This Blog will feature opinions on European affairs by members of the Centre for European Politics. Comments are welcome in English.

Germany: the power of the President if there is no majority

My colleague James Sloam writes here about the likely outcomes of the German election.

The most likely outcome is still a majority for CDU-CSU + FDP. If they don't have enough seats, then the next most likely outcomes are either a grand coalition of CDU-CSU + SPD or a coalition of CDU-CSU plus the Greens. But what happens if the CDU-CSU is unable to come to an agreement with either the SPD or the Greens? In 2005, this is what happened following the elections. After some time in which the SPD and CDU did not speak to each other, a Grand Coalition was subsequently formed.

For further guidance, we need to look at Article 63 of the German Basic Law or Constitution. First, the Federal President nominates a Chancellor. If the Bundestag rejects this nomination, which it has never done, then the Bundestag moves to elect a Chancellor of its own volition within 14 days and by an absolute majority. In 1949, this condition was inserted in case the President abused his powers of appointment in the same way as President Hindenburg back in 1925-34. In practice, the President has since 1949 always nominated the clear leader of the winning coalition. In 2005, Angela Merkel was eventually nominated with the consent of the SPD and was in any case the leader of the largest party. Article 63(4) tells us that if after 14 days an absolute majority in the Bundestag fails to elect a Chancellor, it will then proceed to elect a Chancellor by simple majority. If there is no absolute majority the President may decide either to accept that Chancellor or to dissolve the Bundestag for new elections.

In other words, if an election is inconclusive and nobody can find an overall majority in the Bundestag, the President has a significant - and never used - power to choose to go for new elections or indeed to veto a dissolution and to accept a government without an overall majority.

In 2005, it was probably the threat of using this power (rather than its actual use) that led to the Grand Coalition. The President may well have told Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schröder that he would not consent to a second dissolution.



Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 01:20PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

Angela Merkel+: the 2013 German Federal Election and the Future of the European Union

By Dr James Sloam (co-director of the Centre for European Politics, Royal Holloway)


With the German federal election a little more than a week away, it seems that – barring a seismic shift in the opinion polls – Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) are destined for another four years in power. Whilst the name of the next Chancellor is already known, the big question is who Merkel’s coalition partner will be. And, in this respect the race is too close to call.

Will we have a continuation of the Christian Democrats’ (polling at 40%) alliance with the liberals of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) (polling at 6%)? It is likely that the two government parties will come close to a majority in the Bundestag, but the presence of the Party of the Left (die Linke) (polling at 8%) is likely to put the winning line at 47-48%. Will we see another Grand Coalition (as from 2005 to 2009) with the Christian Democrats’ main rivals, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) (polling at 25%)? The two parties would have a clear majority (and this is the favoured coalition for most Germans), but many Social Democrats would be loath to join Merkel in Government given their loss of support under the last Grand Coalition. Or will we see a new Christian Democrat-Green government (Greens polling at 13%)? Although the latter has been dismissed by leaders from both parties, the Government’s u-turn on nuclear power (after Fukushima) has turned this into a real possibility.

What we can say is that 2013 will not go down as one of the more exciting campaigns in recent German political history. Merkel is not a great campaigner, and has struggled to fill halls and stadia for her rallies, but she enjoys the trust and respect of the German electorate. They strongly approve of her handling of the financial crisis and the Eurozone crisis, and see her as a safe pair of hands amid stormy waters. The gaffe-prone SPD candidate, Peer Steinbrück, has not presented himself as a viable alternative, and his efforts to create clear red water between himself and Merkel have not been credible (Merkel and Steinbrück worked well together as Chancellor and Finance Minister during the darkest days of the financial crisis).

A more interesting question is to what extent the federal elections might have an impact on Germany European policy. Whilst Merkel’s stewardship of the EU during the Eurozone crisis has played well at home, it is highly questionable whether her government’s strict adherence to fiscal austerity for debtor countries (i.e. Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain) has benefitted Europe. The fiscal straightjacket of the bailout agreements has stunted growth in these countries for years to come. And Germany, the leading exporter in Europe by a country mile, will also suffer – as a consequence – from reduced trade.

With regard to the European Union, the choice of coalition partner might prove telling. If we see another Grand Coalition, Merkel might have the courage (put differently, the SPD could share the blame!) and the majority to offer more generous terms to debtor countries and push forward with initiatives such as the stalled Banking Union. The less likely possibility of a Christian Democrat-Green coalition would push even further in this direction (the Greens are widely regarded at the most pro-European of Germany’s mainstream parties). On a slightly darker note, the main parties will closely watch the performance of the new Eurosceptic party, Alternative für Deutschland. Although it is unlikely to pass the 5% threshold necessary to enter the Bundestag (polling at 3.5%), a strong performance could set back German plans for deeper European integration. For David Cameron’s UK Conservative Party, this dark could have a silver lining. A good result for the German Eurosceptics could make the rolling back or renegotiation of some EU powers more appealing to a new German government.

Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:33PM by Registered CommenterDr James Sloam | CommentsPost a Comment

Is UKIP just a bunch of transformists?

UKIP is leaking MEPs and elected representatives faster than any other party and faster even than most parties in Italy. In Italy this is known as trasformismo or "transformism".

In the 2009 elections, UKIP did very well and gained 13 MEPs. Since then, five have left the party. Of those five, two have joined the Conservatives - Marta Andreasen and David Campbell Bannerman - while three others now sit as independents -  Nikki Sinclaire, Trevor Colman and Mike Nattrass. In compensation, UKIP picked up one defector from the Conservative Party,  Roger Helmer.

A party that loses 38% of its elected parliamentarians in a period of just over four years is not normal. What is going on? Is it the leadership of Nigel Farage, are dissenters driven out, are the transformist defections based on friendly disagreement, or do the transformists hold really extremist positions that Nigel Farage cannot tolerate?

Since UKIP is projected to do well in the 2014 European Parliament elections, voters might like to know that based on past performance there is a 38 percent probability that any one of UKIP's elected candidates will defect.


Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:26PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | CommentsPost a Comment

Why do the Tories want to repeal the Human Rights Act?

The British Conservatives make no secret of their desire to repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA) if elected with a functioning parliamentary majority in 2015. The HRA was passed into law in 1998 under the government of Tony Blair with the support of the Liberal Democrats. It transposed directly into British law the rather modest conditions of human rights set up by the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950. The Convention contains none of the more radical social and employment rights that the Conservatives find inimical and which are guaranteed by the EU. Unlike the EU, the parent body of the Convention is the Council of Europe, of which the British were founder members in 1949. Indeed the principles of Magna Carta concerning the right to a fair trial and no punishment without law were transposed to the Convention.

Here are the key articles of the HRA. Why do the Conservatives find it necessary to remove these rights from British citizens? Of what are they afraid?

Article 2: Right to Life

Article 3: Prohibition of Torture

Article 4: Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour

Article 5: Right to Liberty and Security

Article 6: Right to a Fair Trial

Article 7: No Punishment without Law

Article 8: Right to Respect for Private and Family Life

Article 9: Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

Article 10: Freedom of Expression

Article 11: Freedom of Assembly and Association

Article 12: Right to Marry

Article 13: Prohibition of Discrimination

Protocol 1, Article 1: Protection of Property

Protocol 1, Article 2: Right to Education

Protocol 1, Article 3: Right to Free Elections


Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 05:14PM by Registered CommenterDr Giacomo Benedetto | Comments2 Comments

German Election Blog - Defence Policy: An End to the ‘Wasted Years’?

German Election Briefing - Defence Policy: An End to the ‘Wasted Years’? - Dr Tom Dyson

The position of defence policy in the final pages of the electoral programmes of the SPD and CDU/CSU is indicative of the perception of defence amongst German politicians as a ‘vote loser’. There is little electoral capital to be gained – and much to be lost – by a high-profile stance on defence and security issues in Germany. As a consequence, the German Defence Ministry has a reputation as a ‘schleudersitz’ (ejector seat) that has buried the political ambitions of a number of prominent politicians since the end of the Cold War. [1] The main priority of Defence Ministers with the ambition reaching higher office is to survive the Ministry with their political reputations intact. There is also little incentive for German MPs to profile themselves on defence and security issues. As a consequence, for post-Cold War Chancellors – particularly Chancellor Merkel, who has been preoccupied with managing the fallout of the Euro-crisis – defence has remained a low priority. From Merkel’s point of view, defence can only cause political problems hence the Defence Minister and defence policy experts within the CDU/CSU have been tasked keeping the policy area low-profile. [2]

Merkel’s Failure to Meet the Challenge of US Disengagement from European Security

This approach to defence and security policy is highly-misguided in the context of contemporary security challenges. During the last electoral period important changes in the international security environment have taken place which demand urgent action from Germany and other European nations. Crucially, in the context of the rise of China as an economic and military power, US defence and security policy has shifted towards a focus on the Asia-Pacific region at the expense of Europe. European states now face an urgent imperative to enhance their collective capacity to deploy military power within their geopolitical neighbourhood; otherwise a security vacuum may begin to develop around Europe. Furthermore, the context of the economic downturn and austerity measures make it particularly difficult for European states to respond to the Asia Pivot on a unilateral basis and for the British and French to continue to shoulder the lion’s share of Europe’s burden-sharing within CSDP and NATO. Hence pooling and sharing military capabilities and forces under the auspices of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is vital for Germany. [3]

Yet, under the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition (2009-13) the implications of these changes in the international security environment have not been adequately recognised. The record of the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition in defence is poor. A number of important reforms to the Bundeswehr have been instigated by Defence Ministers Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (2009-11) and Thomas de Maziere (2011-present). These reforms have streamlined command structures and enhanced the ability of the Bundeswehr to adjust its capability procurement processes to the lessons of recent operational experiences. The CDU/CSU/FDP coalition has also abolished conscription, making some significant savings by reducing the Bundeswehr from 245,000 to 180,000 troops, whilst freeing up a greater number of forces for overseas deployment.[4]

However, Germany’s record as an alliance partner within NATO and CSDP has been significantly tarnished by the Merkel government. By opposing military action in Libya Germany ensured that CSDP could not be used as framework for action, thereby undermining its effectiveness and credibility. In response to criticism from the Obama administration following German non-participation in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector the Chancellor’s Office mandated defence experts in the CDU/CSU (Andreas Schockenhoff MP and Roderich Kiesewetter MP) to instigate proposals to reform the process of parliamentary mandate for troop deployment in order to make Germany a more reliable partner in CSDP/NATO. [5] However, their proposals gained little support from other political parties and were quickly dropped.  Furthermore, rather than coordinating defence cuts with alliance partners and seeking opportunities to pool and share military capabilities, Germany’s military reform has proceeded on the basis of maintaining a broad, but limited, capability spectrum (‘breadth over depth’). This has led to a high-level of unnecessary duplication with alliance partners and restricts the opportunities for pooling and sharing.

The CDU/CSU Electoral Programme: Little Change

The CDU/CSU electoral programme recognises the need for a new European Security Strategy to help define Europe’s common security interests. [6]  Yet, the programme delivers little sign that Germany will provide renewed impetus to CSDP. Joint armaments projects with European partners are recognised as important. However, this necessity is qualified by reference to the importance of Germany’s national defence industry in maintaining a strong defence-industrial base for the Bundeswehr’s policy of ‘breadth over depth’ and to the defence industry’s role in creating jobs. [7]

The structural power of German defence industry within the German political system (particularly the Bundestag’s Budgetary Committee that approves defence procurement projects over 25 Million Euros) has been a major stumbling block to the pursuit of common European defence projects. [8]  Given its strong support in Bavaria, where a large proportion of Germany’s defence industry is based, the CDU/CSU will be unlikely to champion pan-European projects which may lead to a loss of market-share for German industry. [9]

Furthermore, the CDU/CSU electoral programme continues to commit the Bundeswehr to a policy of ‘breadth before depth’ that is not conducive to greater specialisation and pooling and sharing forces and capabilities with alliance partners. However, while the programme does not mention reforms to process of parliamentary mandate for troop deployment, these proposals will resurface in the next parliament, should the CDU/CSU win office. [10]

The SPD: A Commitment to German Leadership on European Defence Cooperation

Senior figures within the SPD rightly view the CDU’s time in charge of the Defence Ministry as ‘wasted years’ for German defence policy. [11] Accordingly, the SPD party programme is far more ambitious in the field of defence.  The SPD party programme includes a clear recognition of the need for Germany to rekindle its reputation as a reliable alliance partner and notes the imperative of stronger German leadership in CSDP to endow it with greater ‘shape and substance’. [12]

The programme hints at a new German-led ‘impulse’ in CSDP, particularly in the field of pooling and sharing forces and capabilities. [13] In stark contrast to the CDU/CSU, the SPD plans to undertake a radical reform of the Bundeswehr to focus on ‘depth’ rather than ‘breadth’ that will be much more conducive to pooling and sharing with alliance partners. [14]  While the programme goes into little detail, it notes the potential of pooling and sharing arrangement to facilitate further defence cuts.[15]

Conclusions: Promises are Hard to Keep

The SPD have been able to capitalise on the defence policy failings of the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition by championing greater German leadership in CSDP, but significant stumbling blocks stand in the way of translating the good intentions of the party programme into action. Firstly, the SPD faces a difficult international context for promoting pooling and sharing arrangements. Germany has been willing to adopt positions of national strategic autonomy on key security issues in recent years – on Libya, Mali and Syria - and this is unlikely to change under the SPD. The SPD will not be willing to enter into pooling and sharing arrangements which may place pressure on Germany to become involved in future operations which are peripheral to its security interests.

Furthermore, the willingness of the British and French to use high-intensity force within their geopolitical neighbourhood contrasts markedly with the deep scepticism of the German public and political class about the efficacy of military force as an instrument of foreign policy. This will further complicate the process of reaching agreement with the UK and France over pooling and sharing. Hence, while the SPD may focus on ‘depth over breadth’ in Bundeswehr reform,  the likely path of German pooling and sharing initiatives under both the SPD and CDU are not through CSDP and institutions such as the European Defence Agency, but through bi-lateral arrangements, with the Dutch, Benelux and Nordic nations, who have a similar reticence to deploy military power.

Finally, the SPD will face similar pressure to the CDU/CSU from the German defence industry to help it maintain its market share. The SPD has strong electoral interests in seats in the North of Germany where the defence industry is a key employer. [16] This will provide a strong distinctive for to permit German leadership on projects within the EDA. It also raises significant doubts about the ability of the SPD to make the cuts necessary for a ‘depth over breadth’ military reform that will be an essential prerequisite for extensive polling and sharing.


[1] Tom Dyson, The Politics of German Defence and Security: Policy Leadership and Military Reform in the post-Cold War Era (New York: Berghahn, 2007).

[2] Interview, Chancellor’s Office, Berlin, 1st August 2012; interview, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 23 July 2013.

[3] Ronja Kempin and Jocelyn Mawdsley, ‘The UK, the EU and European Security: A German Perspective’, RUSI Journal Vol. 158, No.4 (2013), pp.32-6.

[4] Tom Dyson, ‘Condemned Forever to Becoming and Never to Being? The Weise Commission and German Military Isomorphism’, German Politics Vol.20, No.4 (2011), pp.545-67.

[5] Interview Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 23 July 2013; interview Office of Roderich Kiesewetter, MdB, CDU/CSU, Berlin, 29 May 2013.

[6] ‘Gemeinsam Erfolgreich fuer Deutschland: Regierungsprogramm 2013-17’, date accessed 03 September 2013, p.118.

[7] Ibid, p.122.

[8] Interview; Division for International Armaments, Political Department, German Defence Ministry, Berlin, 29 May 2013.

[9] Interview Office of Roderich Kiesewetter, MdB, CDU/CSU, Berlin, 29 May 2013.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Interview, Rainer Arnold, MdB, SPD Bundestagsfraktion, Berlin, 03 July 2013.

[12] ‘Das Wir Entscheidet: Das Regierungsprogramm 2013-17’,, date accessed 03 September 2013, p.109.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Interview, Rainer Arnold, MdB, SPD Bundestagsfraktion, Berlin, 03 July 2013

[15] ‘Das Wir Entscheidet: Das Regierungsprogramm 2013-17’,, date accessed 03 September 2013, p.112.

[16] Interview, Hans-Peter Bartels, MdB, SPD Bundestagsfraktion, Berlin, 21 February 2013.

Posted on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 02:53PM by Registered CommenterDr Alister Miskimmon | CommentsPost a Comment