German court nixes 3 percent hurdle for EU vote

AP News
Posted: Feb 26, 2014 6:35 AM

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's top court on Wednesday scrapped a requirement for parties to win at least 3 percent of the vote to get into the European Parliament, raising the likelihood that extremists could win seats in May's European election.

The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said the 3 percent hurdle was a "serious infringement" of parties' rights to be treated equally.

The decision means smaller parties such as Germany's far-right National Democratic Party could win seats in May's European Parliament elections. Germany is the European Union's most populous country and will have 96 lawmakers in the 751-member legislature, which is elected by proportional representation.

In Berlin, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that without the legal hurdle, it was now up to all of society to prevent extremists from getting elected.

Larger parties had argued the threshold prevents an unwieldy number of different groups in parliament.

There is a 5 percent threshold for elections to Germany's national parliament, a result of the country's experience during the Weimar Republic when a wide range of parties failed to prevent Adolf Hitler from coming to power.

That threshold is deemed necessary to ensure the formation and survival of stable German governments. However, the European Parliament, while it can approve, reject and amend legislation, does not form an EU administration.

One party that already looked likely to benefit from the lower threshold in the European election is Alternative for Germany, which advocates an end to the euro in its current form and fell just short of 5 percent support in last September's national election. In that vote, the National Democratic Party polled 1.3 percent.