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Germany

EU Elections Test German Government's Stamina

Germans go to the polls Sunday to elect the biggest bloc of deputies to the European Parliament. Although low voter turnout is expected, the outcome is being viewed as a litmus test for federal politics.

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24 parties compete for 99 seats in Germany's EU parliamentary bloc.

After three days of voting across the European Union, Germans got their chance on June 13 to cast a ballot for their country's 99 deputies to the European Parliament -- the biggest bloc of seats in the EU's expanded legislature comprised of 25 members. As in the rest of the Union, voter turnout is predicted to be low -- around 42 percent in Germany -- reflecting a general disinterest in politics made in Brussels.

Of the 63.6 million eligible voters in Germany, including about two million EU foreigners, those who do make their way to the polls are expected to send a message to Berlin's ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens.

Coming two years after the last federal elections, Sunday's vote is being viewed as a litmus test for national politics, especially since the mainstream parties' EU candidates are running on platforms coinciding with their national agenda. A lackluster campaign on European issues and a lack of understanding among the electorate about the EU as well as an absence of high-profile candidates have left many voters with little choice other than to follow federal party lines. According to opinion polls, such voting behavior will likely lead to sharp losses for the SPD, as voters demonstrate their dissatisfaction with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his party's inability to reduce unemployment and fire-up the euro zone's biggest economy.

A warning for the SPD?

The election is shaping up to be a mid-term referendum for the ruling party, and could result in the SPD gaining no more than 30 percent of the vote, far lower than the 38.5 percent that just barely allowed them to win the 2002 federal elections. The Social Democrats' top candidate is Martin Schulz, whose main claim to fame at home and abroad was his much-publicized dispute in the European Parliament with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi almost a year ago.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit

Green Party candidate for Europe: Daniel Cohn-Bendit

The junior coalition partners, the Greens, stand to fare better. They should get about 12 to 13 percent -- well above the 8.6 percent they generated in the last federal elections. This is partially enabled by the fact that their top candidate, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, is a well-known politician and the party's European platform has been relatively well publicized compared to the other parties.

The opposition conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU) is expected to pull in about 45 percent of the vote, despite the fact that none of the party's candidates are well known among the general public. Opposition politicians are interpreting the predicted win as a sign that Germans want a change in the nation's policies.

"People in Germany are extremely dissatisfied with the policies of the federal government," Bavarian premier and former opposition leader Edmund Stoiber said Sunday as he cast his vote.

State and communal elections

Sunday also brings a slew of local elections as people in Thuringia cast their ballot for the state parliament, and communal elections take place in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

In the eastern state of Thuringia, the results aren't expected to change much for the SPD, since the party is not in power anyway. Interest will focus primarily on whether the Christian Democrats can hold onto their absolute majority. If they lose it, they could be forced into an uncomfortable coalition with the Greens, which would be a first in Germany.

One possible outcome of the multiple elections is that turnout is likely to be higher for the EU elections in Thuringia and the six other states than it ordinarily would be. This was the case the last time Europeans elected their parliament in 1999.

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