18 thoughts on “Germany 2021

  1. The Bundestag will probably have the most parties represented since 1949, after Die Linke scraped into the Bundestag (winning 4.9% of the list votes but three single-member districts), and the South Schleswig Voters’ Association finally decided to take advantage of their exemption from the national threshold. They’ve won 3.2% of the list vote in South Schleswig, or 0.1% nationwide, apparently enough for one seat.

    • The SSW situation is fascinating. I spent some time on German Wikipedia yesterday (thanks to Google Translate) to learn more. I highly recommend going down that rabbit hole!

      • I want a Mouse That Roared scenario where the SSVA enjoys the balance of power and demands a plebiscite in South Schleswig.

  2. Long-time listener, first-time caller. Here are some scattered thoughts about government formation this time around.

    As is well-known, there are basically three plausible majority coalitions (from preliminary results, with 735 total seats):

    SPD, Greens, and FDP (“traffic light coalition”), with 416 seats;
    CDU/CSU, Greens, and FDP (“Jamaica coalition”), with 406 seats; and
    SPD and CDU/CSU (“grand coalition,” or so everyone would call it I suppose), with 402 seats.

    Could this be a fourth possibility? The grouping of SPD, Greens, and The Left would be a minority with 363 seats (just 5 short of a majority), but the opposing majority would require the assent of AfD to pass a constructive vote of no confidence. Could that requirement deter any attempt to remove this hypothetical coalition? At least one of CDU, FDP, or CSU would have to at least abstain from the vote to install it, but perhaps they’d enjoy having unusual leverage later. (There are other, even smaller minority configurations satisfying this slightly ad hoc AfDless-majority-proofness requirement, but they all require either CDU/CSU or FDP to join with The Left, so I’m ignoring them.) I don’t know how many examples of minority government exist in modern Germany––and I don’t believe there are any examples at federal level––so no idea if this is a serious possibility.
    How important are intra-coalitional party seat shares (which I’m assuming significantly inform cabinet seat shares) in motivating parties’ decisions to accept or reject coalition? For instance, of the four configurations described above, both SPD and Greens enjoy their largest possible shares in the minority option. Jamaica would give Greens their second-largest possible share (and FDP their largest), while traffic light would give both SPD and Greens their third-largest possible share and FDP their second-largest. (CDU/CSU’s largest prospect, barely, is with “grand” and their second-largest with Jamaica.) On-paper analyses of hedonic-coalitional stability and optimality might describe these decisions in the abstract but I have no idea if they track with government formation decisions in the real world. For one thing, cabinet seat share isn’t the only obvious relevant factor; policy concessions are messier and not really quantifiable.
    Trivia note: Angela Merkel will just squeak past Helmut Kohl’s record as longest-serving chancellor, provided the new cabinet takes office on or after December 19th. This would be 84 days past the election; the latter half of Merkel’s cabinets took at least this long to form.

    What do people think? Thanks MSS, love this blog! 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, and come back often!

      My understanding is that a government including Linke would be very unlikely even if had a majority, and a minority government would be very unlikely even if it did not include a party as far to one side of the spectrum as the Linke. The SPD and Greens have both carefully cultivated a more centrist image in recent years, and the last thing they would want to do is risk that by teaming up with a party that holds some pretty extreme views. That is not say they would not have used the possibility as a source of leverage with the FDP, but that potential leverage is now likely worthless because of the failure of the SPD-Green-Linke combination to surpass 50%. The very idea of a minority government is anathema in Germany, although it may be something they are going to have to figure out a way to do at some election in the future, if fragmentation continues.

      As to the relative strengths of parties within a coalition, it is one of the best predictors of the share of cabinet seats each member party gets. Per “Gamson’s law,” each party tends to get a share in proportion to its contribution to the government’s parliamentary basis. Deviations sometimes happen for parties that are pivotal in the sense of willing to join coalitions with either of two major parties. That could be the case here, if a Union coalition with Greens and FDP is seen as credible. (I have my doubts, given how badly the CDU did, but the FDP will certainly want this to be a live option).

      An interesting note is that the Greens and FDP are apparently going to bargain with each other first as to a list of common acceptable demands to approach either the CDU/CSU or the SPD with. So they are at least trying to be pivotal as a bloc, and avoid either big party making a “separate peace” with either smaller one.

      • When the Irish Greens unexpectedly joined a coalition with the conservatives, they were wiped out at the next election. Yes, the German Greens have coalitions with conservatives in 3 states. But in 11 states this is not heard of. And a national election is far more important. Especially when the voters think they have elected a new government, and the Union bloc has their worst result since 1945. They may find the FDP case unconvincing.

      • The Greens maybe would not have palatable alternatives if for some reason the only option on the table was a coalition led by the CDU. They could pull what the FDP did in 2017, which is back away from a coalition and force the SPD and CDU/CSU to continue governing together–or else a very early election. I’d have to think that would be worse for the Greens, if they were blamed for outcomes the voters surely do not want.

        Not to say it would not be risky for them, but the Irish parallel may not be all that revealing here.

        Besides, it is more likely that the SPD will lead the coalition, and this will be much better for the Greens. For the FDP, it is another matter, but would they repeat the breaking-up of talks they did in 2017?

      • Also, maybe a key there is “unexpected.” This campaign has occurred after years of the Greens and CDU sort of engaging in a courtship, and even though many states have never experienced this combination, the fact that several have probably makes it more palatable to their voters.

  3. A quick calculation using the available results seems to suggest that indeed 3 overhang seats were disregarded from the CSU’s total. Without this maneuver the Bundestag would have been about 794 strong instead of 735. But Bavaria is overrepresented in the house relative to other states as a result. Any chance this will be litigated in court?

    If the Greens have been saying for years how willing they are at doing deals with the rightist parties, I think the FDP has been doing the opposite. So it seems it will be quite a major U-turn if they join up with the SPD and Greens, not least when the Jamaica coalition is also a possible option.

    • The Jamaica coalition might be a mathematical possibility, but I don’t see it being a particularly viable one politically. Greens voters voted for the Greens to be in government, but I don’t think they want any government, and I imagine them joining a right-wing government would have similar results to the Liberal Democrats in 2010 in the UK. With dissatisfaction with the CDU already at an all-time low and without the safety valve of the FDP as an opposition vote, I’d expect the net result of such a move would be to strengthen the SPD, Linke, and especially AfD.

      One thing to keep in mind is that, as far as I understand, not only do the Greens parliamentary leadership have to approve the coalition, but it has to pass a membership vote as well. I think that might limit the chances of a Jamaica coalition, especially if the traffic light is on the table and seems a better deal to their activists.

    • CSU was indeed awarded three overhang seats, with the remaining 732 seats distributed in proportion to the votes cast for qualifying parties. Germany’s Federal Returning Officer published on its website a document showing the step-by-step distribution of Bundestag seats on the basis of preliminary results of Sunday’s election, available in German language and in PDF format here; under the older seat distribution rules in place from 2013 to 2020, the Bundestag would have had 785 seats, as fifty additional seats would have been required to balance CSU’s three overhang seats, such that the party’s total of 45 seats would match its 5.67% share of the vote for qualifying parties.

      The extra CSU seats increased Bavaria’s representation in the Bundestag from 113 out of 732 seats (15.4%) to 116 of 735 (15.8%) – hardly a significant difference. Moreover, Bavaria had 16.3% of all second votes cast in the election, but it also had a much higher proportion of “wasted” votes for below-threshold and below three district seats parties (13.9%) than the whole of Germany (8.6%), mainly on account of the strong showing in the state by Free Voters, who polled 7.5% in Bavaria but only 2.4% in all of Germany.

  4. Hi everybody,

    I know I’m a bit late to the party, but as a German I felt I should add some thoughts, especially seeing that many esteemed commentators have already done so.

    Some remarks that have come to my mind:

    When it comes to seat assignments, the final total of seats was 736 (one Green seat up from the provisional result based on a misattribution of some votes when reported on election night itself). So fears of an absolutely bloated Bundestag (900+ seats) did not materialize. I fear that might lead so complacency to reform the electoral law, which I think is still needed. On the other hand, that is still the biggest Bundestag ever. I don’t think a (barely) above proportional Bavarian presence would lead to challenges though, as strict propotionality between the states is not even purported by the law anyway.

    In political news, both Greens and FDP decided to start coalition negotiations with the SPD first, and they are underway and have just proceeded to the working group stage. The parties involved have announced that if they come to a coalition treaty, they’ll aim to have Olaf Scholz elected Federal Chancellor in the week of Dec. 6. That is actually much quicker than almost anyone would have predicted and at the same time would stop Angela Merkel from surpassing Helmut Kohl’s longevity record as Chancellor by about a week.

    Generally, some comments here (and some others I read in English language articles) seem to somewhat overestimate the differences between the parties involved. It’s worth noticing that the German Greens have always differed from most of the parties calling themselves Greens in other countries in that there is very little red to their green. The generally don’t even pay lip-service to workers’ rights or welfare extension and basically have a non-relationship to the trade unions (except the teachers’ union). They are probably also the most hawkish when it comes to foreign policy as concerns Russia and China.

    Also, until about the beginning of June, the widely held belief and even more or less explicit goal was that there would be a CDU/CSU-Greens coalition, with the only relevant question as to who would lead it. So unlike wilfredday suggested, I don’t think there is a single Green voters who would be surprised or even dismayed by a Jamaica coalition. Rather than ideological differences, it is the current volatile state of the CDU (where the entire executive resigned) that prevented this coalition. Similarly, it should not be forgotten that the FDP had a coalition with the SPD from 1969-1982 (Chancellors Brandt and Schmidt), so that any gaps can be bridged. As I’ve read, quite astutely, from one British observer: The 4 main German political parties transferred to the British system would just be different factions within the LibDems.

    So, in short, I would indeed expect the coalition talks to succeed, and would expect Olaf Scholz to be Chancellor before Christmas.

    • Thanks for the comment, and I agree entirely with your take on the parties’ bridgeable differences. Also on the obvious internal turmoil in the CDU being a hindrance to any serious efforts by the Union parties to retain leadership of a coalition.

  5. To provide some closure on the election:

    Olaf Scholz was elected Federal Chancellor yesterday in a parliamentary vote with a majority 395 votes out of the 736 members. He is now the 9th Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the 4th Social Democrat in this office.

    • Something I wondered about: SPD + Greens + FDP together have 416 seats. Is ~5% an unusual abstention rate in the Bundestag? Is this vote considered pretty much a formality? Are members just more likely to be absent nowadays for COVIDworld reasons?

  6. Some members of the coalition groups absent due to illness or (perhaps, I don’t know) quarantining.

    And there is a pairing agreement among the various parties so that if a member of the coalition parties who notifies in advance his/her absence due to health or other non-political reasons a member from the opposition will abstain and vice versa, so in effect doubling the absentees.

    You can tell that it was mostly this reason as the traffic light parties have 56.2% of all members. and Scholz got a majority of 55.8% of those voting, so the relative proportion was almost identical.

    • Thank you, Adonis.

      The “pairing” norm interests me. I do not know much about it across parliaments, but I know it was used in the Canadian House of Commons even on a close vote that could have led to a government falling (2005, I think). In Israel the opposition recently said it would not offer “pairs” which forced a member who had just given birth to come to the chamber for an important vote.

      I have never heard of it being done in the US and, in the current context, it is almost impossible to imagine.

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