German far right gains as governing parties decline, but conservatives lead in European election

BERLIN — (AP) — Germany's unpopular governing parties sank to feeble results and the far-right Alternative for Germany made gains in Sunday's vote for the European Parliament, while the mainstream conservative opposition was the country's strongest political force by a distance, projections showed.

Projections for ARD and ZDF public television, based on exit polls and partial counting, showed support for Chancellor Olaf Scholz's center-left Social Democrats at around 14%, below the 15.8% they managed in 2019 — already their worst post-World War II result in a nationwide vote. After a campaign in which Scholz played a prominent role, the Social Democrats fell more than 10 points short of their showing in Germany's last national election in 2021.

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, was seen winning just over 16% of the vote for a probable second-place finish. That's better than its showing of 11% in 2019 but still some way short of its poll ratings at the beginning of the year. The party has seen a string of setbacks since then, including scandals surrounding its two lead candidates for the European Parliament.

The projections showed the environmentalist Greens, the second-biggest party in Scholz's coalition, falling from a peak of 20.5% five years ago to around 12%. Support for the pro-business Free Democrats, the third party in the quarrelsome government, was estimated at 5%. Both were significantly below their 2021 German election showings.

The center-right Union bloc, now the main opposition force, was projected to win around 30%. That's underwhelming by historical standards but in line with its 2019 result and better than its showing in the last national election. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is a member of the Christian Democratic Union, the dominant party in the two-party bloc, and said she was impressed by its showing.

Kevin Kühnert, the Social Democrats' general secretary, said that “this is a hard defeat for us today." He vowed that “we will come back, we will fight our way out of this."

AfD co-leader Tino Chrupalla told ARD that “the election campaign was certainly a bit bumpy, but we are used to headwind and so it just makes us stronger.” He argued that “constant media fire” against his party had no effect.

Pointing to three state elections in September in eastern regions where the party is strong, he said that “we want to win them and we will.” He and co-leader Alice Weidel skirted questions about the party’s lead candidates and their future.

Scholz's coalition government set out to modernize Germany but has gained a reputation for constant discord as the economy, Europe's biggest, struggles to generate growth.

Even as they campaigned, the coalition partners argued about how to put together a 2025 budget while adhering to Germany’s tight self-imposed rules on running up debt.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz celebrated the Union’s performance and called the projected results “a disaster” for the governing coalition, noting that most voters were influenced above all by domestic political considerations.

“It is in particular a serious defeat for the chancellor, who was on posters across the country” along with his party’s lead candidate for the European Parliament, Merz said. He described it as “the last warning” from voters before Germany's next national election, expected in the fall of 2025.

The projections showed the new BSW party taking about 6% of the vote. The BSW was founded by prominent opposition politician Sahra Wagenknecht and combines left-wing economic policy with a restrictive approach to migration and opposition to weapons supplies to Ukraine.

Germany has 96 of the 720 seats in the new European Parliament, the biggest number for a single country.

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