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For German voters, immigration is main issue in EU elections

May 3, 2024

Campaigning for June's European Parliament elections has begun. According to the latest survey, German voters are showing little interest.

Billboards showing CDU and SPD election posters
Campaigning for the European Parliament election in June is underwayImage: Rina Goldenberg/DW

Germany's federal government stands divided — once again. And the reason is money. The cabinet needs to agree on its proposal for the 2025 budget, before submitting it to the parliament, the Bundestag, for debate after the summer recess.

However, things are being held up as the center-left coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Green Party and the business-oriented Free Democrats (FDP) fundamentally disagree over where savings can and should be made.

In Germany, the federal government and the 16 federal states are obliged to balance their books. The federal government is practically prohibited from taking out loans that exceed 0.35% of economic output in total. This so-called debt brake, enshrined in the constitution, is upheld and protected by Finance Minister Christian Lindner and his FDP party. The SPD and the Greens, however, argue that in times of crisis, the state has to borrow more to be able to invest.

A majority of Germans want spending discipline

Pollster infratest-dimap conducted its monthly "Deutschlandtrend" survey of 1280 eligible voters this week and found that 54% of respondents want to keep the "debt brake" unchanged. 40% percent would like to see the provision reformed.

If the "debt brake" is upheld, the ministries will have to cut back their spending plans by around €30 billion ($32.2 billion) according to latest estimates.

The pollsters asked voters how they would like priorities to be set. The answers reveal that voters find it difficult to agree on where government spending should be cut. Public spending on refugees and welfare payments for the long-term unemployed — known as citizens' income (Bürgergeld) — are areas where almost half of all respondents favored a reduction. In terns of healthcare and care for the elderly as well as family policy, most respondents would like to see spending increase.

The smallest party in the government, the FDP, is strictly opposed to increasing social benefits. Their support has plummeted since the 2021 federal election, meaning they may not even pass the 5% threshold needed for parliamentary representation next year.

The center-right bloc of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) continue to have the strongest voter support and are polling at 31%. The Social Democrats and the Greens are on level pegging at 15%. The far-right populist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) garners 18% support. The party has seen support erode across the country in recent months. This is attributed to two factors: the emergence of the Alliance Sarah Wagenknecht (BSW) as a populist alternative, but also the scandals surrounding the AfD's top candidates for the European Parliament elections and their ties to Russia and China.

The AfD's top candidate for the European Parliament elections on June 9 is Maximilian Krah. He has been accused of accepting money from Russia and China, which affected his voting behavior. A close associate of his was recently arrested and charging with working for the Chinese Secret Service and Krah is also under investigation. In the Deutschlandtrend survey, seven out of ten respondents say the AfD should reconsider its stance on Russia and China.

A majority of AfD supporters, however, see no reason for their party to reposition itself. Instead, three out of four AfD supporters think the overall response to the lawmakers' actions has been exaggerated.

Hardly any interest in the European Parliament vote

According to the survey, the AfD is polling at 15% for the European Parliament election. The conservative CDU/CSU could expect moderate gains, all the other parties are likely to see losses. The Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW) could expect to win 7% voter support in their first-ever election. Its founder, Sahra Wagenknecht, left the post-communist Left Party in 2024 to found her grouping that blends left-leaning economic policies with conservative migration and pro-Russian foreign policy initiatives.

Although half of all voters surveyed say they are very interested in the European Parliament election, the other half say they have little or no interest at all. Interest in this EP election is even lower than in 2019, when voter turnout in Germany was a meager 61.4%. This falls far short of the 76.6% voter turnout for the country's 2021 general election.

EU policies seem to be failing to meet German voter expectations. Two-thirds of respondents said they are "rather dissatisfied" with EU policies. Supporters of the AfD and BSW are particularly critical, while SPD and Green Party supporters are the most satisfied with EU policy decisions.

Forty-one percent of respondents said that immigration, asylum, and integration policies pose the biggest challenge to the EU. Fifty-one percent see deals with countries outside the bloc as a way to reduce the number of refugee arrivals to Europe. The EU is currently negotiating such agreements with Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia. The countries have been promised substantial EU funding in return for preventing refugees from traveling on to the EU.

Overall, respondents to the May Deutschlandtrend survey see international conflicts (34%), environmental and climate protection (21%) and the economy (20%) as the other issues on the list of the EU's most pressing problems.

This article was originally written in German.

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