKK’s other opponent of 2018, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn. Yet since then, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the respective fortunes of the runners and riders. Laschet has had a pretty wretched crisis. His pressure to remove restrictions more quickly than Chancellor Merkel wished has not stood the test of time, blaming outbreaks in meat processing plants in his state on the Bulgarians and Romanians who worked there made him look nasty, and images of his mask dangling beneath his nose did little for his standing. By contrast, Spahn is reportedly kicking himself for tying his colours to Laschet’s mast, having cut an impressive figure as a minister during the crisis (at least until the start of the vaccination programme – on which the jury is still out), and become the CDU’s most popular politician apart from Merkel. Röttgen was a surprise entrant to the contest – his decision to stand often attributed to a desire to raise his profile and secure the job of Foreign Minister in a future government. But he has become a possible recipient of backing from CDU members who like the idea of continuing with Merkel’s centrist political positioning, but feel underwhelmed by Laschet. Merz – by virtue of not holding elected office – has had a low profile in the pandemic, and a policy platform of distancing the CDU from Merkel’s approach has lost attractiveness given her exceptional popularity at present. Commentators tend to say that whereas Merz has strong support amongst the party’s grassroots, Laschet will probably have more backing from delegates. But perhaps the digital format will mix things up here too, reducing in some way the pressure to vote along lines pre-agreed with the state party. It seems very likely that, whoever wins, there will not be a quick decision to install them as the chancellor candidate of the CDU/CSU for the next federal election in September 2021. The leader of the CSU (the Bavarian wing of German Christian Democracy, organised as a separate party but with a joint group with the CDU in the Bundestag), Bavarian Minister President Markus Söder, has had a pretty good crisis. He has consistently supported tougher restrictions and his popularity ratings put him behind Merkel, narrowly ahead of Spahn, and streets ahead of Armin Laschet. On the two occasions when the CSU has fielded the CDU/CSU’s chancellor candidate things have not gone well for them – the rhetoric needed to be a popular Bavarian Minister President, celebrating all things Bavarian and embracing conservative social values, tends not to go down so well outside the region. However, Söder has struck a more consensual tone, and has been at particular pains in recent months to emphasise his green credentials. Söder has not ruled out a run, and some interpreted his demotion of Bavaria’s health minister last week as a statement of intent. Jens Spahn has also not ruled out a tilt at the top job, and the Spiegel news magazine reported he had been taking soundings. Another dark horse to watch may be Ralph Brinkhaus, the CDU/CSU parliamentary leader. Oddly, there is no established process to agree a chancellor candidate. When the Bavarian Franz Josef Strauss was chosen in 1980 (fun fact – his opponent was Ernst Albrecht, father of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen), it was after a vote amongst CDU/CSU MPs. When Edmund Stoiber of the CSU claimed the role in 2002 ahead of Angela Merkel, it was by private agreement, famously over breakfast at Stoiber’s home. Party grandees are suggesting it will be important for the CDU to get two tough regional elections in mid-March out of the way before taking this decision. Both are difficult nuts for the party to crack, as the states in question, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate, are ones where the CDU should, on the basis of demographics, do well, but has underperformed and will face a job to displace the popular incumbents from the Greens and SPD respectively. Poor results in these states would make the choice of Spahn, Söder or even Brinkhaus more likely. Does all this matter? Absolutely it does. Given Germany’s position in the EU is as strong as ever (a point very powerfully demonstrated during its EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2020), the election of Merz would send a pretty strong message about the pace of fiscal consolidation that not only Germany, but also the rest of the EU, would expect to follow. The contenders also have very different instincts on foreign policy: Laschet is significantly more friendly to Russia than his two opponents are, for example. Merz’s views on climate policy are such that a coalition between the CDU/CSU and the Greens – by far the most likely outcome of the 2021 election – would be far harder to assemble. And of course, all this uncertainty reminds us just how big a void the departure of Angela Merkel from the political stage will leave. Image by Arno Mikkor under (CC). 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