A look at Germany′s splinter MEPs, one year on | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 25.05.2015
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A look at Germany's splinter MEPs, one year on

In 2014, Germany's highest court cleared the way for smaller parties to run for the European parliament. One year on, we're taking stock of this motley crew of lone-warriors, euroskeptics and a money-loving jokester.

Martin Sonneborn is an EU member of parliament (MEP) for Germany's Die Partei, translated simply as The Party. Most days he gets up late and goes to the European Parliament mainly to get his per diem and to watch other MEPs.

The journalist and satirist records his experiences in the well-known satirical magazine "Titanic," for which he is also the publisher. Sonneborn garnishes his comical depictions of the European parliament with fierce criticism of the right-leaning Alternative for Germany, which is also new to the legislative body. MEPs from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) don't escape his keen eye either. As he wrote of one particularly corpulent lawmaker in Brussels: "At the moment, he's eating half a pig with cream sauce."

Europaparlament in Straßburg Martin Sonneborn 01.07.2014

Sonneborn's motto: "For Europe, Anti-Europe"

The Party's website also documents his time spent as MEP, including the time he gave a local Berlin chapter a tour of parliament. The inspection trip ended on a boozy note.

According to Sonneborn's own information, he coaxes roughly 33,000 euros ($36,000) per month from the system in allowances, benefits, attendance fees, and travel expenses. And by doing so he continues to consistently deliver on his campaign promise he made last year as The Party candidate; namely, to get as much money from Strasbourg and Brussels as possible.

The parliamentary work itself has been abandoned. Sonneborn has spoken only two times during plenary sessions. He hasn't submitted any questions or overseen any bills. He belongs to the EU delegation for relations with the Korean Peninsula, but not to a parliamentary political group.

Sonneborn does participate in the voting process, but without knowing the issues, or as he puts it: "I just alternate between voting yes and no."

In any case, he still has time to pursue two more jobs that bring in up to 5,000 euros more a month, according to his income declaration on the EU parliament website.

Hard-working Pirate

Julia Reda, the sole MEP from the left-leaning Pirate Party, can appreciate Martin Sonneborn's way of working.

Deutschland Europawahlen Julia Reda Piraten Bayern

The Pirate Party MEP says she'd "do it all over again"

"He was elected under completely different pretenses, in order to approach the EU's political establishment with humor," Reda said.

But it couldn't hurt if he were present from time to time in order to get to know the absurdities of daily political life, the Pirate lawmaker added.

"Satire can do anything, except remain silent. I wish he would speak up more in the plenary meetings," she said.

Reda, who was already active in the Pirate Party as a student, takes her mandate more seriously. She works as rapporteur for the group of experts on the enforcement of intellectual property rights and has launched a project for data privacy in public administrations.

It's unusual that an inexperienced MEP, of all people, has overseen a bill. In Reda's own words, some EU lawmakers didn't take her seriously at first.

"They thought I was putting forward an impossible proposal. But my report showed that I made my recommendations for intellectual property rights that were both very concrete and were able to be implemented," she said, noting that it also helped her gain considerable respect in parliament.

Reda joined the Greens political faction, participates in sessions that last for hours and digs through records and proposals.

"It's fun. I would do it all over again," she said. "There's more work there than [hours in the day]."

Arne Gericke Europaabgeordneter der Familienpartei

Gericke likes to compare himself to the inconspicuous, but tough French comic book character Asterix

'My constituency is the whole of Germany'

One year after EU elections, Arne Gericke - also the only MEP from his party, the Family Party, is satisfied with his new life.

The German MEP doesn't see himself as a lone-warrior. He aligned himself with the euroskeptic conservative faction European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR). But, according to him, he can't always fulfill all of his party's expectations back home.

"My constituency is the whole of Germany," Gericke said, referring to the fact that his mini-party put forward only one MEP.

Family policy doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of the EU, Gericke admits, but he tries to accommodate family-friendly ideas wherever he can.

"I do this work with enthusiasm because it's fun. That's the bottom line. And being able to make a difference, that's the icing on the cake. That's how I get my validation [as a lawmaker]."

'Friend, foe, friend of the party'

An assessment of Hans-Olaf Henkel's year in EU politics isn't so positive in comparison. The former businessman and head of the Geman Industry Association (BDI) moved into parliament as a member of the euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD), along with six others. Of course, he hasn't been able to implement his plan of downsizing the administrative body by half.

Deutschland Rücktritt Hans-Olaf Henkel AfD

Henkel, like his fellow AfD members, wants less intereference from the EU in member states' affairs

"We haven't made any progress yet. It already requires all of our energy to hinder the European Commission and the European parliament from meddling in interests that EU member countries can administrate better [themselves]," he said with a smirk.

A lot of energy is also required for power struggles between the moderate and the ultraconservative wings of the AfD. The 75-year-old MEP, who wants to protect the euroskeptic party from an impending division, describes this with a sigh as unpleasant experiences, which he has had to make as a "young politician" in his old days.

"I always laughed at the progression from friend, to foe, to friend of the party. I thought it was a joke, but there's something to it, after all. And that's what I'm experiencing at the moment in the AfD," Henkel said.

He and his fellow AfD representatives have aligned themselves with the EU-skeptic conservative group. Henkel has even become the vice-chair of the faction, which he said he "had never dreamed of."

Relations with almost all of the German MEPs is very easy going, he added, noting that the AfD is perceived in a more relaxed fashion in Strasbourg than at home in Germany.

But the AfD lawmaker stresses that it is completely out of the question to be in contact with the "dreadful" representatives from the French right-wing populist party "National Front" - best known for the xenophobic remarks made by founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine - or with the British independence party UKIP.

"I've noticed that people notice us. We are probably the first party to come in here without any of our people having already been in politics. On the one hand, it shows through a certain amount of naivety. We had to learn a lot. But on the other hand, we put forward ideas that the others haven't even thought of."

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