Cablegate: What Happens After the German Elections?

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1. (SBU) Summary: Germany could see a change in government
after the September 27 Bundestag election, and even if the
result is another Grand Coalition of Chancellor Merkel's
Christian Democratic Union and sister Christian Social Union
(CDU/CSU) party with Foreign Minister Steinmeier's Social
Democratic Party (SPD), there could be lengthy coalition
negotiations and turnover at the ministerial and senior
administrative level. Embassy Berlin offers a review of the
rules that govern the process and the timeline that is likely
to develop depending on the election results. Coalition
negotiations could drag on for several months but could also
go much more quickly in the event of a CDU/CSU-Free
Democratic Party (FDP) parliamentary majority. In Germany,
there is always a sitting government, and Merkel and her
current cabinet will remain in office until she is either
re-elected or, although highly unlikely, she is replaced by
the parliament's election of a new chancellor. End Summary.

Election Process

2. (U) Every four years, the German electorate chooses a new
parliament of approximately 598 members. Voters have a first
choice for a direct mandate in which they select the member
of parliament for their constituency by a simple plurality
(one more than any other candidate). They have a second vote
for a state party list (usually 299 members of the parliament
are chosen by these party lists but the number car vary due
to a quirk in the electoral system). A party must win five
percent of the national vote or three direct mandates
(constituencies) to be represented in the Bundestag, although
any candidate winning a direct mandate takes his or her seat
in parliament. The second vote determines the overall
percentage of seats a party gets.

Coalition Negotiations

3. (U) Parties normally make their coalition preferences
known, and if there is a clear parliamentary majority (which
was the case after every election except for 1949 and 2005),
those parties will announced their intention, usually on
election night, to begin negotiations to form a coalition.
If the CDU/CSU and FDP win a parliamentary majority on
September 27, we can expect an announcement that night that
they will begin negotiations, which could come to a
relatively rapid conclusion. In 1998, for example, the SPD
and Greens concluded negotiations and elected Gerhard
Schroeder chancellor in exactly one month.

4. (U) In any case, the parliament must meet no later than
30 days after the Bundestag election. Its first duty is to
elect a Bundestag president and vice presidents, with the
president coming from the largest parliamentary group and the
vice presidents from the other parliamentary groups (also
known as caucuses). When coalition negotiations are
completed, the parties will inform the federal president of
their intention to elect a chancellor, and the president will
propose his or her name to the new Bundestag. Usually the
vote will take place shortly thereafter. If coalition
negotiations are ongoing or if it is not yet clear what kind
of coalition will be formed, as was the case in 2005, the
existing government (chancellor and ministers) remains in
office in a caretaker status until coalition negotiations
result in an agreement to elect a chancellor and form a new
government. The process can last months; in 2005 the
Bundestag election took place on September 18 and Merkel was
not elected chancellor until November 22.

Election of a Chancellor

5. (U) The chancellor must receive an absolute majority of
the members of parliament to be elected in the first round of
voting; this is the process that has been used in every
chancellor election since 1949. If the nominee fails to win
an absolute majority, then the Bundestag has two weeks to try
again, as many times as it chooses and for any nominee it
proposes. After the two week period is over, another vote
would take place without delay. A candidate winning an
absolute majority must be appointed by the federal president;
otherwise the president has the choice of naming the
candidate with a plurality of the votes chancellor or
dissolving the Bundestag, which would trigger new elections
within 60 days. This has never occurred.

6. (U) The president swears in the newly elected chancellor,
who then nominates a list of ministers who are officially
appointed by the president. In recent years, a coalition
agreement usually stipulates which ministries go to which

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parties, and each party leadership chooses its ministers.
This process limits the ability of the chancellor to name the
ministers of his or her choosing. Since the Schroeder
government of 1998, coalition agreements have been made
public and are placed on the government's website despite
their lack of formal legal status.

Appointment of Ministers

7. (U) After the chancellor and ministers are sworn in,
there is also a transition of senior administrative
officials. Each ministry has one or two parliamentary state
secretaries (called ministers of state in the Chancellery and
Ministry of Foreign Affairs) who are members of parliament
and who help the minister or chancellor with relations to
parliament or who perform other selected duties, and one to
there "beamtete" (career civil service) secretaries of state
who oversee the internal administration of the ministry. The
head of the Chancellery can either be a member of the
cabinet, as is the case with Merkel's Chancellery Chief
Thomas de Maiziere, who serves as a Minister without
Portfolio, or is a civil servant, as was the case when
Steinmeier headed Gerhard Schroeder's Chancellery. The
"beamtete" secretaries of state and division chiefs are
considered "political bureaucrats" who are usually career
civil servants (but often with clear party affiliation) who
can be removed from their position at any time and without
cause. There senior civil servants are reshuffled over a
several-month period, with new officials often coming from
state ministries held by the party of the federal minister or
from the staffs of the parliamentary caucuses. Some senior
officials stay on, but particularly when a ministry changes
party hands there is a thorough changeover that takes place
over several months.


8. (SBU) The framers of the German Basic Law have
successfully assured that Germany always has a sitting
government. Unless there is a clear parliamentary majority
for the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition ("black-yellow"), however,
coalition negotiations are likely to be long and difficult
this year and could extend past the 20th anniversary
celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9.
Protracted negotiations should be expected between the
CDU/CSU and SPD for another Grand Coalition. In recent
years, the parties have also insisted on a coalition
agreement that puts restrictions on what a chancellor can do
in important policy areas and that stipulates specifically
the composition and party make-up of the cabinet. In 2005,
for example, the SPD ensured that Merkel could not amend the
previous government's program to phase out nuclear energy
without Social Democratic Party approval, and when then Labor
Minister and Vice-Chancellor Muentefering resigned his office
in 2007, it was the SPD and not Merkel who decided both his
replacement as minister and the elevation of Steinmeier to
the position as Vice-Chancellor. End Comment.



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