German Politics: Federal Election, 2005

The Bundestag nominally has 598 members, elected for a four year term, 299 members elected in single-seat constituencies according to first-past-the-post, while a further 299 members are allocated from statewide party lists to achieve a proportional distribution in the legislature, conducted according to a system of proportional representation called the additional member system. Voters vote once for a constituency representative, and a second time for a party, and the lists are used to make the party balances match the distribution of second votes. In the current parliament there are 16 overhang seats, giving a total of 614. This is caused by larger parties winning additional single-member districts above the totals determined by their proportional party vote.

The key to understanding the current political situation in Germany, is to understand what happened after the last Federal Elections in 2005. The Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, called a motion of no confidence in his own government after the SPD lost the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. This defeat gave the CDU and the FDP a working majority in the Bundesrat.

Early federal elections in Germany can only take place after the dissolution of the Bundestag by the President of Germany, since the constitution forbids the Bundestag dissolving itself. The President can dissolve it only after the Chancellor loses a vote on a motion of confidence. The Federal Constitutional Court ruled in a similar situation in 1983 that Chancellors may not ask the President for the Bundestag’s dissolution merely for the sake of their desire for an early election; they have to have a real problem getting a majority for his legislation. Many observers agree that Schröder met this requirement, since a number of left-wing SPD delegates had expressed great reservations about Chancellor Schröder’s labour reform and welfare reform programme. However, only days before the vote, the coalition had passed a number of bills with no dissenters, indicating strong support for the Chancellor within the coalition. After urging members to abstain on the vote, Chancellor Schröder purposely lost a vote of confidence in the Bundestag on July 1 by 296 to 151. On July 21 President Horst Köhler dissolved the Bundestag and paved the way for the early election on September 18.

The Green member of parliament Werner Schulz – who, in a much-cited speech on the day of the motion of confidence, had criticised the deliberate loss of the motion as “farcical” and likened the Bundestag’s obedience to Schröder to behaviour typical of the German Democratic Republic Volkskammer – and the SPD member of parliament Jelena Hoffmann jointly filed a constitutional complaint in the Federal Constitutional Court. The Court rejected the complaint on August 25, ruling as valid the President’s decision to dissolve the Bundestag, thereby giving the green light for the early elections on September 18 and ending speculation that Schröder would have to step down or lead a “lame duck” government.

The court rejected similar challenges from smaller parties.

Early election polls during summer 2005 from 6 organizations showed a solid lead for the CDU/CSU with a share of the vote ranging between 41% and 43%, and the SPD trailing at between 32% and 34%. The polls further showed the FDP, a possible coalition partner for the conservatives, at between 6.5% and 8%, and the Greens, the current coalition partner for the SPD, between 6% and 8%. Most polls indicated a likely majority for a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition. As for other parties, those polls which explicitly included the PDS-WASG electoral alliance showed it above the 5% hurdle at between 7% and 8.5%. No poll showed any other parties, including far-right parties, near 5%, although far-right parties have in the past sometimes polled below their actual support due to unwillingness by voters to admit their support.

In early August support for Angela Merkel declined considerably. Reasons for this included conflicts about the election program in and between the conservative parties (the CDU and the CSU), and arguments with their preferred coalition partner, the FDP, as well as embarrassing gaffes. At one point the media criticized Merkel for confusing net and gross income figures during a campaign speech. Following this, polls suggested that the CDU/CSU and FDP would only win 48% of votes between them, and thus would not be able to form a government. Further damage occurred when two prominent CDU/CSU candidates, Jörg Schönbohm and the CSU leader Edmund Stoiber, made insulting remarks about East Germans. These remarks not only alienated voters in Eastern Germany but also made some question the CDU/CSU’s confidence in Merkel, as she is herself grew up in the East.

On Sunday September 4, Schröder and Merkel met in a head-to-head debate broadcast by four of Germany’s major private and public television networks. Although most commentators gave the initial edge to Merkel, polls soon showed that the general public disagreed and ranked Schröder the clear winner. Later analysis suggested that, in particular, Merkel’s support for a flat-tax proposal by Paul Kirchhof, the shadow Finance Minister, further undermined her credibility on economic affairs and gave the impression that the CDU’s economic reforms would only benefit the very rich.

Germany went to the polls on September 18, 2005. Voters in one constituency in Dresden had to wait until October 2 to vote, in order to allow the reprinting of ballot-papers after the death of the National Democratic Party candidate on September 8.

The Results: Constituency Vote

Party: Vote% (Seats)
CDU: 32,6 (106)
CSU: 8,2 (44)
SPD: 38,4 (145)
FDP: 4,7 (0)
Die Linkspartei.PDS: 8,0 (3)
Bündnis ’90/Die Grünen: 5,4 (1)

The Results: List Vote
Party: Vote% (Seats)
CDU: 27,8 (74)
CSU: 7,4 (2)
SPD: 34,2 (77)
FDP: 9,8 (61)
Die Linkspartei.PDS: 8,7 (51)
Bündnis ’90/Die Grünen: 8,4 (50)

Thease results left the SDP/Grüne combination on 273 seats and the CDU/FDP on 287 seats. Neither side had a majority (this reminds me of the recent election results in Hessen!). There were a number of choices availible to the parties. SPD, FDP and Greens called the “traffic light” coalition, after the colours used to symbolize those parties: red, yellow and green, respectively. The SPD governed in coalition with the Greens from 1998 to 2005, and in coalition with the FDP from 1969 to 1982. CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens called the “Jamaica” coalition after those parties’ colours: black, yellow and green, respectively, which colours also feature in the Jamaican national flag. The CDU/CSU governed in coalition with the FDP from 1949 to 1966 and from 1982 to 1998; but neither party had worked with the Greens in federal government. CDU/CSU and SPD a Grand Coalition. The CDU/CSU and SPD previously governed in a Grand Coalition from 1966 to 1969.

Neither of the major parties were willing to negiate with Die Linkspartei.

Party-political differences and intense personal hostility between many of the party leaders (particularly between Schröder and Merkel, but also between Schröder and Lafontaine) made negotiations problematic. All party leaders had previously ruled out anything except the usual coalitions. After the election, FDP leaders stated that they would rather remain in opposition than form a coalition with the SPD and the Greens, and Joschka Fischer dismissed the possibility of a Jamaica coalition, saying, “Can you really see Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber sitting round the table in dreadlocks? This is more our style. It’s impossible”. Any form of compromise looked to require a change in leadership of one of the main parties.

Despite some prominent members publicly blaming Merkel for its poor showing, the CDU/CSU confirmed her as leader on September 20. On September 22, SPD members began musing that the political system should consider the CDU and the CSU as separate entities rather than as a single parliamentary faction. In such a scenario, the SPD would be the largest party in the Bundestag and thus, they argued, an SPD member should become Chancellor in any Grand Coalition. One SPD legislator indicated he planned to introduce a motion in the Bundestag explicitly defining the CDU and the CSU as separate parties. The Greens rejected coalition with the CDU/CSU after talks broke down. The CDU/CSU pressed their case for the Chancellery after victory in the delayed vote in Dresden, and ahead of talks with the SPD; the SPD maintained their own claim, but Schröder indicated that he would step aside if his party wished it.

Finally, on October 10, officials from the CDU/CSU and the SPD announced that negotiations to form a Grand Coalition had succeeded. Angela Merkel would become Chancellor and the sixteen seats in the new cabinet (including the Chancellery) would go equally to each side, with both the CDU/CSU and the SPD each having eight posts. The SPD would control eight ministeries including the important roles of finance and foreign affairs, while the CDU/CSU would control six ministeries as well as providing the Chancellor and the Director of the Federal Chancellery (the Chancellor’s Chief of Staff), who would also hold the position of Minister for Special Affairs. Gerhard Schröder would reportedly retire from politics.

Detailed negotiations on the formation of the new government continued into November, with Edmund Stoiber of the CSU withdrawing from the proposed cabinet to continue as Minister-president of Bavaria. All three parties held conferences on November 14 (the CDU in Berlin, the CSU in Munich and the SPD in Karlsruhe) which voted to approve the deal. The majority of CDU/CSU and SPD delegates in the newly-assembled Bundestag elected Merkel as Chancellor on 22 November. [12] 397 members of the Bundestag voted for Merkel, indicating that 51 members from one or more of the SPD, CDU or CSU did not support the coalition deal.

So thats where German Politics is at now. The next few posts will start on the Bundeslande and I may return to do posts on the Bundesrat and maybe the Basic Law

Author: Stephen

Cork born and bred, proud European and Irishman. Involved in many organisations and politics. Also writes for SpirtualityIreland.org and UCC Express.

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