Fragmented Germany: An analysis of the European Elections 2024

The 2024 European Parliament elections highlight Germany’s deepening social and political fragmentation, with the AfD emerging as the second-strongest party. This article explores the historical context, rising extremism, and societal divisions, concluding with a call to reinforce democratic values, enhance social cohesion, and counter-extremism for a more united future.


The results of the elections of the European Parliament 2024 show that the social fragmentation Germany has been experiencing for years has made its way into the political landscape. The AfD (‘Alternative for Germany’) has become the second strongest force, overhauling the party of the Social Democrats (SPD) (European Parliament 2024). After months of mass protests against right-wing extremism on German streets (Tagesschau 2024a) and court trials that confirm that the AfD is suspected of right-wing extremism (Jeske et al. 2024), this election certainly shows how fragmented German society is at the moment. 

Election results of the European election 2024

In Germany, the conservative parties of CDU/CSU are clearly the winners of the European elections, with around twice as many votes as the second-placed party, the AfD. Interestingly, the AfD, the SPD (Social Democrats), and Bündnis90/Die Grünen (Green Party) only differ by 1.5-2 percentage points each in their votes. Also, other parties reached very similar shares of the votes. In total, 11 parties got more than 1 % of the votes (European Parliament 2024). This shows how fragmented German voters are. How can this political fragmentation be explained? Let’s take a step back and look at Germany’s civil society.

Drifting apart: Social fragmentation in Germany

Humans are social beings. Having social relations with the people of our surroundings is therefore crucial for humans in order to feel content. In an ideal society, humans deal with each other based on respect to reach the best possible circumstances for society. “Therefore, personal interests can never surpass the community’s needs” (Erdmann 2024a). Unfortunately, citizens of a country usually strongly disagree on what is best for the community. While most, maybe all, individuals of a group might agree on peace is the best option for the community, what this “peace” would look like may be different to each individual (Erdmann 2024b).

German society has arguably been fragmented for decades. Looking at historical events like the separation of Germany and its reunion in the 1990s, the divide between West Germany and East Germany is still noticeable today (Regev 2020). There are many attempts at explaining the economic disadvantage of the Eastern part of Germany, which is evident even three decades after Germany’s reunion. Stereotypes about people from East Germany are still present in German civil society. One especially relevant stereotype is the tendency of East Germans towards extremism, be it left-wing or right-wing extremism. 

Looking at empirical data, however, this stereotype cannot be supported (Högele 2019). However, may it be due to distorted media coverage or a different form of right-wing extremism, East Germany seems to be in the news more often due to topics related to right-wing extremism. In the new federal states (former federal states of East Germany) the PEGIDA movement evolved and has been holding regular protests since the arrival of many Syrian refugees in 2015 (PEGIDA w.D.). An attack on a synagogue by a right-wing extremist, in which two people were killed, happened also in East Germany (bpb 2020). However, there are also signs of racism and other right-wing tendencies noticeable in the Western parts of Germany. In May, a video of young adults partying and chanting racist slogans on Sylt, the ‘island of the rich’, went viral on Social Media (Tagesschau 2024b), just to mention one example. 

The question arises: Where does this radicalisation come from? While right-wing extremism has a long history in Germany, for many decades, right-wing extremism seemed to have been a marginal appearance only. Maybe the most prominent example is the murder series of the NSU, a Neonazi-Trio that killed ten people over the course of more than a decade (Radke 2013). For some years, however, extreme right-wing beliefs and patterns of racism and antisemitism like the above-mentioned incidents have made their way more and more into the midst of society. This radicalisation can have several reasons. 

Maybe, these beliefs have been there the whole time and they only now surface because of new media types like Social Media. But that can hardly suffice as a full explanation. Radicalisation seems to be rooted in “profound discontent and scepticism at a fundamental level towards their political system” (Erdmann 2024b). Political fragmentation as shown in the European elections is thus rooted in social fragmentation. What does this fragmentation mean for the political landscape?

Political Fragmentation in Germany

Compared to other nations, Germany has always been politically more fragmented than most other nations, which rely on a two-party system. Even in the beginning of the Federal Republic of Germany, at least three parties did have political power: The CDU/CSU as the conservative camp, the SPD, as the social-democratic camp, and the FDP (Liberal party). A few decades later, Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen (Green party) and DIE LINKE (The left) joined. For a long time, four or five parties were represented in the German parliament. Since 2017, with the AfD moving into parliament for the first time, the fractions of six parties have been forming the Bundestag (Bundestag w.D.). Another trend can be noticed: the vote totals of the individual parties are converging in some cases, blurring the boundaries between the people’s party and the clientele parties. This can at least be noticed with votes of CDU/CSU (with exceptions), SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and the AfD. 

Looking at the AfD, we can see the above-mentioned loss of confidence in the political system. Analysing statements, a populist speech pattern which uses racism, and other forms of discrimination can be detected. In the election campaign of the AfD for the German Parliament, the slogan was “Deutschland, aber normal” (‘Germany, but normal’; AFD TV 2021). Traditional life concepts and “safe”, as in highly regulated or closed, borders are at the centre of the campaign video. The AfD’s election programme in the European elections was even clearer: there was talk of the “Festung Europa” (‘Fortress Europe’). The critical examination of the colonial era is also not desired by the AfD, as this would fuel “antiweißen Affekt” (‘anti-white sentiments’; AfD 2023). Traditional gender roles as well as the family of husband, wife and children are to be preferred to other life concepts. 

Democracy: living with different ideologies

Living in a democracy means that every voter has the right to vote for whatever party they want. If we dismiss this fundamental right, we no longer believe in the basis of democracy. However, the electoral victory of the AfD in the European election of 2024 still harbours dangers that need to be addressed. First, the tone in politics has changed very much. Campaign posters no longer entail the goals of the respective party but in the last election campaign, many campaign posters were used to differentiate itself from other parties. This was also very much the case with the democratic parties. The ÖPD, a minor party, used the slogan “Alternative ohne rechts” (‘alternative but not right-wing’; ÖDP 2024), using the rhetoric of the AfD. 

Blaming this trend on the rise of populism is too simplistic, however, it may play an important role. Second, aligning with the post-factual age, scandals around AfD politicians did not matter to AfD voters. Even though an employee of one of the prime candidates was suspected of being a Chinese spy and the other prime candidate was suspected of being involved in illegal activities, the AfD came out much stronger than anticipated in the elections (Pfeffer & Schmidt 2024). This may be due to the AfD, which presents itself as a victim of the media, or, as can also be seen with Trump (Murray 2024), facts about the criminal behaviour of politicians no longer influence the voting decisions of the clientele. 

This points to a blatant social divide, as people no longer recognise the same rules for social and communal life. Last, but not least, slogans of the AfD and other right-wing parties can lead to people in Germany being put into an unsafe position. When a political party openly makes racist and other discriminatory statements or puts according contents into their electoral programme, then it can also lead to individuals with the same views seeing their opinions reinforced and legitimised and behaving accordingly. In the last decade alone, the number of annual offences motivated by right-wing extremism has climbed from 16,557 offences in 2013 to 25,660 in 2023 (BMI 2024). This makes more than 60 % of politically motivated offenses. 

What to do now

The election victory of the AfD in the European elections shows that the AfD and its ideology are an integral part of the German political landscape and an expression of a profound social divide in Germany. Speaking up against right-wing extremism will not be enough anymore, rather, we need to address the underlying social dilemmas of people drawn to right-wing extremism to rebuild trust in the state and democracy. Political Education, a more targeted welfare state and integration processes of people who feel left behind by politics are crucial to achieve this goal. Of course, this will not erase right-wing extremism as extremism is a part of democracy as well. However, the general public should be united to a certain degree so that extremism will be a marginal appearance only. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort from all sectors of society. By reinforcing democratic values, enhancing social cohesion, countering extremism, ensuring media responsibility, promoting political accountability, and encouraging civic engagement, Germany can work towards a more united and stable future.


Natalie Koppenhöfer

WMO Membership Level: Intern. I hold a Bachelor's degree in Politics, Administration, and International Relations, with my thesis focused on food security in Europe. My academic interests include social inequality (within democracies), memory policy, and the critical examination of food security issues. Additionally, I am intrigued by the dynamics between the North and South regions, exploring the challenges arising from regional asymmetries. My interest in becoming a part of WMO is rooted in a dedication to fostering a more inclusive and culturally aware approach to conflict resolution. Recognizing the need to overcome Eurocentrism and Western-centric ideologies in mediation, I aspire to contribute by promoting diverse perspectives within the organization's initiatives. My vision is to work collaboratively within the WMO framework to advance a more inclusive and globally relevant understanding of effective conflict resolution practices.

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