What to Expect from Germany's New Parliament?
The newly elected German Bundestag will constitute itself in its inaugural session on October 24, four weeks after the election. The parliament will represent a broader range of views and opinions. More fragmentation and a harsher political tone have to be expected. Nevertheless, its composition will not represent a true image of Germany's society.
The newly elected Bundestag will be very different from what we have seen for the past four years. With 709 members and 6 factions, it will be the largest and most fragmented Bundestag in its history. Both the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), who fell just short of the necessary 5 percent threshold in 2013, will now enter the parliament, leading to more divergent voices and likely arguments.
Although present within parts of the German society, very economically liberal and strongly conservative — even right-wing — views were not represented in parliament for the past four years. The new Bundestag reflects more precisely the spectrum of views held by German citizens on certain issues. However, the electoral success of the AfD will lead to a more radical and harsh tone, which might alter the parameters of parliamentary debates and ultimately even of German political culture.
Experiences from state parliaments — the Landtage — show that AfD parliamentarians tend to approach debates in a very emotional and polarizing way. AfD party members have stood out because of their aggressive rhetoric, calling Angela Merkel a traitor to the German people or demanding an end of the “culture of guilt” surrounding the remembrance of the Holocaust. After the first exit poll prognosis on election night, Alexander Gauland, now elected chairman of the AfD faction in the Bundestag, made clear that a change in the AfD's approach to political debates should not be expected, by declaring his goal to “hunt down” Merkel and her new government.
Also, the new role of the Social Democratic Party of German (SPD) as leader of the opposition will contribute to more lively and harsh debates within parliament. During the past four years of the governing grand coalition, the opposition within the Bundestag clearly lacked enough power to make their voices heard. The Left and the Greens made up for only 20 percent of the parliament. The SPD's decision to not enter a government after experiencing a bitter set back at the election, will thus lead to a more powerful and loud opposition. Andrea Nahles, new leader of the SPD's parliamentary group, already gave a taste of the louder and passionate opposition that should be expected, by declaring, that “starting tomorrow, we'll be right in their [the government's] faces.”
Even if a wider spectrum of political opinions will be present in the Bundestag, the parliament will not reflect fully the German population. Especially women and young people will be underrepresented. The proportion of women in parliament decreased to around 30 percent, even though women make up a slightly bigger proportion of the constituency than men. Especially the AfD, FDP and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria have only a few women in their parliamentary groups. Moreover, only 12 members of the new Bundestag are under 30 years old, leaving the voice of a younger generation within politics and the parliament highly underrepresented and nearly unheard.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.