By Stephanie Wolff
BERLIN, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Roughly 65 million eligible voters in Germany will soon have their say in who will be leading the next era of European politics. Germans can choose candidates from dozens of parties to fill the 96 out of 751 seats that Germany has in the European Parliament.
As Germans head to the polls on May 26, German politicians, industry and academia have been presenting their visions and hopes for the future direction of the European community.
MORE STABLE AND SOCIAL EUROPE
Amidst growing global economic turbulences, most German industry voices are calling for a stronger and more united Europe. The European Union (EU) elections "are a great opportunity for a reorientation of Europe", said Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW).
The community of European states must continue to grow together in order to "stop divergence and polarization", said the president of the German economic research institute. "More Europe" summarizes the DIW's vision for a "more stable and social" Europe.
The German Federation of Industries (BDI) and the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) have also been calling for "more Europe" as they presented a plan entitled "10 goals for a strong Europe".
The two German industry associations' support for a strong Europe was clearly mirrored in their main message. The German industry "is clearly committed to Europe. Europe is not the cause, but the solution to many problems".
As the umbrella organization of German industry and industry-related services, the BDI has placed particular emphasis on the economic benefits of Europe.
"The European Union is one of the strongest economies in the world. Europe is the home market for the German industry," president of the German Federation of Industries, Dieter Kempf, told Xinhua.
The basis for the EU's success and prosperity "is and remains the internal market", BDI president Kempf added. For this reason, the BDI and BDA called for the untapped potential of Europe's internal market to be "fully exploited".
BENEFITS OF EU MEMBERSHIP
The benefits of EU membership are also recognized by Germany's employee representatives, whose umbrella organization the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) has taken the position that "if the European Union did not exist, it would have to be invented".
Germany's two largest trade unions -- IG Metall and ver.di -- both members of the German trade union association, have each presented their similar visions for a more social and solidarity-based Europe.
"European unification is one of the greatest achievements of European history and has been shaping our coexistence for 70 years," said Joerg Hofmann, chairman of Germany's largest trade union IG Metall.
"The European Union has brought us enormous prosperity. And only as a strong community will we Europeans still be able to play a role in the global fabric of the future and defend our values," said Hofmann. The EU should be "a protective power in transformation, a protective power for the employed, a protective power that secures our social standards".
Germany's second largest trade union, ver.di shares this vision for Europe. The European elections should be about "improving the living conditions of people in Europe because we need priority for people, not priority for markets", Frank Bsirske, chairman of ver.di told Xinhua.
The ver.di chairman sees the upcoming elections as a choice between "those who want to go back to national limitations" and those "who want to orient themselves more towards togetherness and a greater social orientation".
Germany's major political parties mostly hold a positive view of the European Union as well, which is reflected in their European election campaign programs.
"We have much to thank Europe about," reads the opening line of Germany's ruling conservative union of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Democrats (CSU), which are, for the first time, participating in the European elections with a joint election program.
The conservative union CDU/CSU is also sharing a joint top candidate, Manfred Weber, who is simultaneously top candidate for the European People's Party (EPP), the European party of the Christian Democrats.
Europe should benefit everyone and offer opportunities to all, according to the German conservative parties, whose election program states that "our Europe leaves nobody behind".
MINIMUM EUROPEAN WAGE?
Katharina Barley, the top EU candidate for the German Social Democrats (SPD) and the German justice minister, did not believe this promise and criticized the German conservatives for "driving an economic Europe with low wages and fewer workers' rights".
"We must develop the European economic area into a social Europe. To this end, we need a minimum wage throughout Europe from which one can make a living," said the SPD top candidate.
The idea of a minimum European wage resonates with Germany's second largest trade union ver.di, whose chairman Frank Bsirske told Xinhua that "a European framework for statutory minimum wages" should be created.
The German Green Party has also called for a European minimum wage, as well as a series of other minimum standards including a Europe-wide pension scheme and care policy. The Green party's EU election program carries the title "renew Europe's promise" and stated that "the European Union can strengthen confidence in its democratic institutions. It can combat the climate crisis".
Both of the Green Party's joint top candidates, Ska Keller and Sven Giegold, are currently represented in the European Parliament and Keller is also a top candidate for the European Greens. As might be expected, the two politicians set off from Berlin on their nationwide election tour in an electric car.
Only looking at 7 percent of German voters' support, the German liberal party (FDP) opens its European election program by acknowledging that "the unity of Europe is the best thing that could have happened to all of us".
The German liberals want to intensify cooperation between the EU states in some core areas while reforming others, particularly voting rights for foreign policy decisions. The FDP's top candidate, Nicola Beer, has specifically called for a reform of the European Commission which is currently "too bloated, too immovable".
Germany's politicians may have big ideas about the future of the EU. These ideas, however, will only be as strong as the support they receive from the German population. With over 40 political parties to choose from, German voters are spoiled for choice in the EU elections.
Recent public opinion polls, however, suggest that many Germans are not quite as excited about the upcoming elections as some of the country's political parties.
According to a survey by the German public broadcaster ARD, only 53 percent of Germans are "interested" or even "very interested" in the upcoming European elections. Nonetheless, this is already a significant increase compared to the previous EU elections in 2014, when only 35 percent of Germans rated their interest this highly.
Over half of Germans have rated their country's EU membership positively in a study by the Forsa Institute and a recent Eurobarometer survey published by the European Parliament. The Eurobarometer survey found that as many as three out of four Germans viewed EU membership as a good thing, a figure that was well above the EU average.
At the same time, only a small minority of ten percent of Germans would vote for a "Dexit", a German withdrawal from the EU, according to the Eurobarometer survey.
In Germany, Dexit is mainly associated with the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which says in its European election program that Germany's withdrawal from the EU "will be inevitable if the European Union does not change radically in the foreseeable future". The AfD has been polling at around ten to eleven percent of the German vote.
The majority of Germans, however, is not prepared to leave their European family. Recent polls indicate that pro-European parties will likely gain a huge majority of the German vote in the EU elections.
According to the latest polls, the conservative union CDU/CSU is fluctuating at around 30 percent of the popular vote. The Green party comes in second place, tying with the Social Democrats and supported by around 19 percent of German voters.
It remains to be seen after May 26 whether Germans truly are in favor of more Europe.