Monday, May 10, 2010

Germany enters consensual politics

The elections in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia on Sunday might not have had as much coverage as the UK elections last week, but they may turn out almost as important. In North-Rhine Westphalia, the center-right government composed of CDU and FDP fell as the CDU went from 44,8% to 34,6%, and the FDP - although it went from 6,2% (2005) to 6,7% in North-Rhine Westphalia - badly lost in comparison with the national elections in 2009 where it obtained 14,6%. The Social Democrat SPD slightly lost from 37,1% to 34,5% while the Greens are the big winners of the elections, almost doubling their score from 6,2% to 12,1%.


Now the parties are in negotiations. A black-yellow-green coalition has been ruled out by the Liberals and the Leftist party would never be asked to enter into coalition with the CDU, meaning that every possible formation necessarily has to include the SPD.
The SPD is happy about its electoral success and would like to send the minister-president who will be in charge of the regional government. Since the coalition party with the highest percentage gets to send the minister-president, this would exclude a grand coalition, and the SPD is currently hoping for a red-green-yellow formation including the liberals or a red-red-green formation including the Leftists. However, the liberals have made the election promise not to go together with the SPD and the Greens, and they have a record of sticking to their electoral promises (except for tax cuts). And it would be plain political suicide for the SPD to coalition with the Leftists after the huge political scandal in the state of Hesse where the party was stupid enough to dare the game.So in the end, my educated guess is that it will be a grand coalition, meaning that the SPD has to sacrifice the post of the minister-president. Incumbent minister-president Jürgen Rüttgers (CDU) lost 10.2% and had to admit a range of political scandals in the run-up to the elections, so my guess is that he will eventually have to cede his post. Former integration and equal opportunities minister Armin Laschet would be a good candidate for the post since he could moderate between CDU and SPD. I believe that he will become the next minister-president.

Much more importantly however, the regional elections upset the balance in the second German chamber, the Bundesrat, where all states are represented by a number of voices according to their size (see chart). With North-Rhine Westphalia ("Nordrhein-Westfalen" in the chart) moving from black-yellow to black-red, center-left parties are represented in 10 of 16 regional governments and control 38 of 69 votes (32 of which are controlled by the SPD alone).


According to the basic law, delegations have to cast their vote unanimously. A failure to find an accord within the state delegation leads to the vote becoming invalid. Since motions can only be passed with an absolute majority of more than 50%, abstentions will automatically be counted as a "no". Delegations are normally supposed to represent their state rather than their party, but the issue remains that the center-left now has the possibility to block legislation if they act as a union. If they now gets their acts together, they can be a powerful force. They can block unpopular legislation coming from the center-right government.

This means that the government will have to seek the consent of some of the opposition parties at times and lead to a more consensual style of politics than before. No agreement can be done any more without the consent of at least one opposition party. This may make the system less transparent, as a lot of negotiation, bullying and lobbying will go on behind the scenes. There will be less open conflicts between the government and the opposition. On the other hand, this may be an option for the center-left to regain its power. It only has to do what we've been urging the EU to all the time: to act as a common body.

1 comment:

  1. critical of posting his message with a google account, a friend of mine preferred to send me his response by email:

    Hey Andre!

    The faction with the highest percentage of the vote does not necessarily provide the minister-president. This is about the strength of the faction where SPD and CDU are equal. However, they do have the first attempt to form a government and they could do so with either the Green Party or in a grand coalition. It would be quite unnecessary of the SPD to let the CDU provide the minister-president as they have other options. If there will be a grand coalition it will either be under Mrs. Kraft or with an Israeli solution where each gets half the election period as boss. The Left could only be included in a coalition, Mrs Kraft has ruled out the possibility of a minority government tolerated by the Left (which is what happened in Hessen). In a coalition, however, they could be marginalized and another option is, of course, to convince some (one) of the Left to vote along SPD lines.

    All in all I don't think that the election is quite as important as you state, most German chancellors have had to live with an opposed Bundesrat and this chamber usually votes along the lines their respective minister-presidents suggest. I don't think that Merkel would have a much easier task in convincing 'her' minister-presidents then in convincing the SPD ones. The Bundesrat factions have as their mandate to defend the interests of the Region and that is what they are doing. Merkel will just package any important legislation with some concessions to the Regions and thats that.

    Strange how all our elections turn out as such close calls lately! From my point of view the SPD can't exclude the Left forever. Sooner or later they will have to admit that loosing 5-11% at every election to what is essentially their left wing makes it impossible to confront CDU/FDP in the long run. But the again, how up to date is this left/right divide anyways...