(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats crashed to their worst-ever result in European Parliament elections Sunday, falling to third place behind the far-right Alternative for Germany.

The conservative CDU/CSU alliance was on course for a comfortable win with 30%, with the AfD second at 16.2% and the SPD with 14%, according to projections from public broadcaster ARD. The other two parties in Scholz’s ruling alliance — the Greens and the Free Democrats — also fared badly, getting 12% and 4.9% respectively.

The poll out of Germany is among the first results from the election, which started Thursday and culminates Sunday, and will determine the make-up of the bloc’s legislative assembly. The outcome will establish which leaders have the most leverage to claim the EU’s top jobs, including the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council.

The poor showing for Scholz’s coalition underscores the increasing difficulty the German government faces in leading European policy. Support for Scholz’s ruling alliance in Berlin has dropped to record lows in recent months, with the three parties’ combined support currently around 35%, down from more than 50% in the 2021 federal election.

CDU General Secretary Carsten Linnemann questioned whether Scholz retains the authority to lead the country and blamed the ruling coalition’s policies for the rise of the AfD.

“He was the one on the election posters so really he should submit to a vote of confidence,” Linnemann told ARD. CDU Chairman Friedrich Merz called the result “the last warning” for Scholz’s coalition to stop bickering and get on with the business of governing.

Still, at the EU level, centrist parties on the left and right are due to maintain their grip on the majority. That means a degree of continuity on key policies at a time of immense geopolitical uncertainty with Russia’s war on Ukraine raging to the east and China becoming ever more assertive. 

The EU is also confronting challenges including how to maintain fiscal sustainability while investing in a greener future, boosting the competitiveness of European manufacturing and strengthening defense capabilities amid the prospect of Donald Trump’s return to the US presidency, which could impact everything from trade to environment policy.

But with far-right parties in Europe slated to pick up seats compared with the last election five years ago, migration could swing to the top of the political agenda, while the EU’s ambitious climate goals may face greater hurdles.

In Germany, the AfD still managed to post gains despite experiencing a series of setbacks in recent weeks involving bribery and spying scandals.

Alice Weidel, a co-leader of the anti-immigrant party, said one reason for the party’s success is that voters have become more critical of both the EU and the euro, especially in Germany’s eastern regions where it was the strongest force.

“After a rough start to the election campaign, we went into the final stages extremely effectively,” Weidel told ARD.

Kevin Kuehnert, the SPD general secretary, said the party won’t be seeking “scapegoats” and insisted that it had been the right decision to make Scholz a central figure in the election campaign despite his relatively low approval rating.

“For us this is an extremely bitter result,” Kuehnert said in an interview with ARD. “We will have to look at where we weren’t good in our mobilization,” he added. “The promise now is that we’ll fight back from this.”

Kuehnert said the priority for the coalition in coming weeks is to broker an agreement on next year’s budget, which has been another source of infighting in the three-party alliance.

Clear Course

Ricarda Lang, a co-leader of Germany’s Greens, said the party can’t be satisfied with its performance after its share of the vote dropped from more than 20% to 12%.

“There is a very different atmosphere in society today compared to 2019 and people are feeling insecure,” Lang told ARD. “We are committed to peace in Ukraine and in Europe and we’ll continue to try to convince people with that clear course.”

Germany’s next national vote is due in the fall of next year. The ruling parties are expected to fare poorly in their next major electoral test — three regional ballots in September in the eastern states of Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg.

The AfD is leading in the polls in the three states, but is unlikely to get into government as all other parties have ruled out joining it in coalition.

The Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht, or BSW, which she co-founded in January after splitting from the Left party, is also much stronger in the eastern regions. It got 5.7% in Sunday’s vote, while the Left managed only 2.7%.

In the Netherlands, Dutch conservative Geert Wilders notched significant gains on Thursday, though fell short of winning the most Dutch seats in the European Parliament. That victory was claimed by a coalition of left-wing parties.

About 360 million people are eligible to vote for the 720 lawmakers who will serve in the EU assembly for the next five years, 96 of them from Germany. A majority of the 27 member nations are holding their ballots on Sunday, with results due to trickle in throughout the evening. Results from France are due after 8 p.m. local time.

--With assistance from Dara Doyle, Zoe Schneeweiss, Andrea Palasciano, John Ainger, Katharina Rosskopf, Lyubov Pronina, Megan Howard, Wout Vergauwen, Samuel Stolton, Jorge Valero, Ewa Krukowska and Piotr Skolimowski.

(Updates with comment from Greens, AfD starting in 11th paragraph)

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