Voters' fears dominate German EU election campaign (2024)

Fears surrounding war, social security, and the far right have dominated Germany’s EU election campaign, as parties – with an eye to national elections – uniformly tried to position themselves as anchors of stability.

Crises that have marked the last four years are expected to weigh heavily on voters’ minds as they head to the polls, the national vote first in Europe’s most populous country since Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Economic uncertainty and the rising cost of living, defence and international conflicts and migration are key issues throughout Europe. This was also the case [during the campaign] in Germany,” Luise Quaritsch, a European politics expert at the Jacques Delors Centre think tank, told Euractiv.

“In the final weeks before the election, mobilisation against the far-right (…) was also a major topic,” she added.

Germans have been hit particularly abruptly by the new post-invasion reality after years of comparative stability and prosperity, which relied partly on embracing cheap Russian energy while investment into security took a backseat.

Two years later, the new era (‘Zeitenwende’) that Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD/S&D) famously declared after the invasion manifested in novel and painful consequences for many Germans, including a cost-of-living crisis and fear of war, which might even see conscription being reintroduced.

This was aggravated by a resurgence of migration, war in the Middle East, and the rise of the far-right AfD party, stoking fears about the future of democracy afterattackson the campaign trail.

In line with that, existential concerns about global peace, social security, and migration will determine the choices of two-thirds of German voters, as a recent pollindicated.

Peace, security, and little controversy

German parties have responded by offering remarkably uniform messages of reassurance in a campaign that saw few controversies, notwithstanding scandals surrounding the AfD, Quaritsch observed.

“Almost all parties deal with the topic of [preserving] ‘peace’ and ‘security’,” she said.

The contrast to the previous campaign is evident in the Greens, a junior partner in Germany’s three-way coalition government, who took second place in the 2019 EU election with an optimistic, change-embracing message.

German voters browsing YouTube might encounter a campaign ad in which Green lead candidate Terry Reintke tells viewers that “our world is changing, and that worries many people.”

Voters' fears dominate German EU election campaign (1)

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The centre-right CDU (EPP), the largest opposition party, has chimed in with a campaign centred around ‘freedom’, ‘security’, and ‘prosperity’, while the liberal FDP (Renew), the second junior partner, banks on defence expert Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann as lead candidate.

The theme of protecting peace was also notably adopted by the centre-left SPD of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, though with a twist:

As the chancellor has taken a hesitant stance on weapon deliveries to Ukraine, media have speculated that the SPD is looking to position itself as the party of a level-headed leader who prevents Germany from being dragged into a war.

Von der Leyen’s cameo

These intentions possibly go beyond the European elections, as national elections are coming up next year, Quaritsch noted.

“Most parties wanted to use the European election campaign to position themselves for the Bundestag elections,” she argued, adding that the parties otherwise showed “little engagement.”

Strikingly, election posters did not only feature EU lead candidates- Scholz, the Greens’ Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock all appeared prominently.

The CDU only started showcasing its lead candidate, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, two weeks before the election – alongside party leader Friedrich Merz, hoping to become the next chancellor.

The rise and fall

While some European topics played a prominent role, the polls reflect national trends.

Germany’s unpopular government coalition, consisting of the SPD, Greens, and liberal FDP, has fallen to 33% collectively, while the CDU leads the field at around 30%.

Following a series of scandals, the sudden rise of the far-right AfD was slowed, even though it remains a contender for taking second place behind the CDU at 15%.

Overall, the far-right still stands to gain slightly vis-à-vis 2019, while the Greens could lose up to a third of their seats – despite adapted messaging and a last-minute campaign blitz.

Given the larger number of seats allocated to Germany, those results would also be a main driver of projected similar developments in the European Parliament, Quaritsch said.

[Edited by Oliver Noyan/Alice Taylor]

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Voters' fears dominate German EU election campaign (2024)

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