Germany's highest court has scrapped the 3-percent threshold for the country's elections to the European parliament. Rightly so, says DW's Christoph Hasselbach: electoral hurdles are counterproductive.
Equal opportunities among political parties outweigh concerns about the possibility that the European Parliament may not function so efficiently. That, in a nutshell, is the reasoning behind the ruling announced by the Constitutional Court. When voters in Germany go to the polls in European elections in May, thresholds for parties will be a thing of the past.
As a consequence of the ruling, Germany's far-right NPD could enter the European Parliament. Along with the NPD, several other German parties which are quite skeptical of, if not downright opposed to, European integration and the policies designed to save the euro might also be represented in the European Parliament - a nightmare for large, established parties like the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD).
The newcomers, however, will hardly make a dent in the parliament' current political diversity; lawmakers from more than 160 parties are represented, and not all of them have joined ranks in parliamentary groups - fragmentation at its best!
No 'real' parliament
Concerns that the European Parliament may be on the brink of paralysis are unfounded. The court clearly distinguishes between German parliamentary elections and European elections. The judges justify a relatively high threshold of 5 percent to get into the Bundestag but they weren't willing to accept even 3 percent for European elections.
Why? Mainly because the European parliament, in contrast to the Bundestag, is not the basis for a government. Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament may have much more influence today than in the past, but it isn't nearly as significant as a national parliament. Die-hard Europeans lament that fact, but it's a reality. Of course, no one knows what the European institutions will look like 30 years down the road. The Constitutional Court concedes that, should the role of the European Parliament change in the future, restrictions might become necessary,. But at present, thresholds are not needed.
More political scope
The court speculates that Germany's established parties are more concerned about holding on to power than the welfare of the public - and it may be right about that. All the same, the established parties do have a point when they indicate that a number of populist lawmakers already rant against minorities or demand the abolition of European achievements like freedom of movement. Everything points to the likelihood that their number will increase after the upcoming European elections.
The political range in parliament will increase, debates will become more heated and passing laws will become more difficult. Several years ago, there was quite a broad political consensus in European policies; today, many citizens and lawmakers question issues that once were taken for granted. That is also a consequence of the crisis, and difficult to accept for those who see the concept of European unity under threat.
But restrictive clauses are only a superficial solution, perhaps even counterproductive. Voters who want to get back at "the politicians in Brussels" by casting their ballot for an extremist party will only feel more justified if it turns out that their vote didn't count anyway due to an electoral hurdle.
It may be inconvenient, but it's also essential to confront and argue with those holding extreme opinions - and what better venue is there for that than the European Parliament?