Achtung! The über-Bundestag is coming

A handy guide to how Germans will pick a (big) parliament and a chancellor.

Achtung! The über-Bundestag is coming

BERLIN — We may not yet know the identity of Germany’s next chancellor, but it’s almost certain that they’ll be elected by a parliament that’s even bigger than today’s.

Germany isn’t getting any larger, but the peculiarities of its voting system mean that the number of members of the Bundestag fluctuates.

German voters cast two ballots, one for a candidate in their local constituency and a second for a party. If a party wins more seats via the former than the latter, a process is triggered whereby it gets to keep those seats and other parties are compensated for the imbalance this creates.

Confused? You’re not alone. The system is so arcane that few Germans understand the mechanics. But politicians can’t agree on a fundamental reform because no one wants to risk losing seats, even though the parliament expanded to a record 709 seats at the last election. They tried last year, but the changes will do little to halt the Bundestag’s bulge.

“Based on current polls, my prediction is that the next Bundestag will have 860 seats,” said Christian Hesse, a mathematics professor at the University of Stuttgart who has been involved in the quarrel over a reformed electoral law for years.

Hesse’s estimate is not the most extreme scenario among those currently circulating in German media, but it would still mean 151 seats more than the current total.

“The prescribed size of parliament is actually only 598, that is the number of constituencies — 299 — multiplied by two,” continued Hesse.

But if a party wins more direct candidates via the first vote than it would be eligible to have via the second vote, it has a right to so-called “overhang seats,” which then have to be compensated through so-called “leveling seats,” so other parties aren’t put at a disadvantage.

At the last election, 65 overhang seats and 46 leveling seats were added to the Bundestag.

Splitting the vote

The whole system was relatively manageable for much of Germany’s postwar history, when there were only a few parties in parliament. But things have been thrown out of whack as more parties have entered parliament and more voters have cast their first and second ballots for different parties.

“Due to the increasing pluralization of the party system, it’s becoming more and more fragmented and majorities are becoming smaller, which increases the risk of overhang and leveling seats also because more and more people split their votes,” said Robert Vehrkamp, director of the Future of Democracy program at the Bertelsmann Foundation, a think tank.

At this election, many observers say a perfect storm is brewing over the Bundestag.

One reason is that many right-of-center voters may split their votes — for example, supporting a local candidate from the CDU/CSU conservative alliance but casting their list vote for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

“One of the biggest risks is that the CDU/CSU will win many direct seats while at the same time performing poorly on second votes,” Vehrkamp said.

Vehrkamp said he’s not particularly bothered by the money the additional lawmakers will cost the taxpayer, since “democracy is allowed to cost money,” but that too many seats will make parliament dysfunctional.

“Twenty years ago, a Bundestag commission found that a suitable parliamentary size for Germany would be a maximum of 600 based among other things on the workflow and how big individual committees would be,” Vehrkamp said, adding: “A parliament with 800 delegates works worse than a parliament with 600 delegates — and we’re already at 709.”


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

Choosing a chancellor

Surprisingly, while the election process oozes German meticulousness, the path to a new chancellor after an election is set out rather loosely.

On Sunday, German voters won’t directly choose a successor to Angela Merkel, who is not running for reelection after 16 years in power.

They’ll elect a parliament that will, in turn, elect a chancellor once parties have agreed on a government.

There’s no process laid down in the constitution for forming a coalition and the president does not have to give any party a mandate to try to build an alliance. It’s up to the parties themselves to figure that out.

Only once coalition negotiations are completed does the president come forward to propose a candidate for chancellor.

“Before that, it’s not a legal but a political question to what extent individual parties want to enter into coalition negotiations,” said Dana-Sophia Valentiner, professor of public law at the Justus Liebig University in Gießen.

Coalition talks will be exceedingly difficult this time, as it is almost certain three parties — rather than the usual two — will be necessary to form a majority coalition. In theory, a minority government is possible but the inherent instability it brings makes one unlikely.

If a chancellor candidate does not garner the necessary majority within three ballots, the president must decide either to appoint the chancellor of a minority government or to dissolve the Bundestag, triggering a new election.

In a country that prizes orderly process, that would be what Germans call a SuperGAU — a total meltdown.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Merkel says Germany’s ‘future’ at stake as she warns of swing to the left

Chancellor seeks to rally support for her conservative party at final rally, saying 'it's about keeping Germany stable.'

Merkel says Germany’s ‘future’ at stake as she warns of swing to the left

AACHEN, Germany — Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday made a final push to rally supporters behind her party and its lead candidate, Armin Laschet, arguing that the country’s “future” was at stake.

Hours before Germans head to the polls, Merkel was in the western German city of Aachen to address the last rally of her conservative CDU/CSU alliance. Final polls predict a very close race, with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) leading on 25 percent and the CDU/CSU on 22 percent. As that gap is within the margin of error, it is still possible for both parties to come first — and even the second-placed party could name the chancellor if it manages to form a majority with coalition partners.

“In some election campaigns you get the impression that it’s perhaps about this or that topic but that in the end it perhaps doesn’t really matter who governs Germany,” Merkel said. “But I want to tell you from my experience that in the political life of a chancellor there are moments where it’s anything but irrelevant who governs, where you have to take the right decision.”

“It’s about keeping Germany stable. It’s about your future,” said the chancellor, who is not running for reelection after 16 years in office.

Although Merkel avoided directly mentioning the SPD and its lead candidate Olaf Scholz, it was clear that her warnings were about a potential shift to the left that Scholz might pursue if elected chancellor. Merkel warned a left-leaning government coalition would “strangulate” businesses with new taxes and isolate Germany on the international stage.

SPD Secretary-General Lars Klingbeil had rejected such warnings at his party’s final rally in Cologne on Friday, arguing that the CDU/CSU was “throwing with dirt” because it had no convincing election program. Although Scholz has said he would prefer to form a government coalition with the Greens and the liberal FDP, he has not ruled out building an alliance with Greens and the far left.


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

At the event in Aachen, Laschet, speaking after Merkel, accused the SPD of actively “preparing” to build a government coalition with the Greens and the Left party.

He also warned of taking radical steps toward an emissions-free industry. “We need to manage the whole thing in a socially acceptable way or the country collapses,” Laschet told the crowd in front of the abbey in Burtscheid, the neighborhood of Aachen where he was born 60 years ago. His words were met with broad applause and chants, but also some dissenting voices.

Laschet also stressed his European credentials, saying that the EU “was more important than ever in this unstable world” and must therefore be kept together.

This included holding out an olive branch to Poland and Hungary, which are locked in fierce rule-of-law battles with Brussels. “Yes, there is some dissent now about the rule of law. But we will not be able to hold this Europe together without Poland, without Central and Eastern Europe, without the Baltic states, without Hungary,” he said.

Addressing his party’s weak performance in the polls, some of which can be attributed to his own gaffes and mistakes during the election campaign, Laschet sought to project optimism.

He argued that when he ran in the state elections of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017, “a lot of people voiced doubt whether it would go well because the polls were so volatile.” In the end, Laschet won and became state premier.

He said that back then, Merkel had also come to Aachen for his final election rally, adding: “I’m sure because she’s here today we will also succeed tomorrow.”

What he did not mention is that another chancellor candidate, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, also held his final rally in Aachen four years ago. The next day Schulz admitted defeat.

Source : Politico EU More   

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