7 must-know facts about German politics

Angela Merkel Speaks

With Germany’s election just over a month away, here are seven facts you should know about German politics.

1. There are six main political parties in Germany.

In the 2013 German election just four parties were represented in the Bundestag:

  • · The CDU/CSU, a right-of-centre conservative party led by Angela Merkel
  • · The SPD, the main left-of-centre party currently led by Martin Schulz who hopes to be the country’s next chancellor
  •    As of 2013, the CDU/CSU and SPD have governed together in a grand coalition
  • · The Greens and the Left are the other two parties currently in the Bundestag

The two other main parties are the FDP and the Alternative for Germany:

  • · The Free Democratic Party are a socially and economically liberal party who lost all their seats in the 2013 election following a spell in coalition with the CDU/CSU.
  • · The AfD are a right-wing, Eurosceptic party who were founded just before the last election. Although they have no federal representation, opinion polls suggest they could enter parliament for the first time. They have also gained representation at state elections

2. Germany is a federal nation

Like the United States, Germany is a federal nation made up of sixteen states, each one with their own state legislatures and minister-presidents. The most populous states are North-Rhine Westphalia and Bavaria. The cities of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen are all states in their own right.

The Berlin state-government is currently made up of a centre-left coalition of the SPD, the Left and the Greens.

Emmanuel Macron & Merkel European Council meeting

3. Germany’s Bundestag is the equivalent of Westminster’s House of Commons

The federal elections taking place next month are for the Bundestag. They will decide who governs the country for the next four years, including who takes over as chancellor. There are 598+ seats in the Bundestag, which are allocated via the Mixed Member Proportional Representation System (MMP). This is very similar to elections for the Scottish parliament, London Assembly and the Welsh Assembly. Half of the seats are elected via a FPTP single-member method while the other half are allocated via a top-up list with a threshold of 5%. This is where the FDP fell down last time as they did not win any FPTP seats, but also failed to meet the 5% threshold to get top-up seats.

Based off recent polling, all six main parties are expected to enter the Bundestag, something that could make coalition negotiations very interesting.

4. Germany’s upper house is fascinating

Germany’s upper house – it’s equivalent of the House of Lords or a Senate – is called the Bundestrat. Germany allocates members of its upper house in a way that makes it unique. Members are not elected like MPs or appointed like Lords; instead, each state government sends representatives to the house, the numbers of which are determined by the size of each state. If one state legislature has a coalition, then members must agree on a joint position for voting in the chamber. If there is disagreement then the state cannot vote, making abstentions a prominent feature of the political life.

The system ensures that states have a voice, and the state elections held throughout the election calendar make for interesting political dynamics when it comes to passing new laws.

Martin Schulz

5. The country’s longest-serving chancellor

Otto von Bismarck was the longest-serving chancellor in German history, and served for almost 23 years, however, the longest-serving chancellor in modern times was the CDU’s Hermut Kohl who served for just over sixteen years from 1982 to 1998.

6. Angela Merkel is on course to win in September

German opinion polls suggest that Angel Merkel’s party is set to win a fourth term in office next month. With victory almost inevitable, the question then is: who will join her in coalition? Will her alliance and the returned FDP have enough seats for a majority or will a three-party coalition be required, or will there be a return to a grand coalition?

7. Merkel’s party is really two parties

That’s right, Angela Merkel leads the Christian Democratic Union who stand in all of Germany except Bavaria. The more socially conservative Christian Social Union stand in Bavaria and currently dominate the state. The CSU even managed to form a majority government at the 2013 state elections in Bavaria, showing just how powerful a voice they are in the state.

The two parties are in a formal alliance, with the CSU backing the CDU at federal elections.