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Ten key takeaways from the European Parliament election for Germany and Europe

Article by Dr Ed Turner

June 17, 2024

Ten key takeaways from the European Parliament election for Germany and Europe

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,

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