EU Commission President von der Leyen is sticking to her plan to work with right-wing forces in the European Parliament. Despite the Krah scandal, the AfD remains stable in polls. You can find all the voices and developments on the European elections here.

Friday, May 31, 3:31 a.m.: Nine days before the European elections, the Fridays for Future movement wants to demonstrate for climate protection and democracy on Friday. Protests are to take place in around 100 cities in Germany, the organization announced. Actions are planned in 13 other EU countries until July 7.

The movement is calling for an EU-wide phase-out of coal, oil and gas by 2035 and a doubling of investments in renewable energies and climate-neutral industries. The new EU Parliament must make a clear decision in favour of climate protection and democracy, said Frieda Egeling, spokeswoman for Fridays For Future Berlin in a statement.

Larger demonstrations and rallies are planned in Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate, as well as in Hamburg and Munich. 10,000 participants have registered in Berlin. 15,000 demonstrators are expected in Hamburg and 8,000 in Munich. With the upcoming protests, climate activists want to draw attention to the importance of the EU in tackling the climate crisis. In Germany, the European elections will take place on June 9.

Wednesday, May 29, 4:50 p.m.: The FDP’s top candidate for the European elections, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, has voiced sharp and very fundamental criticism of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s political style. “You can’t reach him because he’s a blatant know-it-all,” she told the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung” (Wednesday). “After three years, I’ve noticed that he has almost autistic traits, both in terms of his social contacts in politics and his inability to explain his actions to citizens.”

Strack-Zimmermann is currently chair of the Bundestag’s Defense Committee and a vocal advocate of extensive support for Ukraine in the war against Russia. In this context, she has repeatedly been noted for harsh criticism of Scholz, whom she has repeatedly accused of hesitation in supplying weapons to Kiev. The FDP defense expert now stressed that her criticism does not only relate to the Chancellor’s Ukraine policy. “This affects all issues and is also confirmed to me by his party colleagues.”

SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert rejected the criticism and accused Strack-Zimmermann of disrespect. “Those who have no arguments left verbally denigrate their political competitors. Ms. Strack-Zimmermann has long since become a method of attacking other opinions using strong language,” he told the “Rheinische Post” (Thursday). “Her disrespectful psychologization of the Chancellor is just the tip of the iceberg.” The FDP politician is running for a seat in the European Parliament. “If she behaves there in the same way as she has done in Germany so far, that will not be good for the reputation of the Federal Republic and our parliamentary culture,” said Kühnert.

The SPD’s top candidate for the European elections, Katarina Barley, sees Strack-Zimmermann’s comments as a “pathologisation of her competitor” Scholz. “This crosses a red line in democratic competition,” Barley told the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung”. She noticed “how balance and moderation are lost in the debate”. Barley said of Scholz that she was “glad that the Chancellor thinks before he decides and then acts prudently”. His calm manner is a virtue.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024, 4:10 p.m.: The SPD’s top candidate for the European elections on June 9, Katarina Barley, has complained about a “massive shift to the right” in the Council of the European Union. “It’s already here, nothing will change as a result of the European elections,” said Barley on Tuesday at the start of an election campaign tour through Bavaria in Munich. She cited countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Croatia as examples where right-wing conservative national governments have been formed, which can now exert a great deal of influence on the policies of the European Union via the Council of the EU.

“The shift to the right in the Council will continue in the Commission after the elections,” said Barley, as each country will send its representatives to the Commission regardless of the outcome of the European Parliament elections. The election is nevertheless extremely important: the Parliament is an equal legislative body in Europe and can form the only counterweight to the Council, which has shifted to the right.

After the opening concert in Munich, Barley will travel to Neufahrn on Tuesday and later to performances in Regensburg and Nuremberg.

5.19 p.m.: The Green Party’s top candidate for the European elections, Terry Reintke, has called on EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to rule out a possible coalition with right-wing conservatives. “Finally rule out working with right-wing authoritarians and right-wing extremists after these European elections!” Reintke demanded on Monday at a Green Party election campaign event in Frankfurt. The right-wing parties want to destroy the European Union, she warned.

Reintke called on her party’s supporters to fight for votes before the election. “This European election is about everything,” said Reintke. The upcoming election will decide how the European Union develops. Among other things, it will also involve the implementation of climate protection measures, which must be addressed in the next five years. This is also an important issue for Europe as a business location.

Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) also called on his party’s supporters to continue to work to mobilise voters. “This election will be decided by mobilisation,” said Habeck. Right-wing parties, whose aim is to destroy Europe, are fully mobilised. For Europe, the coming years will be about whether it becomes an active player on the global level, including in matters of economic policy, defence, the military and the arms industry. There were several pro-Palestinian interjections during Habeck’s speech.

There were also brief disruptions at a subsequent election campaign event in Kassel in northern Hesse. There, Habeck also stressed the importance of a united Europe. In the future, world politics will not be influenced by Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal. “And, to be honest, not by France and Germany either.” But together, Europe can make the difference. “Europe must move on. We need more Europe,” said Habeck.

Monday, May 27, 2024, 7:27 a.m.: Shortly before the European elections, concerns about Russian influence are growing again: There are cyberattacks on institutions in EU countries, pro-Russian Internet platforms are said to be spreading propaganda in the EU, and there is even talk of financial payments to European politicians. How great is the danger?

Lea Frühwirth is researching the topic of election manipulation at the Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy (CeMAS) in Berlin. According to her, Russia has been attracting attention for years with illegitimate influence – for example through disinformation campaigns with fake media sites that are spread via advertisements and inauthentic accounts.

EU elections as an expected target for attempts to influence

“The European Parliament elections at the beginning of June are an expected target for such attempts to influence,” she says. Typical examples include discrediting parties and politicians or sowing distrust in the legitimacy of the electoral process. But campaigns can also influence voters indirectly. Anyone who wants to undermine trust in democratic institutions can do so by suggesting that the population is inadequately protected.

According to the expert, Russia does not only interfere in elections. Such campaigns are more of a kind of background noise, says Frühwirth. On certain occasions or to further fuel polarizing debates, this increases again.

The best example of this is Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The East StratCom Task Force, which is part of the EU diplomatic service, reports that disinformation cases targeting Ukraine account for more than 40 percent of all cases in its database.

Who is behind disinformation is often unclear

For example, a video circulating on social media in mid-March 2024 shows a tank driving through the countryside with a blue flag – which looks a bit like the EU flag. This is supposedly in Russia near the Ukrainian border. As fact checkers from dpa have verified, the emblem on the flag in the video is reminiscent of the ring of stars on the EU banner – but actually belongs to the “Freedom of Russia” Legion, which is fighting on the side of Ukraine. It is not always possible to clearly determine who exactly such videos come from and who spreads them.

According to experts from the East StratCom Task Force, campaigns related to the war in Ukraine aim, among other things, to undermine European support for helping the attacked country with financial, military and humanitarian aid.

Cyber ​​attacks on the SPD

But Russian influence goes beyond disinformation campaigns. The Kremlin is repeatedly accused of being the mastermind of cyberattacks. “There can be various goals behind them, such as intercepting data, weakening critical infrastructure or having a communication effect,” explains researcher Frühwirth. Interventions in critical infrastructure would disrupt specific processes, but are also intended to embarrass the affected country and convey that the government is not in a position to protect its citizens.

In the case of cyber attacks on the SPD and German companies in the logistics, armaments, aerospace and IT services sectors some time ago, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock clearly named Russia as the perpetrator. “Russian state hackers have attacked Germany in cyberspace,” said the Green Party politician in May. The German government blames a unit of the Russian military intelligence service – APT28.

Germany is not the only country in Russia’s sights: According to the EU, other state institutions, agencies and facilities in the member states, including Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Sweden, have previously been attacked by the same “threat actor”.

Pro-Russian platform allegedly paid money to European politicians

A particularly prominent example of possible Russian influence is the Voice of Europe platform, based in Prague. It is suspected of spreading pro-Russian propaganda in the EU and paying money to European politicians. Interviews with AfD politician Petr Bystron and his party colleague Maximilian Krah were published on the portal. The Czech newspaper “Denik N” reported at the beginning of April that money may have been transferred in the Bystron case. The AfD member of the Bundestag has repeatedly denied this. Krah also denies having accepted money from anyone associated with Voice of Europe.

As a result of this and other reporting, the public prosecutor’s office in Munich had initiated so-called preliminary investigations in the Bystron case to check whether there was initial suspicion of criminal conduct involving bribery of members of parliament. According to dpa information, the investigations that have been initiated concern the allegations in connection with Voice of Europe.

EU blocks Voice of Europe

In the case of Voice of Europe, a broadcasting ban in the EU was decided in mid-May. In addition to the platform, three Russian media outlets were also blocked across the entire EU. The fact that the broadcasting ban came as part of a planned 14th package of sanctions against Russia is probably also due to concerns about influence before the European elections.

Researcher Frühwirth warns that attacks on the legitimacy of election results can also occur after the election and cause long-term problems. “The end of the election campaign does not have to be the end of attempts to influence the election.”

You can read more about the European elections on the following pages.