As Europe votes for a new parliament, Germany’s Muslims turn their backs on mainstream politics

Lack of diversity, under-representation and an emboldened far right in Brussels mean many Muslim voters believe smaller parties address the problems that most matter to them

Many Muslims in Germany are not eligible to vote in the 2024 EU elections, but for those who can it’s smaller parties that are likely to win their ballot. Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

Voters across Europe will cast their ballots in the EU parliamentary elections from 6 – 9 June. The body, which plays a key role in EU policymaking, has to date leaned progressive and pro-European. However, polling suggests this election will see a sizable swing to the right with significant implications for EU policy on climate and immigration. 

Yet in Germany, the EU’s largest economy, the threat of the far right may not be driving Muslims to back the mainstream centre-left and liberal parties. In the days leading up to the election, many voters told Hyphen they planned to vote for smaller parties, disillusioned with mainstream politicians’ support for Israel’s war on Gaza and a perceived lack of real solutions to their most pressing problems, such as the housing and cost of living crises. 

At a pro-Palestine demonstration in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, Nour, an 18-year-old student and first time voter, shouted her slogans enthusiastically. “German politicians are all liars, robots and hypocrites! People think Germany is a democratic country but it’s not!” She plans to vote for the newly formed Democratic Alliance for Inclusion and Diversity (Dava), which some political commentators claim is an offshoot of Turkish president RecepTayyip Erdoğan’s AKP party — a claim Dava officials deny. “They don’t support Israel, they are pro-Palestine and they are against war,” Nour said.

In the weeks running up to the election, the atmosphere in Berlin has been tense. In late May, a video of wealthy Germans in a bar on the upmarket island resort of Sylt chanting “Foreigners out, Germany for the Germans!” went viral, sparking widespread condemnation. As Israel’s military operation in Gaza continues and the humanitarian crisis there deepens, the unwavering support of Israel by Germany’s mainstream political parties has prompted allegations of unfair repression of debate. Several police officers were filmed violently assaulting pro-Palestine protesters in Berlin’s Sonnenallee — the heart of the Arab community.

Nafis Habil is 53 and came to Germany from Gaza in 1988. He gained German citizenship around 20 years ago, giving him the right to vote in the country, and he has always backed the Green party, which is currently part of the country’s three-way coalition government. However, the Greens’ backing of Israel’s military operation in Palestine is forcing Habil to think again.“I’ve only just decided who I will vote for, and I think I’m going for MeRA25,” he said. 

Founded by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis in 2016, MeRA25 is a left-wing pan-political movement that is explicitly pro-Palestine and wants to reform the EU. Habil said he has been frustrated by German politicians playing on anti-immigrant narratives “to get votes” — not least the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, members of which were recently caught discussing a plan to “return migrants” and which is currently polling at 15% for the European parliament elections. 

Niels Spierings, professor of sociology at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said this support of smaller parties reflects a wider trend among Muslims in Europe, particularly in elections that use proportional representation (PR), such as for the EU parliament, allowing candidates with new and smaller parties to more easily win seats. 

PR also means that the parliament’s blocs — ideologically aligned groups of multinational MEPs — need to create coalitions to secure more influence over EU policymaking. The largest blocs currently — the centre-left S&D and centre-right EPP — are predicted to lose 73 seats between them in this week’s vote, leading to speculation as to whether EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will make a coalition with the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), led by Italy’s anti-immigrant prime minister Georgia Meloni.

Spierings said the threat for Muslims in this election is not directly from the extreme right, but rests upon centre right and left parties’ willingness to collaborate with them. Currently, EU anti-discrimination laws are a powerful force for equality in member states. A coalition including the ECR would see a rightward shift on immigration and anti-discrimination policymaking, which Spierings warned could see Muslims affected by harsher laws around such issues as family reunification. 


The EU parliamentary elections get underway on Thursday 6 June. By the time polls close on Sunday night up to 400 million people in 27 member states will have chosen their MEPs for the next five years. Here’s what you need to know about the far right’s expected surge, and what it could mean for Muslims in Europe. #EU #fyp #foryoupage #Europe #viral #politics #EUelections2024

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In Germany, while about 7% of its residents are Muslim, the country’s strict rules prohibiting dual citizenship — only recently reformed — mean many do not have the right to vote. Only half of the country’s largest and longest-established minority, the Turkish community, have citizenship and voting rights. For those who have arrived in the last decade from the Middle East and North Africa, the number of registered voters is even smaller. 

For these newcomers, Europe’s multiple elections can be confusing. Munza, who works in a bakery in Berlin’s Neukölln neighbourhood, arrived from Syria seven years ago and only recently learnt about the EU parliamentary elections at his local mosque. He does not have the right to vote, but if he did he said he would back a centrist party. “Anything is better than the AfD, which wants to send us home,” he said.  

Of the Muslims who are able to vote, some say they will not because they do not believe it will change anything. “I just used my vote once when I was 18, 10 years ago, and never voted again,” said one man in a Neukölln shisha bar, who did not want to give his name. 

This under-representation of Muslims in elections is a serious and worsening problem across Europe. Around 5% of EU residents are Muslim but many of the countries with the largest Muslim populations — including the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Spain — do not allow dual citizenship for naturalised foreigners. While around 10% of EU residents are people of colour, only around 4.3% of European parliament lawmakers (MEPs) are. There is no data on how many are Muslim. 

Cornelia Ernst, a German MEP for the left-wing Die Linke party and co-chair of the EU parliament’s intergroup on anti-racism and diversity, said the inability of many Muslims to vote contributes to a staggering lack of diversity in European politics. “[Political parties] do not have to take [Muslim] voters into account,” Ernst said. As a result, Islamophobia and anti-migrant messaging is increasingly slipping into the messaging of mainstream politics. She offers as an example legislation recently passed by the European parliament, and criticised by multiple human rights NGOs, that allows for the faster removal of migrants not found “eligible” to remain.

Political commentators predict that diversity in European institutions is likely to worsen after this election, as right-leaning parties tend to have fewer MEPs from ethnic minorities. The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) has warned that the failure of Brussels to reflect the continent’s diversity will result in more policies that fuel inequality. “Diversity is essential for shaping policies that reflect the needs and concerns of all segments of society,” it said in a statement.   

Mahmoud, a software engineer originally from Egypt, has lived in Germany for eight years. He’s been discussing the upcoming EU elections with his friend Mohammed, also originally from Egypt. Neither have the right to vote, but if they could both said they would back MeRA25. 

“I feel they are trying to create a new narrative; they can see that the current system isn’t working,” Mahmoud said. “It gives me a glimmer of hope that smaller parties like MeRA25 are popping up. It might show politicians that there are other ways to do things.” 

In a recent symbolic election in Berlin’s central Mitte district, involving those without the right to vote, MeRA25 won 30% of the ballot. The centre-left SPD — the largest party in Germany’s federal parliament and national coalition government — came in second, with 15%. In previous symbolic elections in 2019 and 2021, the mainstream SPD, CDU and Green parties dominated the top three positions. 

But while it may have the support of a growing number of migrants in the capital, MeRA25 is polling in very small numbers across Germany. In rural areas, where the AfD enjoys high levels of support, Muslim voters are nervous. 

Kinza Saleem, 27, originally from Pakistan, is studying a master’s degree in communications at the University of Erfurt in Thuringia, where in local elections on 26 May, the centre-right CDU won the largest vote share and the AfD came second. The region is expected to vote similarly in the EU elections. Saleem is now reconsidering if she wants to stay in the state — or even the country — after she graduates. “All the CDU posters were about ‘securitisation’ and the AfD’s were just openly Islamophobic and racist. There were slogans such as ‘there could be a school here instead of more refugee housing’. Here they openly campaign on a fear of migrants,” she said. 

If she were eligible to vote, Saleem would also back MeRA25, as would many of her friends. “It’s not just because they’re pro-Palestine,” she said. “I also really like their green transition plan, it’s very comprehensive. I feel like they actually have a plan and aren’t just trying to get a populist pro-Palestine vote.”

Currently, MeRA25 stands to gain one or two MEPs, which according to Spierings is not enough to wield much influence. “They might however provide an additional voice in the European parliament or challenge the centre-left and liberal parties,” he said.

If, as the pollsters and analysts predict, the next European parliament does become a platform for an emboldened far right, in Berlin, software engineer Mahmoud has a simple solution. “I would just pack my bags and leave,” he said.  “It would be the Germans who would be stuck here with them.”

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