Coalition Governments in Germany Sharing Power
Governments in Germany are almost always formed by party alliances. For decades there have been only very few variations of these coalitions. With this year's Bundestag election, however, the power games could well be more exciting than ever before.
What happened in the spring of 2016 in the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg would hardly have been thought possible a few years ago. After the elections, two parties which had been regarded as enemies for a long time, formed an alliance – the ecologically and socially oriented Die Grünen (The Greens) and the conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Union).
This was made possible by the fact that the aims of the two parties had merged closer together – the only Green state premier in all of Germany’s 16 federal states was now driving a whopping great diesel Mercedes, thus protecting and promoting the car industry. In turn, this summer surprisingly saw one of the most important Green demands put into effect – same-sex marriage.
Each Voter will have two votesThe fact that there are coalitions between parties in Germany also has to do with Germany’s voting system. When the Germans cast their vote for a new Bundestag on September 24th, 2017, they will actually have two votes. The first cross on the ballot paper goes to one of the candidates in the 299 constituencies. With the second and more important vote, however, the Germans choose a party – more precisely, a list of party candidates for a particular federal state. The candidates on this list are appointed by the parties. This proportional representation is the actual core of a representative democracy, as it enables smaller parties, such as the Greens, to send representatives to the Bundestag, to the 16 regional parliaments of the federal states or to municipal councils - provided they manage to receive five per cent of all the votes cast.
The Bundestag began as a three-party parliament, consisting of the major popular parties: the CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany) with its Bavarian sister party the CSU (Christian Social Union) which always stand for election as one party and which are to be located centre-right on the political spectrum. Then there is the centre-left SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) and the smaller FDP (Free Democratic Party). Over the years the FDP has often formed coalitions with the CDU/CSU and the SPD until, in the last Bundestag election 2013, it fell below the five per cent threshold and was therefore barred from entering the Bundestag.
In 1983, the Greens succeeded in moving into the Bundestag. After German reunification in 1990, another party entered the political arena in the region that used to be the German Democratic Republic under Soviet influence – Die Linke (The Left). It was the successor of the former socialist state party.
dissolution of the popular parties?In the 16 German federal states, more small parties succeeded in moving into the various parliaments. Among them are the freie Wählergruppen (independent voting groups), but also right-wing conservative parties and right-wing extremist parties. The advent of these little parties soon led to political scientists speaking of a “dissolution of the popular parties”. On the one hand, the CDU/CSU and SPD were losing more and more members. On the other hand, the turnout for Bundestag elections also decreased – from 91.1 per cent in 1972 to 71.5 per cent in the last election in 2013. In addition, more and more people started turning to other forms of co-determination – working in associations or citizens’ initiatives, for example, participating in demonstrations or organising referendums. Some of them were frustrated by the party system and Europe.
They decided to vote more radically.In September 2017, a right-wing populist party will probably move into the Bundestag for the first time – the AfD (Alternative for Germany), whose symbolic colour is blue. As the liberal FDP has good chances again of getting into parliament, there could be a six-party parliament for the first time, which would provide more possibilities for alliances than ever before.
The Ten most Important Coalitions in Germany
Possible coalitions after the 2017 Bundestag election (as of 28th August 2017)
The parties have to have more than 50 per cent of the votes to form a government.1 Grand Coalition (CDU + SPD) (63,3 Prozent)
2 Jamaika-Coalition (CDU + FDP + Grüne) (55,3 Prozent)
3 Black-yellow Coalition (CDU + FDP) (47,8 Prozent)
4 Black-green Coalition (CDU + Grüne) (46,8 Prozent)
5 R2G: red-red-green Coalition (SPD + Linke + Grüne) (40,5 Prozent)
6 Traffic Light Coalition: Rot-Gelb-Grün (SPD + FDP + Grüne) (40,0 Prozent