After years of dispute, the Bundestag passed an electoral law reform that is intended to reduce the size of parliament and limit it permanently to 630 MPs. A draft by the SPD, Greens and FDP achieved the required simple majority in Berlin.

400 MPs voted for the reform. As the Deputy President of the Bundestag Aydan Özoguz announced, 261 MPs voted against the bill. 23 MPs abstained.

The Union and the Left Party see themselves disadvantaged by the reform. They each announced a lawsuit before the Federal Constitutional Court.

In the final debate on the planned downsizing of the Bundestag, opposition politicians accused the traffic light factions of tailoring their right to vote in order to stay in power. Sebastian Hartmann (SPD) said the aim of the project was “a simple, understandable right to vote”.

CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt said the plan was aimed at pushing the left out of parliament and calling “the CSU’s right to exist” into question. “You are making a reform for yourself here” in order to cement the “traffic light’s claim to power,” he accused Hartmann.

Parliament should shrink

With the reform, the Bundestag, which has grown to 736 MPs, is to be permanently reduced to 630 seats from the next election. The reduction is to be achieved by completely dispensing with overhang and equalization mandates. So far, these have caused the Bundestag to be bloated. Overhang mandates arise when a party wins more seats in the Bundestag via direct mandates than it is entitled to based on the result of the second vote. You can keep those seats. The other parties receive compensatory mandates in return. According to the new rules, it could happen in the future that an applicant wins his constituency directly, but still does not get into the Bundestag. This angers the CSU in particular.

In addition, a strict five percent clause should apply. The so-called basic mandate clause does not apply. So far, it has ensured that parties with the strength of their second vote result in the Bundestag also entered the Bundestag if they were less than five percent but won at least three direct mandates. The Left Party benefited from this in 2021. If the clause is deleted, depending on the election result, this could also have consequences for the CSU in the future, whose direct candidates in Bavaria traditionally win the most constituencies.

“I didn’t know that the CSU was afraid of the five percent hurdle,” remarked Britta Haßelmann, parliamentary director of the Greens parliamentary group, smugly. In order to minimize this risk, the CDU and CSU could run as a party association in future elections or enter into a list.

Left accuses traffic lights of “arrogance”.

Originally, the traffic light even wanted to reduce Parliament back to the target size of 598 MPs. After the Union had rejected this proposal from the SPD, Greens and FDP, which did not yet provide for the deletion of the basic mandate clause, the traffic light presented the new variant. That is the work of the SPD, which hopes to benefit from it, according to the motto “first the party, then the public good,” said Albrecht Glaser (AfD).

The left-wing faction’s parliamentary director, Jan Korte, accused the traffic light of “arrogance”. You just “spooked” the change just before the vote. Several Union MEPs applauded during his speech. “Your main concern as the SPD is to eliminate left-wing criticism,” complained the deputy leader of the left-wing faction, Gesine Lötzsch. SPD parliamentary group leader Dirk Wiese said that the problem of the left is not the right to vote, but their internal disputes, especially with MP Sahra Wagenknecht.

A request from the Union parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz (CDU) to postpone the vote by two weeks because the changes presented at short notice were significant and had triggered a great deal of advice was rejected by SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich.

The Federal Council still has to deal with the draft law, but cannot stop it.