2017 German federal election
Federal elections were held in Germany on 24 September 2017 to elect the members of the 19th Bundestag. At stake were all 598 seats in the Bundestag, as well as 111 overhang and leveling seats determined thereafter.
The Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, won the highest percentage of the vote with 33%, though suffered a large swing against it of more than 8%. The Social Democratic Party achieved its worst result since the Second World War with only 21% of the vote. Alternative for Germany —which was previously unrepresented in the Bundestag—became the third party in the Bundestag with 12.6% of the vote, whilst the Free Democrats won 10.7% of the vote and returned to the Bundestag after losing all their seats in the 2013 election. It was the first time since 1957 that a party to the right of the CDU/CSU Union gained seats in the Bundestag.
The other parties to achieve representation in the Bundestag were the Left and the Greens, who each won close to 9% of the vote. In the 709 member Bundestag, the CDU/CSU won 246 seats, SPD 153, AfD 94, FDP 80, the Left 69, and the Greens 67. A majority is 355.
For the second consecutive occasion, the CDU/CSU reached a coalition agreement with the SPD to form a grand coalition, the fourth in post-war German history. The new government took office on 14 March 2018. The agreement came after a failed attempt by the CDU/CSU to enter into a "Jamaica coalition" with the Greens and the Free Democrats, which the latter pulled out of citing irreconcilable differences between the parties on migration and energy policy.
BackgroundAt the previous federal election in 2013, the incumbent government—composed of the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union, and the Free Democratic Party —had failed to maintain a majority of seats. The FDP failed to get over 5% of the vote in 2013, denying the party seats in the Bundestag for the first time in its history. In contrast, the CDU/CSU obtained their best result since 1990, with nearly 42% of the vote and just short of 50% of the seats. The CDU/CSU then successfully negotiated with the Social Democrats to form a grand coalition for the third time.
In March 2017, the SPD chose Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament, as their leader and chancellor candidate. Support for the SPD initially increased; however, the CDU afterward regained its lead, with polls generally showing a 13–16% lead over the SPD.
DateGerman law requires that a new Bundestag shall be elected on a Sunday or on a nationwide holiday between 46–48 months after the last Bundestag's first sitting. In January 2017, then-President Joachim Gauck scheduled the election for 24 September 2017.
After the election, the 19th Bundestag had to hold its first sitting within 30 days. Until that first sitting, the members of the 18th Bundestag remained in office.
Electoral systemGermany uses the mixed-member proportional representation system, a system of proportional representation combined with elements of first-past-the-post voting. The Bundestag has 598 nominal members, elected for a four-year term; these seats are distributed between the sixteen German states in proportion to the states' population eligible to vote.
Every elector has two votes: a constituency and a list vote. 299 members are elected in single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post, based just on the first votes. The second votes are used to produce an overall proportional result in the states and then in the Bundestag. Seats are allocated using the Sainte-Laguë method. If a party wins fewer constituency seats in a state than its second votes would entitle it to, it receives additional seats from the relevant state list. Parties can file lists in each single state under certain conditions; for example, a fixed number of supporting signatures. Parties can receive second votes only in those states in which they have successfully filed a state list.
If a party by winning single-member constituencies in one state receives more seats than it would be entitled to according to its second vote share in that state, the other parties receive compensation seats. Owing to this provision, the Bundestag usually has more than 598 members. The 18th Bundestag, for example, started with 631 seats: 598 regular and 33 overhang and compensation seats. Overhang seats are calculated at the state level, so many more seats are added to balance this out among the different states, adding more seats than would be needed to compensate for overhang at the national level in order to avoid negative vote weight.
In order to qualify for seats based on the party-list vote share, a party must either win three single-member constituencies or exceed a threshold of 5% of the second votes nationwide. If a party only wins one or two single-member constituencies and fails to get at least 5% of the second votes, it keeps the single-member seat, but other parties that accomplish at least one of the two threshold conditions receive compensation seats. The same applies if an independent candidate wins a single-member constituency. In the 2013 election, the FDP only won 4.8% of party-list votes; this cost it all of its seats in the Bundestag.
If a voter has cast a first vote for a successful independent candidate or a successful candidate whose party failed to qualify for proportional representation, their second vote does not count to determine proportional representation. However, it does count to determine whether the elected party has exceeded the 5% threshold.
Parties representing recognized national minorities are exempt from the 5% threshold, but normally only run in state elections.
Parties and leadersAltogether 38 parties have managed to get on the ballot in at least one state and can therefore earn proportional representation in the Bundestag. Furthermore, there are several independent candidates, running for a single-member constituency. The major parties that are likely to either exceed the threshold of 5% second votes or to win single-member constituencies were:
Traditionally, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and Christian Social Union in Bavaria, which refer to each other as 'sister parties', do not compete against each other. The CSU only contests elections in Bavaria, while the CDU contests elections in the other fifteen states. Although these parties have some differences, such as the CSU's opposition to the previous government's immigration policies, the CDU and CSU share the same basic political aims and are allowed by the Regulations of the Bundestag to join into one parliamentary Fraktion after the elections, as they do in the form of the CDU/CSU group.
As the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party were likely to win the most seats in the election, their leading candidates are referred to as 'Chancellor candidates'. This does not, however, mean that the new Bundestag is legally bound to elect one of them as Chancellor.
ResultsThe CDU/CSU and the SPD remained the two largest parties in the Bundestag, but both received a significantly lower proportion of the vote than they did in the 2013 election.
The AfD received enough votes to enter the Bundestag for the first time, taking 12.6 percent of the vote—more than double the five percent threshold required to qualify for full parliamentary status. It also won three constituency seats, which would have qualified it for proportionally-elected seats in any event.
The FDP returned to the Bundestag with 10.7 percent of the vote. Despite improving their results slightly and thus gaining a few more seats, the Left and the Greens remained the two smallest parties in parliament.
Results by stateSecond Vote by state
Additional member seats by stateSecond Vote seats allocated by each of the 16 states by party.
Constitution of the 19th BundestagOn 24 October 2017 the 19th Bundestag held its opening session, during which the Bundestag-members elected the Presidium of the Bundestag, i.e. the President and the Vice Presidents of the Bundestag. By tradition the biggest parliamentary group has the right to propose a candidate for President of the Bundestag and following the rules of order every group has the right to be represented by at least one Vice President in the presidium. However, the Bundestag may decide to elect additional Vice Presidents. Every member of the presidium had to be elected by an absolute majority of the members of the Bundestag. Until the election of the President of the Bundestag, the father of the house, the member of parliament with the longest membership, presided over the opening session.
- Since he had been a member of the Bundestag for 45 years, Wolfgang Schäuble would have been the father of the house. However, since Schäuble was also a candidate for President of the Bundestag and would therefore likely have had to declare his own election, he refused the office. Hermann Otto Solms, who had been a member of the Bundestag for 33 years, stood in for him.
- The CDU/CSU group proposed Wolfgang Schäuble to be President of the Bundestag. Schäuble was elected on the first ballot.
- The CDU/CSU group proposed Hans-Peter Friedrich to be a Vice President of the Bundestag. Friedrich was elected on the first ballot.
- The SPD group proposed Thomas Oppermann to be a Vice President of the Bundestag. Oppermann was elected on the first ballot.
- The AfD group proposed Albrecht Glaser to be a Vice President of the Bundestag. On 2 October 2017 the groups of the SPD, the FDP, The Left and Alliance 90/The Greens criticised the nomination because of controversial remarks about Islam and the basic right of religious freedom made by Glaser during the AfD's election campaign and asked the AfD group to nominate someone else to the post. The AfD group declined to accede to the request and nominate someone else. Glaser failed to get a majority on three ballots, although even a plurality would have been sufficient on the third.
- The FDP group proposed Wolfgang Kubicki to be a Vice President of the Bundestag. Kubicki was elected on the first ballot.
- The Left group proposed Petra Pau, who has held this position since 2006, to be a Vice President of the Bundestag. Pau was elected on the first ballot.
- The Alliance 90/Greens group proposed Claudia Roth, who already held this position in the previous legislative session, to be a Vice President of the Bundestag. Roth was elected on the first ballot.
Jamaica CoalitionThe SPD's leader and Chancellor candidate Martin Schulz and other party leaders stated that the SPD would not continue the current grand coalition government after unsatisfactory election results. Following the SPD's announcement that it would return to the opposition, the media speculated that Chancellor Angela Merkel might need to form a Jamaica coalition with the Free Democrats and the Greens as that was the only viable coalition without the AfD or The Left, both of which had been ruled out by Merkel as coalition partners before the election. On 9 October 2017 Merkel officially announced that she would invite the Free Democrats and the Greens for talks about building a coalition government starting on 18 October 2017.
In the final days of the preliminary talks, the four parties had still failed to come to agreement on migration and climate issues. Preliminary talks between the parties collapsed on 20 November after the FDP withdrew, arguing that the talks had failed to produce a common vision or trust.
Grand coalitionAfter the collapse of these coalition talks, the German President appealed to the SPD to change their hard stance and to consider a grand coalition with the CDU/CSU. On 24 November, Schulz said he wants party members to be polled on whether to form another grand coalition with CDU/CSU after a meeting with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier the day before. According to CDU deputy leader Julia Klöckner, talks were unlikely to begin until early 2018. On 6 December the SPD held a party congress in which a majority of the 600 party delegates voted to start preliminary coalition talks with the CDU/CSU. This decision was met with reluctance by the party's youth wing, which organised protests outside the convention hall. Martin Schulz's backing of the coalition talks was interpreted by media organisations as a U-turn, as he had previously ruled out considering a grand coalition.
On 12 January, the CDU/CSU and the SPD announced that they had reached a breakthrough in the preliminary talks and agreed upon an outline document to begin formal negotiations for the grand coalition. On 21 January, the SPD held an extraordinary party conference of 642 delegates in Bonn. The conference voted in favour of accepting the conclusion of preliminary talks and launching formal coalition negotiations with the CDU/CSU. The formal coalition talks finally began on 26 January.
On 7 February, the CDU/CSU and SPD announced that the final coalition agreement had been reached between the parties to form the next government. According to terms of the agreement, the SPD received six ministries in the new government including the finance, foreign affairs and labour portfolios while the CDU received five and the CSU three ministries. The agreement stipulated there would be rises in public spending, an increase in German financing of the EU and a slightly stricter stance taken towards immigration. SPD chairperson and Europe expert Martin Schulz was to step down as party leader and join the cabinet as foreign minister, despite having previously stated that he would not serve under a Merkel-led government. However, only days after these reports were published, Schulz renounced his plan to be foreign minister reacting on massive criticism by the party base. The complete text of the coalition agreement was published on 7 February. The coalition deal was subject to approval of the approximately 460,000 members of the SPD in a postal vote. The results of the vote were announced on 4 March. In summary, 66% of respondents voted in favour of the deal and 34% voted against it. Approximately 78% of the SPD membership responded to the postal vote. The result allowed the new government to take office immediately following Bundestag approval of Merkel's fourth term on 14 March 2018. This had been by far the longest government formation in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, as it was the first time a proposed coalition formation negotiation had collapsed and to be replaced
by another coalition.