Karlsruhe / Berlin (dpa) – The Grand Coalition’s controversial electoral reform remains in effect ahead of federal elections, but will be examined by the federal constitutional court afterward.
In any case, the Karlsruhe judges consider it possible that the new arrangement is not compatible with the constitution, they announced on Friday. However, they declined to revoke the changes with immediate effect. The MPs of the FDP, Left and Greens wanted to achieve this by means of an urgent motion.
Nothing will change for the citizens who will vote on September 26. There is disagreement over the rules according to which their votes are converted into mandates.
Because the Bundestag has now grown too big with 709 seats and needs a downsizing – all parties agree on that. A large parliament not only costs taxpayers more money, it can also work less well. But how to slim down has been debated for years, because no party wants to lose political influence. Despite several attempts, a compromise solution that everyone wanted to support had failed to materialize in two electoral terms.
Union and SPD do it alone
In October 2020, the Union and the SPD finally single-handedly decided to change the electoral law, which many experts also believe is inadequate. Because it has to stay with the current 299 constituencies. A major reform is only planned for the elections of 2025. A committee should make proposals for this in mid-2023.
It is therefore more than doubtful whether the next Bundestag will really be smaller. According to calculations by electoral law expert Robert Vehrkamp of the Bertelsmann Foundation, the parliament can even grow to more than 1,000 members if things go very badly.
Under the new regulation, a party’s overhang mandates are partially offset against their list mandates. Up to three overhang mandates are not offset by compensatory mandates if the Bundestag exceeds its target size. This is fixed at 598 seats.
The FDP, the left and the Greens had jointly submitted an alternative draft that only envisaged 250 constituencies but failed to win. At the beginning of February, they then submitted an application for the verification of abstract standards in Karlsruhe. This path is open to a larger group of members of the Bundestag – at least a quarter – to have a legal settlement checked for its constitutionality.
Oppisition criticizes unclear wording
The three opposition factions see several problems with the black-and-red reform: the regulations are unclearly worded and they also violate the principles of equal opportunities for parties and the right to vote, which are enshrined in the constitution.
And the constitutional judges of the responsible Second Senate are in any case of the opinion that these objections are not unjustified: the standard revision request is “neither inadmissible from the outset nor manifestly unfounded”. Ultimately, however, this can only be clarified and assessed in the main proceedings.
For their part, the judges also point out that voters should be able to see the effects of their vote. Is that still guaranteed? According to the Senate, the regulations already showed a “significant degree of complexity” before the reform. This has been increased with the new regulation.
Nevertheless, the judges refused to interfere with the jurisdiction of the legislature by issuing a preliminary order before the election. Another factor was that, in their view, the reform will not bring about major changes. However, the resolution of 20 July states that in extreme cases a new election can be ordered with retroactive effect in the event of an election error.
The FDP’s first parliamentary manager, Marco Buschmann, spoke in Berlin about an embarrassing political situation. A new Bundestag will be elected in a few weeks – without it being clear whether the rules for this are constitutional. “The CDU, CSU and SPD bear political responsibility for this.”
Different interpretations of the judgment
His Green colleague Britta Haßelmann said the court had “made it clear that our constitutional concerns are weighty and need clarification”. The right-wing political spokesman for the left-wing faction, Friedrich Straetmanns, accused the CDU and CSU of getting a bonus with the reform. “In the worst case, it is decided by a majority of the government.”
The Union was a success that Karlsruhe did not view the reformed electoral law as clearly unconstitutional. “We firmly believe that even after an oral hearing, it will generally appear that our reform is compatible with the constitution,” said parliamentary lawyer Ansgar Heveling (CDU). SPD MP Carsten Schneider announced that a real reform was “not possible because of the very different positions between the CSU and the CDU”. The last change can only be an intermediate step.
AfD faction lawyer Stephan Brandner said the AfD had submitted a proposal that would have allowed for immediate resolution of the issue. “But that wasn’t what the other groups wanted.”