European Election: Far-right advances in Germany as coalition parties lose out

Alternative für Deutschland set to finish in second place with 17 seats in parliament

Germany’s European Election results saw nearly every fourth voter choose populist parties on the right and left fringes, with losses for all three parties in the coalition of chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) finished up nearly six points in second place, according to early projections, with 16.5 per cent and 17 seats in the new parliament.

Meanwhile, the new Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW), a breakaway from the Linke (Left) with pro-Russian and anti-immigration policies, took 5.5 per cent from a standing start to take five seats.

Some 22 per cent support for populist parties sent an alarming signal to Germany’s established parties, given AfD and BSW performed even stronger in eastern regions where voters choose new state parliaments in September.

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The results mean considerable changes in the 96 German seats, the largest country bloc in the European Parliament.

Among Berlin’s warring three-party “traffic light” coalition, losses were most dramatic among the Green Party: it dropped by nearly nine points and could shed up to nine seats in the new parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPD) of Mr Scholz was down nearly two points to 14 per cent – a record low for the party. The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) remained steady with 6 per cent and possibly six seats in forecasts.

With a near-record turnout of 64 per cent, Germany’s lack of a hurdle for representation meant smaller parties secured almost 11 per cent in total on Sunday, one and two seats each.

Finishing in first place with nearly 30 per cent in exit polls and 23 seats was, as expected, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU).

A year before Germany’s next federal election, due in September 2025, CDU officials upped the pressure by suggesting the result raised serious questions about Berlin’s ruling coalition.

“If a chancellor party in Germany has 14 per cent, and the chancellor’s face is on election posters around the country, you have to ask the question whether the chancellor has the legitimacy to lead,” said Carsten Linnemann, CDU general secretary.

His SPD opposite number Kevin Kühnert conceded that finishing in third place was a “bitter result that can’t be talked up”. Green Party co-leader Ricard Lang was equally downbeat, saying “no one can be happy with this result”.

SPD lead candidate Katharina Barley said on Sunday evening it “remained to be seen” whether her socialist bloc would support Ursula von der Leyen as commission president.

Both big winners of the evening – AfD and BSW – said voters were clearly seeking a “different Europe”. AfD leader Alice Weidel said voters have “becoming considerably more critical” towards the EU.

“Europe in general stinks to them, with so much bureaucracy from Brussels interfering in their lives,” she said.

Meanwhile BSW front woman Sahra Wagenknecht said voters were drawn to her party’s demand for a shift in the EU member state support for Ukraine in its battle against Russia.

“I find it very dangerous what is happening and many people are worried the war will come to us,” she said. “We have to get out of this spiral, we need diplomatic initiatives.”

Early analysis of the BSW’s first election outing showed the alliance pulling in votes from all other parties, in particular the SPD, Greens and Linke.

As Germany contributes to a European slump for centre-left parties in the new parliament, Sunday’s result could ramp up further tensions in Berlin’s three-way coalition.

Cracks are widening ahead of an early July budget deadline: SPD and Green ministers are determined to retain their spending plans while liberal FDP finance minister Christian Lindner is demanding huge cuts to balance his books.

Another striking far-right success in central Europe came in neighbouring Austria, where the opposite Freedom Party (FPÖ) finished in first place with 27 per cent, early exit polls show.

A premiere in postwar Austria, the populist party secured a three-point lead ahead of the ruling conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), which suffered heavy losses.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk shrugged off populist gains elsewhere to secure another election win for his centrist liberal coalition.

“We have shown that we are a beacon of hope for Europe,” he told supporters after the exit poll results were announced. “Poland has shown that democracy triumphs here.”

According to the Ipsos exit poll, Mr Tusk’s KO alliance won 38.2 per cent of votes, ahead of the conservative PiS with 33.9 per cent.

If confirmed in the final result, Sunday’s election would be the first time the EU-critical PiS has not topped the poll.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin