The German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled on Wednesday (26 February) that the 3% electoral threshold for German parties in the European elections was unconstitutional. EurActiv Germany reports.

The German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe has levelled the playing field for parties hoping to be elected to the European Parliament, ruling in favour of annuling the 3% threshold for entry.

The Court said in a press release, "under the current legal and factual circumstances, the serious interference with the principles of electoral equality and equal opportunities which the three-percent threshold entails cannot be justified".

Germany's lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag, signed off on the 3% threshold last June, after the German Constitutional Court ruled that the previous 5% minimum was unconstitutional. The election threshold denotes the minimum percentage of votes that a party must win in the European elections in Germany in order to earn a seat in the European Parliament.

Complaints in the case were filed by small groups like the Ecological Democratic Party (ÖDP), the Free Voters (Freie Wähler), the Pirate Party (die Piraten) and the Grey Panthers (Graue Panther), along with over 1,000 German citizens. With the threshold in place, it is more difficult for small parties to find willing and qualified candidates as well as to collect donations, they argue.

From 5% to zero

As a result Wednesday's verdict, the chances for small German parties in the upcoming European elections have grown greatly. But the Court also made it clear that, pending further developments "a different constitutional assessment may be warranted if the conditions change significantly."

For now, Germany has no threshold in place dictating a minimum percentage of votes for representation following this year's European elections.

At a hearing in December, presiding judge Andreas Voßkuhle addressed the reservations against the 3% threshold. There is far-reaching agreement, he said, that every threshold in a European election constitutes an interference in the equal opportunity of political parties.

Representatives from the Bundestag and the European Parliament, on the other hand, see the 3% threshold as a protectionary measure for political stability. A corresponding change to German election law was negotiated in the Bundestag in June.

The 5% threshold, which applied in the European elections in Germany thus far, was toppled in 2011 under the justification that it hurt the equal opportunity of parties.