European Elections German Court Overturns 5 Percent Hurdle

Germany's highest court has ruled that the country's 5 percent hurdle, designed to stop small parties from entering parliament, is unconstitutional when applied to European elections. The judges argued that the presence of tiny parties will not harm the work of the European Parliament.

The Federal Constitutional Court judges announced their decision on Wednesday.
dapd

The Federal Constitutional Court judges announced their decision on Wednesday.


It was introduced after the war to help safeguard German democracy, but now the country's so-called 5 percent clause, which stipulates that political parties need to get at least 5 percent of the vote to be represented in parliament, has fallen foul of Germany's highest court.

On Wednesday, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the 5 percent hurdle was unconstitutional when applied to elections to the European Parliament. The 5 percent rule violated "the principles of electoral equality and equal opportunity for political parties," said court president Andreas Vosskuhle.

Under the principle of electoral equality, all votes should have the same influence on the election results and the composition of the parliament, Vosskuhle explained. The 5 percent hurdle violates that principle because votes for smaller parties that fail to reach the threshold have no influence on the final result, he said.

In its ruling, the court referred to structural differences between the European Parliament and the German parliament, or Bundestag, which meant that the hurdle was not needed on the European level. The European Parliament does not elect a government that is dependent on its continued support, the judges pointed out. In addition, the EU does not require the European Parliament to have a stable coalition with a majority in order to pass legislation. The judges said that there was no evidence that the European Parliament's work would be made unreasonably difficult by the presence of additional small parties.

Avoiding a Repeat of Weimar

But even though the court has ruled the 5 percent hurdle to be unconstitutional, Germany will not need to hold the 2009 European elections again. The judges said that repeating the election would probably have unforeseen consequences on the work of the European Parliament. In addition, only a small proportion of German representatives were affected by the hurdle.

The plaintiffs, constitutional law expert Hans Herbert von Arnim and two other voters, had argued that about 2.8 million German votes were ignored at the last European election because of the threshold. Among the German parties which were prevented from entering the European Parliament were the far-right Republicans, the Animal Rights Party and the Pirate Party, which campaigns for Internet freedoms, among other special-interest parties.

The 5 percent hurdle was introduced after World War II to avoid a proliferation of tiny parties entering parliament. That phenomenon was seen as one of the weaknesses of the Weimar Republic, when a number of small extremist parties were represented in the German parliament. Some historians have argued that the institutional flaw helped bring about the downfall of German democracy and made it easier for Adolf Hitler to seize power.

dgs -- with wire reports

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