NewsEuropeGermany wants to reduce the size of its Bundestag XXL

Germany wants to reduce the size of its Bundestag XXL

Two workers install new rows of seats in the Bundestag chamber on October 15, 2021, ahead of the opening session of the legislature.getty

The Bundestag is going to burst at the seams. The lower house of the German Parliament has never had so many members: 736 deputies, who with their 736 seats have forced this legislature to physically expand the chamber by installing new rows of blue seats. They almost reach the end of the room, a few meters from the exit doors. There has been a consensus for years that the uncontrolled growth of the Bundestag makes it increasingly difficult to manage, not to mention the cost it entails for public coffers. But attempts to halt its growth never prospered. Now, the center-left coalition led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz – Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals – has decided to try it with a bill to change the devilish German electoral system.

It will not be easy. Judging by the first reactions of the Christian Democratic opposition, the reform is on its way to becoming the next big political battle. “The proposal is unacceptable,” said the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Friedrich Merz, after learning the content of the draft. Conservatives have traditionally benefited most from the current system, so they have little incentive to open up to reform. But Parliament cannot indefinitely maintain its XXL size, all parties agree.

Read Also:   Traffic in the port of Dover returns to normal after days of huge traffic jams

The Bundestag has become a rarity on the international scene, because it is the largest democratically elected parliament in the world. It is only surpassed by the Chinese (the National People’s Assembly, with around 3,000 deputies) and the British House of Lords (788 members, who are not voted on). Unlike most chambers, the German does not have a fixed number of seats. The seats vary each legislature due to a very complicated system that is characterized by the so-called additional and compensation seats.

25 October 2021, Berlin: View into the plenary chamber of the German Bundestag with the new allocation of seats for the 20th legislative period.  In the constituent session the newly elected Bundestag meets for the first time on 26.10.21.  Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa (Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)
25 October 2021, Berlin: View into the plenary chamber of the German Bundestag with the new allocation of seats for the 20th legislative period. In the constituent session the newly elected Bundestag meets for the first time on 26.10.21. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa (Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)picture alliance (dpa/picture alliance via Getty I)

But it is the second vote that determines the relative size of each party in the Bundestag. And here the additional seats come into play. If a formation obtains more direct mandates than the seats that would correspond to it according to the proportion of the second vote, the system assigns extra deputies to them. In turn, as the electoral law guarantees the strict proportionality of the seats, the rest of the parties are assigned more seats to rebalance the forces.

The system worked perfectly from its introduction in 1949 until the 1980s, explains Florian Grotz, an expert in political systems at Hamburg’s Helmut Schmidt University, because the vote was highly concentrated. There were two major parties (Social Democrats and Christian Democrats) and one hinge, the Liberals. But the slow decay of the ancients Volksparteien (mass parties) and the appearance of new formations have changed the electoral panorama. The increasingly pronounced fragmentation of the vote has meant that a Parliament that in theory should have 598 seats has been getting fatter because of the additional seats up to 736 in this legislature.

Read Also:   Belarus downsizes Estonian diplomat in response to Tallinn's 'disrespectful attitude'

“For decades it was a very good system, so until relatively recently nobody had much interest in touching it,” Grotz explains by phone. Some small modifications have been made, which have not prevented the expansion of a Parliament that, as the expert emphasizes, “has no upper limit and theoretically could grow indefinitely.” Before the last elections, in September 2021, some analysts believed that it could exceed 800 and even 1,000 seats. Politicians of all stripes raised their hands to their heads. It would have been an organizational disaster, among other things, because there is no physical space in the various Bundestag buildings.

The worst omens did not come true, but 736 seats is still outrageous. The parties and the citizens agree on this, which in the polls tend to point to the mammoth Bundestag as one of the most pressing problems of the system. The deputies have complained, for example, that the daily work has become excessively complicated. The commissions, with too many members, are less and less operational. There are not even rooms available with that much capacity. In addition, each deputy has the right to have their own advisers and staff (between five and seven people), which results in several more offices for each new member.

Read Also:   The Italian Government presents a bill that contemplates 14,300 million euros in social aid

“The prospect of reaching 1,000 deputies in the next elections scares politicians, because they would have more seats, but the discontent of the population would grow immensely,” says Grotz. “The pressure is maximum in these times of crisis and economic hardship for citizens. The Bundestag has become a symbol of the whole system, of whether politicians are ready to reform themselves, to change the rules of the game that affect their very existence, ”she adds.

The proposal of the government coalition consists of eliminating the additional seats and those of compensation to the rest of the parties to reduce the hemicycle to the 598 seats that in theory it should have. That would mean that some direct mandates, which is the most prestigious way to get a seat, would be left out of the Bundestag. It’s delicate. Although all formations see the need to cut back, their zeal to avoid being left at a disadvantage will be maximum.


At the moment, the Christian Democrats of the CDU are radically against the proposal. Its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, has traditionally benefited most from the current system. These two formations present a single candidate at the federal level, but contest the elections separately. The CSU only runs in Bavaria, where it wins far more direct mandates than seats by second-vote ratio. “The proposal blatantly violates the will of the voters,” exclaimed its leader in the Bundestag, Alexander Dobrindt, even mentioning that it is unconstitutional.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Posts

Read More