No threshold for German MEPs

Apparently it is threshold day at F&V. While Israel may be raising its threshold, Germany will be dramatically lowering its. But only for its members of the European parliament (MEPs).

The Constitutional Court ruled in late February that the existing 3% threshold violated political parties’ rights to equal opportunities.

To the immediate question of why, then, the Bundestag (Germany’s elected chamber of the federal parliament) can have a 5% threshold–which was highly consequential in the most recent election–the Court has a ready answer: the role of the Bundestag is to sustain a government, and so limiting fragmentation is a valid interest. However, the European Parliament has no such role, and so it isn’t.

7 thoughts on “No threshold for German MEPs

  1. What is the natural threshold of the German electoral system? Since it is 99 seats, the threshold would be 1%. I don’t think it makes much difference if there is a threshold or not. Wouldn’t it be better to break it into smaller multi-member districts as that would increase the natural threshold though district magnitude?


    • The effective threshold should actually be lower, although it depends on the formula used. I suppose, in this case, it would be St. Lague. The effect of introducing districts would indeed have the effect of increasing the natural threshold, and I think it’s possible the German government will pursue this option if particularly unwholesome parties such as the NPD get elected (which seems likely). Would it be better? I’m not sure what you mean by that question. After the Constitutional Court’s ruling it would certainly seem like a more viable possibility than a threshold.


  2. I am confused by natural/effective threshold and legal threshold. Does it depend on how the seats are calculated if there is no legal threshold, but simply the district magnitude?

    I guess it does make a difference in Germany about the threshold. The EU election will shock and surprise many people.


    • The ‘final’ or ‘total’ effective threshold is whichever is higher. If a district, using D’hondt, has 19 seats, the effective threshold there is approx. 100/(seats+1)*0.7 –> in this case, 3.5%. If the legal threshold per district is 3%, (as in Spain), the final effective threshold in that district is 3,5%. If the legal threshold per district is 5% (Belgium), the final threshold in that district is 5%. However, legal threshold are often applied nationally, which means the effective district-level threshold may lose its meaning. For example, you could have a party running in just one district and capturing ALL the votes in that district; if the national legal threshold is 5%, and the total votes in that district are less than 5% of the national total, the party in question would still not be represented.


      • With Sainte-Laguë the effective threshold is around 0.5/M and with M=96 (and not 99), the threshold would be 0.52%

        I recalculated the 2009 and 2004 results (not to predict anything, but to check the effective threshold if M=96) and the last seat would have been awarded with 0.51-0.52% votes if Sainte-Laguë and 0.93-0.96% if D’Hondt

        If a formal threshold is ruled out, they can still:

        – change from Sainte-Laguë (now used) to D’Hondt … or does the Constitutional Court also have an opninion on Sainte-Laguë over D’Hondt?

        – carve up the country in districts … but they could not simply use the 16 Länder, because I suspect a high effective threshold caused by districting would not get past the Constitutional Court either.


      • That’s a very good question with regard to D’Hondt. I’ve often wondered why Germany and NZ have chosen for the most proportional formula (St Lague) instead of D’hondt.


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