The Results of The German Election


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Paul Siebert


On the 26th of September, the German people were called to elect a new federal government and a successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel. This election marked a huge turning point in German politics and it is really important for Germany, Europe, and the world. So how exactly does the German election work? Who did German citizens elect as their representatives and how will that affect the future?

How Does The German Election Work?

There were 47 parties on the ballot paper for this year’s election, and seven of them were likely to get into the Bundestag. The Bundestag is the German parliament on a national level and it, together with the Bundesrat, makes up the legislative branch in Germany. The German electoral system is complicated. This is how it works.

60.4 million German citizens were eligible to cast two votes for the German election on Sunday. The first vote was for individual local politicians who get seats in the Bundestag if they get the most votes in their constituency. There are 299 constituencies in Germany, so 299 delegates were voted in the Bundestag through the constituency vote. The second vote was directly for a party. This vote works with proportional representation which means that the remaining 299 seats are allocated based on each party’s share of the vote. Candidates, named by the parties before the election, will occupy these seats.

To be able to occupy any seats in the Bundestag, a party has to receive at least 5% of the votes or 3 constituency seats. If a party doesn’t receive 5% of the votes but gets 3 constituency seats, their seats will be determined by the percentage of votes they had.

Now, some voters voted for local candidates who are not members of the party they voted for in the second vote. So some parties now have more seats than they would have achieved with just the proportional representation. The higher figure of the two votes determines a party’s seats, so politicians who were voted through the constituency vote still get their seat in the Bundestag. For example: If the Christian-Democratic-Union (CDU) would have won 110 seats in the constituency vote and 100 seats through the second vote, the CDU would have had 10 more seats than it should have, according to its share of the all-important second vote. The solution would be that all other parties would be assigned so-called balancing seats. The other parties would have their seats increased based on a percentage-basis. In this specific example, their vote would be increased by 10% of their election results. That is why the Bundestag will have 736 instead of 598 seats in the next four years. 

The real work only starts after the election though because parties will have to form a coalition to get an absolute majority of seats. The forming of a coalition is incredibly important because this coalition will make up the government. It often took parties weeks to come to an agreement because they had to decide on who is going to occupy which office and so on. 

The chancellor was not elected directly by the people, but they will be elected by the members of the Bundestag. To be chancellor, the candidate has to win the so-called chancellor majority in the Bundestag–that is the absolute majority. This can, of course, just be achieved if several parties come to an agreement about who is going to be the chancellor. This is one of the reasons why the government has to consist of parties which make up an absolute majority of the Bundestag’s seats. 

The Results

Gerline Groitl, assistant professor of International Politics and Transatlantic Relations at the University of Regensburg, said this election is so interesting because of “how unpredictable it has been in recent weeks to determine who will lead the country after the election.” Unpredictable it has been indeed, but as already said in the introduction, this election marked a huge turning point in German politics. For the first time in 19 years, the center-left party, the Social-Democratic-Party (SPD), was the biggest party in Germany. With their candidate Olaf Scholz, they achieved 25.7% of the votes–5.2% more than in the last election. 

The center-right party, the CDU (Christian-Democratic-Union) and its sister party, the CSU, had won the 4 last elections by far and, until 3 or 4 months ago, nobody would have thought that the SPD would replace the CDU as the biggest party. But now, the CDU landed at “only” 24.1% of the votes. which is just 1.6% less than the SPD, but it is 8.9% less than what they achieved in the 2017 election. This is the worst result the CDU has ever achieved. The biggest reasons for this huge loss of votes were the unprofessional behavior of the party’s candidate Armin Laschet, and the fact that the party’s election program is perceived as completely outdated. The youth does not identify with the party at all and elderly have started leaving the party as well.

For a while, it looked like another party would replace the CDU. Die Grünen (The Greens) were the most popular party in surveys during May of 2021. Their name already says it all; they are an eco-friendly party which concentrates mostly on fighting climate change. But due to a lot of criticism directed at their candidate Annalena Baerbock, including concerns of plagiarism, the party lost its popularity and ended up at “just” 14.8%. This is still an increase of 5.8% compared to the last election’s results, but it is not what the candidate and the party were expecting. 

The party which was able to achieve the fourth most votes was the Free-Democratic-Party (FDP). The FDP is a pro-business, classical-liberal party, and while they are called “classical-liberal”, they are not the left-leaning liberal most Americans associate with the name as they are more conservative. They achieved 11.5% of the votes which marks an increase of 0.7% compared to the 2017 election. 

That is still 1.2% more than the far-right Alternative-for-Germany (AFD) which achieved 10.3% of the votes. This is 2.3% less than in the 2017 election. The AFD is a nationalist and right-wing populist party. The party is known for its opposition to the European Union and immigrants.

The smallest party which made it into the Bundestag is the Die Linke (The left). They only achieved 4.9% of the vote, so they wouldn’t normally be assigned any seats. However, because they were the biggest party in three constituencies, they could still move into the Bundestag with 39 delegates.

The Coalitions

So which coalitions are most likely to happen now? Even though the SPD will have the most seats in the Bundestag, 206 out of 736, they can’t be certain that they will lead the government. The most important parties right now are the Greens and the FDP because the coalitions most likely to happen are between the SPD, Greens. and FDP or the CDU, Greens and FDP. They are called the traffic-light coalition and the Jamaica coalition because of the parties’ colors. Both the CDU and SPD are trying to convince one of the parties. The Greens would rather work with the SPD, so the SPD will have to try and convince the FDP. The FDP would rather work with the CDU, so the CDU will have to try and convince the Greens to work with them. The FDP and Greens will have to decide together which party fits both of them best.

The CDU and SPD could also form a coalition together but they have both stated that they are not interested in that because they have been governing together for the two last terms of office and their relationship has suffered during that time period. Especially in the past two years.

So which of the two coalitions with the Greens and FDP is more likely to happen? This is a hard question to answer, because it mostly falls onto personal opinion. From my point of view it seems like the traffic-light coalition is more likely to happen because the FDP and Greens have more common interests with the SPD, and because, 64% of the population have explicitly said that they don’t want the CDU’s candidate as their chancellor while the SPD’s candidate is popular among voters. So it could be bad for the parties if they would form a coalition with the CDU. But again, that is just a personal opinion and not a fact. 

The Future

Assuming that Germany’s new government will consist of the SPD, the Greens, and the FDP, what would that mean for Germany, Europe, and the world? Well, Germany’s government would concentrate more on social equality and climate change issues than before. It would try to be a role model for other countries when it comes to fighting climate change. One of the Greens’ most important goals is to stop using coal even earlier than planned. That, and other bills, may make life more expensive for Germans,  but everyone who voted for the Greens is aware of this and are fine with this as long as they know that their government takes care of the environment. A speed limit of 130km/h (80mph) might also be introduced everywhere. A lot of conservative Germans will probably be extremely unhappy about this, but the SPD and Greens have said that it is one of their goals to introduce a speed limit everywhere in Germany. The FDP would do its best to advance the economy further or at least maintain a stability, which Germany was known for during the era of Merkel. 

Together, the three parties should make a good team. The only question left is whether they will be able to find enough common ground and compromise. So now we will have to wait and see if the parties can form a coalition and which one it will be. As soon as the parties come to an agreement, the new/old ministers and the new chancellor will start their work in the Bundestag and Bundeskanzleramt and German politics might be completely turned around. That, at least, seems to be the hope of the voters; otherwise, they wouldn’t have let go of their go-to conservative party.