For years there has been a struggle to downsize the Bundestag. Now the traffic light has a plan, but it doesn’t go down well with the opposition.
The traffic light coalition has met with massive resistance from the opposition with its plans to downsize the Bundestag. CDU/CSU faction manager Thorsten Frei calls them “constitutionally and constitutionally problematic”. His counterpart Jan Korte from the left faction even accuses the SPD, Greens and FDP of “shabby” action against political opponents. “This proposal is aimed solely against the left-wing opposition, which is being tried to flatten politically with the right to vote.”
It was announced yesterday that the traffic light factions had finally reached an agreement on an electoral law reform, which is to be passed by the Bundestag by the end of the week. It provides for a reduction in the Bundestag from 736 to permanently 630 MPs after the next election in 2025, as the German Press Agency learned from coalition circles. This means that Parliament will not shrink quite as much as originally planned by the traffic light. A first draft bill provided for 598 seats.
Overhang mandates allow the Bundestag to grow to a record size
The reform has been discussed for years because the number of members of the Bundestag has recently continued to grow. This costs money and is considered impractical by critics. After the 2013 election, the Bundestag still had 631 MPs, in 2017 there were already 709. In 2021 the parliament grew to a record 736 MPs.
The reason is the German electoral system with its two votes. With the first you can directly elect a member of parliament in your constituency – of which there are 299. The percentage of seats a party gets in the Bundestag is calculated from the second votes.
The number of constituencies remains at 299
If a party wins fewer seats with the second vote than it wins constituencies with the first vote, it is awarded so-called overhang mandates. The other parties then receive compensation mandates. This has led to the Parliament growing beyond the target size of 598 MPs.
The overhang and compensation mandates are now to be abolished. The Bundestag will thus have a statutory size of 630 MPs in the future. The number of constituencies remains at 299. However, not twice as many mandates will be awarded as originally planned – i.e. 598 – but 32 more. This is intended to keep the number of MPs who win a constituency with the first votes and still do not get into the Bundestag as small as possible.
CDU politician: “Massive acceptance problems”
However, such cases will probably still exist. If the number of constituency winners for a party exceeds the number of seats it is entitled to after second votes, the winners with the lowest share of votes get nothing. And this is precisely where the Union sees a constitutional problem.
“Especially in hard-fought constituencies in the cities and in many regions in the east, there will no longer be any directly elected members of the Bundestag,” said the CDU politician Frei to the dpa. “That will lead to massive acceptance problems and damage democracy in our country.” He very much regrets that the traffic light did not bring about an electoral law reform in consensus “with all the democratic parliamentary groups in the Bundestag”. The Union had proposed reducing the number of constituencies from 299 to 270, but retaining the overhang and compensation mandates.
Left politician: traffic light fulfills AfD’s “great wish”
The left has a problem with another point in the reform plan – which even has an existential meaning for them. The traffic light wants to delete the so-called basic mandate clause, without which the left would not be in the Bundestag today. This clause ensures that parties that receive less than five percent of the second votes can also enter parliament. You have to win three direct mandates via the first votes.
The left managed to do that in 2021 and entered parliament with a total of 39 MPs, although they had only achieved 4.9 percent of the second votes. Group manager Korte now sees the abolition of the clause as a targeted attack on his group. “With the deletion of the democratically sensible basic mandate clause, the traffic light parties of the AfD are fulfilling a great wish” – the ousting of the left from the Bundestag, he told dpa.
It is quite possible that the electoral law reform will end up before the Federal Constitutional Court. Linke and Union have not yet commented on a possible lawsuit in Karlsruhe.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.