The past week has been quite turbulent in Germany politically. Basically it looks like we are doomed and it seems pretty likely that we’ll end up with a conservative government again soon. While people had managed to get rid of the overweight self-righteous lying and corrupt Kohl government in 1998 and replaced it by what’s known as ‘red-green’ coalition (social democrats and green party), the damage done by Kohl seems to be nowhere as bad as that done by the Tories in Britain where Blair will even get re-elected after starting a war.
While the red-green government is far from perfect, they tried to use their power to get some change done at least. Not just the tiny bits that are normal but larger changes. Many of which were quite unpopular as they cost people money and others were quite surprising as they were much too business friendly for a supposedly left government. And with Germans being the people who like eating the cheapest food, buying the cheapest computers and putting the cheapest fuel into their overpriced cars, that didn’t make everyone happy.
Not that everything they did was perfect but the whole idea of actually moving things was refreshing. But people started being upset with the federal government and punishing them by voting against their parties in state elections. This basically destroyed a couple of typically left wing state governments and after last week’s elections in North Rhin Westphalia where the right wing scored a significant victory, most of the country is run by conservatives now. As a consequence, they also have a majority in the Bundesrat (like the U.S. Senate) and can block quite a bit of new legislation or make getting to it painfully complicated or require changes.
After last week’s election in North Rhine Westphalia, the chancellor said that they want to have new elections this autumn rather than next year. And a this stage it pretty much looks like this an attempt to lose the election and get the conservatives back into government. While this step may make sense on a personal level – with the chancellor being annoyed by the people and not wanting to serve them anymore – and while it may even be considered good for the country to be run by a government with the freedom of having a majority in both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat for a few years, it’s also a bit dodgy.
When the German constitution was made after the war, one of the main objectives was to avoid the problems in the constitutions of the Weimar Republic which helped Hitler to get into power. Main problems were too many small parties (which is why parties need at least 5% of the popular vote now or proper majorities in a number of constituencies now to get into parliament) which made it hard to form a government, as well as the fact that it was quite easy to dissolve parliament and thus require new elections.
The latter isn’t possible anymore. While the chancellor may want new elections he can’t just decide to have them. The only way to get them is to have a ‘Mißtrauensvotum’, a vote of non-confidence in parliament. This will have to be fake though, as the majority of the people in parliament are part of the chancellor’s government, so they’ll have to express their non-confidence – making the whole thing a bit fake. And usually that vote will have to be ‘constructive>’ (another of those historical lesson), i.e. a new chancellor has to be suggested immediately. Which won’t happen, of course and thus the president can be asked to dissolve parliament and new elections will come.
While all this will probably go through just fine, people have said that it’s not in the spirit of the constitution and not what politicians should do. On the other hand, the trick has already been used a few times before – in much more questionable circumstances, for example in 1982 when Kohl came into power and just wanted re-elections for what mainly look like vanity reasons.
Ugh, a rather complex and extensive topic. For more info on the German constitution and related topics there seems to be a nice overview at Wikipedia.
More internationally, we now look over to our froggy neighbours and see what they make of the EU constitution. It’s another of those things which seem like good ideas for the long-term future but which have been fiddled around so much that they lost a bit of their charm. While our government just accepted the EU constitution in parliament, other countries want a popular vote. And as far as I can tell, just a single one of them needs to reject it to blow the whole thing. With France as one of the oldest EU members being particularly significant of course.
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