Germany Karlsruhe court scraps EU vote threshold
Germany's top court has declared unconstitutional a rule requiring parties to win at least 3% of the vote to enter the European Parliament.
The government lowered the threshold from 5% last year but the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said the threshold should be abolished.
The ruling paves the way for several smaller parties including the far-right NPD to win seats in the May 2014 vote.
The party has often been accused of promoting neo-Nazi ideology.
The decision by the court opens the way for smaller parties to get seats in the European Parliament.
The far right National Democratic Party (NPD) which takes an extreme anti-immigrant stand often gets 1-2% of the total German vote.
This has been below the threshold to get any seats in the past but would now give it one or two members of the parliament there.
Leaders of the NPD have in the past said that having members in the European Parliament would allow it to unite with other European parties of the far right.
The far less extreme Alternative for Germany (AfD) which campaigns primarily against the euro is currently polling about 7% so the new threshold would not affect its chances of getting seats.
Germany has 96 seats in the new European Parliament. The next group of German MEPs is far more likely to be diverse - and much more likely to have people with extreme views.
Nineteen smaller parties, including the Free Voters, Pirates and Ecological Democratic Party, had argued that the 3% hurdle was unfair and in the interests of the larger parties.
But the main parties in the Bundestag insisted it was in order to prevent political fragmentation in the Brussels parliament.
Germany's national parliament maintains a 5% threshold, because of the fragmentation of parties during the pre-World War Two Weimar Republic which failed to stop Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
The lower 3% threshold was agreed by the Bundestag after the higher hurdle was struck down by the constitutional court at the end of 2011.
The court's judges ruled by a margin of five to three on Wednesday that a threshold was no longer necessary in order to "preserve the European Parliament's ability to function".
Most countries in the 28-member EU have no threshold at all, including the UK. But eight member states do.
Italy and Austria have a 4% threshold while Poland and France maintain a 5% hurdle.
The anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has been polling well above the threshold so is unlikely to have been affected by Tuesday's ruling.
If there had been no threshold in Germany at the last European elections, the Free Voters would have won two seats and the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) one seat. Single seats would have also gone to the Pirates and several other fringe groups such as the animal rights and pensioners parties.
Politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party criticised the ruling, with one member - Steffen Bilger - saying it weakened Germany's position in Europe.