Interview: MEP Rebecca Harms discusses Karlsruhe court decision and reaching social targets
Earlier this month, Germany’s Green Party spoke with Euroviews at their European election campaign launch. The party co-chairs, Rebecca Harms and Sven Giegold, were in Berlin on April 2 to announce the changes they hope to make in the European Parliament.
By Michelle Pucci
In 2009, the Greens won 12 per cent of the vote in Germany, securing 14 seats in Brussels. During the last European Parliament elections, parties in Germany were required to have at least 3 per cent of the total votes in order to be elected. Two months ago, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled against keeping the threshold, although a 5 per cent threshold still exists for federal elections.
The ruling will make it possible for smaller parties in Germany to elect MEPs with a little over 1 per cent of votes.
We spoke with Rebecca Harms, head of the Grüne, about possible consequences of the ruling, her view of Germany within Europe, and how she feels the EU should tackle social problems.
How will eliminating the threshold for parties to enter the European Parliament affect the upcoming elections?
REBECCA HARMS: Only for the European elections the Constitutional Court has now decided that having no threshold is more democratic for the European elections, and also for following the principle of “one man, one vote” in Germany concerning membership in the European parliament.
I was very disappointed with this decision of the Constitutional Court. My conclusions out of this decision is that in the European Union, we should have one common electoral law which really puts equal all citizens of the member states of the European Union. Now we have a very different situation, in some of the countries, especially in the smaller countries we have no threshold by law, but you have for example in Luxembourg, or Estonia or Latvia, you have so few members in the European Parliament, that the threshold is practically around 13-14 per cent to have only one member in the European Parliament.
How can this law help fringe parties within Germany gain seats in Brussels?
RH: Having no threshold means parties with a very small electorate can make it very easily to the European Parliament. This will be especially the case for parties like the NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands), the old extreme right party of Germany. Also, the AFD (Alternative für Deutschland) cannot be taken for granted with the delegation of the European Parliament. Leftist extreme parties could also make it easily, although from this side there is no danger for the German political scene.
My concern is not really to have one extremist be seen in the European Parliament. My concern is that based on the membership in the European Parliament, these parties can grow.
I really doubt the reasons given by the constitutional court of Germany for the decision against the threshold. If this is a very well thought through decision, then the same rules should be applied for the Bundestag.
You said these parties might grow, even if the number of MEPs is low. Do you think they will influence the way policies take shape?
RH: If you have a member in the European Parliament, if you have success in the elections, this contributes to a better overall situation of such a party. One success, one seat in the European Parliament, will strengthen the stories and influence around the right extremes.
How does your campaign differ from the platforms of parties like the AFD?
RH: I think for Germany it’s really a strange story, that a party can be successful only based on the idea that the euro and the EU are harmful for Germany. Germany as it is today, seen as a good nation, respected all over the world, has very much profited after all those harms we did to the rest of the world, especially on this continent, by the support of European nations, of the European idea. So all our success as a society, that we are so well respected today, our economic successes, are based on solidarity and support in and around the EU. For me the future of Germany is in Europe. It is really also in the responsibility for the development of the EU of changes in European policy, but not in abolishing the euro as a common currency, or the EU as a common political foundation.
One of your campaign posters features a young person, with the slogan “Europe, don’t forget your youth”. How is the party trying to encourage youth to participate in European politics or tackle issues facing youth?
RH: As the Green party, we are very much working on issues that guarantee not only well being today, but also well being and good prospects for future generations. The whole idea of sustainable development, we follow it across the whole bunch of political issues we are dealing with, not only environmental issues, but also social issues. For me it’s a core issue that the EU which guarantees more and more freedom, democracy and rule of law in more and more states on this continent, that this EU must also guarantee the prospects for good life, for decent life for everybody. During the years of the economic crisis of the common currency, Europe gave up on this. This is for me something we have to rebuild. Especially European youth must regain trust in the common European project and this starts for me with the idea that Europe must fix social targets which are binding across Europe, to close again the growing social gaps between the nations and also in the nations of Europe.
If you look right now to the south or the east of the EU you can see that the social state as we are used to it in Germany or Scandinavia or the Benelux, it’s not at all a reality in those countries. My idea on social targets is very much based on experience in other areas of European decision making. We have, for example, environmental targets. Why not agree that by 2020 we have, all over Europe, social security for people losing their jobs, social security for those who suffer from health problems? There is a common idea that pensioners also have the chance to decent life, [and youth should have] good access to universities, good prospects for employment. This is very much in doubt all over the south and east of Europe and we have to regain this trust. We can do it only by those targets.