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This picture shows the blue and yellow flag of the European Union representing the upcoming European elections.
27 May 2024

European elections and digital policy: German party positions

From the 6th to the 9th of June 2024, the tenth European Parliament elections will take place. To what extent are German parties addressing digital policy? This blog post analyses the election programmes of the parties represented in the Bundestag and examines where and in what contexts digital issues appear. From the SPD’s call for a “Digital Union” to the AfD’s populist rhetoric around the rejection of a digital euro, parties prioritise different aspects of digital policy. What does this mean for Europe’s digital future, especially in light of a potential shift to the right in the Parliament?

How are the European elections and digital policy connected?

From 6 to 9 June, the European parliament will be elected for the tenth time. On 9 June, over 64 million eligible voters in Germany will be able to decide which German parties will enter the European Parliament (Bundeswahlleiterin, 2024). This blog post examines how the parties represented in the German parliament position themselves on digital policy. 

Digital policy is a cross-cutting issue that encompasses different areas and technologies, such as data protection, security or artificial intelligence (AI). This issue is rather new and not fully politicised (Haunss & Hofmann, 2015). German party manifestos at the federal level are increasingly mentioning digital policy, especially compared to other countries (König, 2018; König & Wenzelburger, 2019). But how about the European level? This question is particularly relevant as digital policy has also been frequently discussed at the European level in recent parliamentary terms: For example, the EU AI Act and the Digital Services Act were recently discussed, and the EU Commissioner for Digital Margarete Vestager frequently made headlines with her calls to regulate large digital companies. 

Between a “digital union” and the General Data Protection Regulation: Overview of the parties

To find out more about the politicisation of digital policy in the upcoming European elections, this blog post takes a look at the election manifestos of the parties represented in the German Bundestag. Where available, chapters and subchapters on digital policy were included and a keyword search identified digital policy issues appearing elsewhere in the manifestos. This analysis does not constitute a voting recommendation, but rather identifies some special features of the respective party priorities.

SPD: Emphasising the “digital union”

The social democrats dedicate a separate chapter to digital policy titled “digitalisation for the human” alongside other mentions of the topic in different chapters. The SPD calls for the realisation of a “digital union” (SPD, 2024, p. 15). This term is interesting as it emphasises the importance of digital policy for the EU in a similar way to other terms highlighting the EU’s features, such as “economic union” or “value union”. AI is also framed as European, as the SPD demands that the development and use of AI must follow undefined “European values” (SPD, 2024, p. 17). In line with the SPD’s thematic priorities, the topics of digitalisation and AI also appear in the context of work and employees’ rights. The regulation of digital platform companies should first be evaluated and then possibly improved, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) should be “further developed”, e.g. by reducing bureaucracy (SPD, 2024, p. 15). 

CDU/CSU: Digital policy in the context of economy and security policy

The conservative union parties cover digital policy in a sub-chapter, alongside research and innovation issues. Digital policy is also a topic in other parts of the election programme, and is particularly frequently linked to economy, security, or crime issues. CDU/CSU deal with digital policy against the background of regulation and innovation: Their understanding of technology relies on perceiving regulation and innovation as opposing poles, as demonstrated by their discussion of the digital single market, data protection, and AI. As such, the CDU/CSU emphasises that “new regulations […] must not stifle innovation in AI” (CDU, 2024, p. 11).

Alliance 90/ The Greens: Human rights and climate protection in the digital world

The Greens present an election manifesto with over 100 pages that includes two chapters on digital policy. They particularly emphasise the topics human rights, disinformation, and online discrimination, highlighting the EU as a role model for the “digital world” (Greens, 2024, pp.111-112). Digitalisation’s negative consequences for sustainability and the climate are also emphasised in line with the Greens’ issue profile. Furthermore, they call for a consistent implementation of the Digital Markets Act (DMA), the Digital Services Act (DSA), and consumer protection online. Similar to the SPD, the Greens also demand a “European” design for AI technologies. However, the Greens define this in more detail by referring to human rights and technology assessment (Greens, 2024, p. 24). Interestingly, the issue of cybercrime is explicitly linked to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine (Greens, 2024, p. 113). 

AfD: Against the EU as an actor in the field of digital policy

The far-right AfD hardly focuses on digital policy and the majority of its digital policy proposals relate to the rejection of a digital euro. Their manifesto suggests that the introduction of a digital euro would lead to the abolition of cash, which – according to their argumentation –  could lead to the introduction of a social credit system like in China (AfD, 2024, p. 21). The AfD also follows a populist rhetoric (Akkerman et al., 2014; Meijers & Zaslove, 2020) in which it discursively portrays Brussels as an antagonist that acts against the will of citizens and states, for example in the areas of digital education or currency (AfD, 2024, p. 49, p. 51). The EU is also labelled a “data kraken” (suggesting that the EU taps into citizens’ data), while at the same time calling for the abolition of the GDPR (AfD, 2024, p. 42). Furthermore, the AfD postulates that the EU’s digitalisation regulations aim to monitor and censor citizens (AfD, 2024, p. 42). This could be seen as a further indication of the politicisation of digital policy, as it is charged with populism. 

FDP: The “digital continent of opportunities” between free trade and privacy

The liberal FDP’s proposals on digital policy address both economic and social issues: Right at the beginning, digital policy is mentioned in the context of economic issues (FDP, 2024, p. 2),, and then they also discuss topics such as free trade agreements or digital currencies. At the same time, emphasis is put on some societal issues such as privacy or upload filters (FDP, 2024, pp. 11-12). However, they do not address whether there could be a tension between these societal and economic policy goals. The idea of reducing bureaucracy is also frequently mentioned, without specifying what this would mean in more detail. The FDP wants Europe to become a “digital continent of opportunities” and a hotspot for “unbureaucratic AI”, while referring to the US as a role model in AI training data (FDP, 2024, pp. 17-18).

The Left: Digitalisation in the context of social security and platform power

Digital policy is mentioned quite frequently by the Left, for example in the foreword to the election programme, in special chapters, and directly before the closing remarks. The Left focuses on topics such as employees’ digital rights: Data protection should be strengthened for both ‘traditional’ employees as well as for precarious workers of digital platform companies. Furthermore, “the internet should be liberated from corporations” and contribute to solving “social problems” (The Left, 2024, p. 46). Sustainability, data protection, and digital participation are also addressed. 

Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht: Criticism of the EU and few digital policy proposals 

Digital policy only appears sporadically in the party manifesto of the recently founded Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW). Europe is portrayed as a “digital colony” of the US, and the few digital policy positions focus on the dominance of major US corporations or sustainability issues (BSW, 2024, p. 4). It is also worth highlighting how the BSW uses populist rhetoric (Akkerman et al., 2014; Meijers & Zaslove, 2020) to criticise the Digital Services Act: For instance, the EU is accused of adopting the DSA for secret purposes, such as enforcing “cancel culture” and curbing “positions critical of the government on sensitive issues” (BSW, 2024, p. 20). 

The future of European digital policy?

All the analysed parties include digital policy in their manifestos. However, the parties differ in terms of the importance they attach to this topic. There are also differences in terms of thematic emphases, as some parties use a rather economic (as opposed to a societal) framing of digital policy. The thematic emphases often match the respective party profiles. It should also be highlighted that some parties address digital policy using populist rhetoric. Right-wing populist and far-right parties could have a large share of seats in the new European Parliament, which might impact discussions of digital policies such as the DSA or GDPR. The relatively strong focus on digital policy issues and the coining of terms such as “digital union” raise the question of whether digital policy could become established as a European policy issue in the future.

This post represents the view of the author and does not necessarily represent the view of the institute itself. For more information about the topics of these articles and associated research projects, please contact

Licinia Güttel

Associated Researcher: The Evolving Digital Society
Du siehst eine Tastatur auf der eine Taste rot gefärbt ist und auf der „Control“ steht. Eine bildliche Metapher für die Regulierung von digitalen Plattformen im Internet und Data Governance. You see a keyboard on which one key is coloured red and says "Control". A figurative metaphor for the regulation of digital platforms on the internet and data governance.

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