German court dismisses EU election hurdle

Constitutional court rules against 3% hurdle for representation in European Parliament

The Constitutional Court’s  five-to-three ruling only applies in Germany, but could have a knock-on effect on the next European Parliament, where Germany fills 13 per cent of seats. Photograph: Uwe Anspach/EPA

The Constitutional Court’s five-to-three ruling only applies in Germany, but could have a knock-on effect on the next European Parliament, where Germany fills 13 per cent of seats. Photograph: Uwe Anspach/EPA

Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 01:00


Germany’s highest court has boosted the country’s nascent Eurosceptics by dismissing as unconstitutional a 3 per cent hurdle for representation in the European Parliament.

The constitutional court’s five-to-three ruling only applies in Germany, but could have a knock-on effect on the next European Parliament, where Germany fills 13 per cent of seats.

Germany introduced a 5 per cent support hurdle for entering the Bundestag in 1949 in answer to Weimar Republic chaos, where splinter and extremist groups crippled the democratic process. Last year, Berlin revised down the European Parliament hurdle to 3 per cent after a 5 per cent hurdle was struck out in 2011. The German government had argued that a splintered European Parliament, in particular one with more Eurosceptic or bailout critical MEPs, could make it difficult to find majorities and reach compromises with other EU institutions.


2011 ruling
The Karlsruhe judges insisted there had been no significant change to European politics since their 2011 ruling, meaning the new threshold “cannot be justified in terms of expected political and institutional developments . . . in the European Parliament during the next election period”.

“Every eligible voter’s vote must have the same value and the same legitimate chance of success,” said Dr Andreas Voßkuhle, president of the constitutional court in Karlsruhe. He noted that the effort to create parliamentary groupings at EU level similar to those at national level was “still in its infancy”.

“One also cannot simply assume that the traditional practice of forming flexible majorities in parliament would be significantly complicated by the election of new parliamentarians from smaller parties,” he added.

In a dissenting opinion Justice Peter Müller, former state leader of Saarland, said it was not the court’s place to second- guess the German legislature’s decision to impose a threshold. Abolishing it, he said, was equivalent to “accepting the risk of an impairment of the European Parliament’s functioning for the duration of at least one election period”.


Fewer seats
The ruling makes life difficult for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD). Though on course to score better results in May’s poll than in 2009, they could end up with fewer seats as parties that fell below the old threshold captured 10 per cent of the total vote.

German politicians reacted with alarm to the ruling, with Bavarian MEP Markus Ferber predicting a “weakening of European democracy”.

Some 19 smaller parties filed constitutional challenges to the new 3 per cent threshold. Alternative for Germany (AfD), already polling over 5 per cent ahead of the election, was enthusiastic about the boost.

“The court has prevented a further devaluation of German votes,” said leader Bernd Lucke.