The year-long dispute over a change in electoral law to reduce the size of the Bundestag will continue even after the passage of the reform now presented by the traffic light coalition. This was already apparent before the vote planned for Friday on the project in the Bundestag.

SPD, Greens and FDP once again invited the Union to support the reform so that the right to vote has a broad political base. However, the indignation of the CDU and especially the CSU is great. The CSU will take action against it “up to the last second,” said its chairman Markus Söder in Munich after a meeting of the party executive.

the initial situation

In the 2021 election, the Bundestag grew to 736 MPs. This makes it bigger than ever before and one of the largest parliaments in the world. The reason is the electoral system with its two votes. The first directly elects a Member of Parliament in each of the 299 constituencies. The second vote, however, is decisive for how many seats a party gets in the Bundestag. If she wins more direct mandates than she is entitled to based on the result of the second vote, she may keep them. For these so-called overhang mandates, the other parties in turn receive compensation mandates.

The reform

The traffic light bill provides for a slight increase in the target size of the Bundestag from the current 598 MPs to 630. This is to be achieved by completely dispensing with overhang and equalization mandates. It remains with the existing 299 constituencies. Only the second votes should be decisive for the distribution of seats. In the future, according to this model, it may happen that candidates who have won their constituency directly will not get the mandate – namely if, according to the result of the second vote, their party is entitled to fewer seats than it has won direct mandates.

In the future, any party that does not get over the five percent hurdle should also go away empty-handed. Because the so-called basic mandate clause is to be deleted. According to her, a party also enters the Bundestag if it has won less than five percent of the second votes but at least three direct mandates. The left has benefited from this on several occasions – most recently in 2021, when it only got 4.9 percent of the second votes in the federal election.

The critics

Criticism has been sharpest for the party that has benefited the most from previous electoral law: the CSU in Bavaria. If necessary, there will be a constitutional complaint, announced Söder. “The deputies are no longer elected, they are assigned.” But the motto must apply: “Democrats before bureaucrats!”.

CDU General Secretary Mario Czaja also criticized that the reform plans would cause the Union to lose a disproportionate number of seats, since it had won most of the constituencies in the past. He spoke of a “suffrage clearly at the expense of the constituency winners”. After the Bundestag decision, the exact changes to the electoral law will be looked at. After that, the Union faction will decide on a norm control procedure in Karlsruhe.

The left chairwoman Janine Wissler also expects a constitutional complaint. The planned deletion of the so-called basic mandate clause will definitely lead to a visit to Karlsruhe, she said in Berlin. However, your group has not yet discussed the plans and has therefore not yet decided on its own lawsuit. The approach that a majority should not lead to winning a direct mandate in all constituencies is also highly problematic.

The originators

The SPD, Greens and FDP, on the other hand, emphasize that one party is not particularly preferred and another particularly disadvantaged. “All parties are equally affected, as should be the case with a well-functioning and democratically legitimized downsizing of parliament,” said the FDP chairman in the Bundestag’s electoral law commission, Konstantin Kuhle.

His SPD colleague Sebastian Hartmann emphasized that it was a matter of “a simple, fair and transparent electoral law” that was constitutional. Katja Mast, the first parliamentary director of the SPD parliamentary group, said: “I invite all members of the CDU who are willing to reform to join our proposal this week.” Behind closed doors, CDU colleagues also signaled their sympathy for the traffic light model.

The traffic light representatives reacted demonstratively calmly to a possible lawsuit in Karlsruhe. “Anyone who wants to call the court, as some are already announcing, is welcome to do so and has enough time to do so before the next federal election,” said Till Steffen, the Greens’ chairman in the electoral law commission.