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POLITICS

EXPLAINED: Who can vote in German elections

2021 is set to be a hugely important year for German politics, but who will be given a say on the government to replace Merkel's? We take a look at who's eligible to vote this year.

EXPLAINED: Who can vote in German elections
Voters take to the polls in Saxony-Anhalt to pick their new parliament on June 6th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Matthias Bein

If you’ve been in Germany a while, you may have learned a little bit about the country’s electoral system and may have even gone to the polls to pick your town mayor or council representatives.

For many people, however, navigating all the different types of Wahl (election) can feel like a bit of a headache – not least because of Germany’s federal system and numerous levels of government, from the European Union down to local administrators.

If you’d like to put your ballot where your mouth is and get involved in German politics, there’s no better year than a the ‘super election year’ of 2021 to do it. Before you start poring over each of the parties’ manifestos, though, you’ll need to know the basics of the country’s political system.

READ ALSO: These are the dates you need to know for Germany’s ‘super election year’

Here’s a rundown of the different types of elections and – most importantly – who’s able to vote in them.

What types of elections are there in Germany?

  • In the parliamentary Election, or Bundestagswahl, the members of the federal parliament who will serve for the next four years are elected. These MPs then elect the chancellor via a secret ballot. Usually, the candidate for chancellor is agreed upon by the largest parties in parliament – most recently the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
  • In a state election, or Landtagswahl, the state parliaments for each of Germany’s 16 states are elected. In 15 of these states, elections take place every five years, though the city state of Bremen has opted to instead hold elections every four years. Since these elections are organised on a state level, there’s no countrywide ‘Landtagswahl’ date or month. Instead, you can expect the state you live in to organise their vote on a different month or year from most other states.
  • The municipal elections, or Kommunalwahl, are used to elect town councils and local councils, mayors and other administrators for the local district.
  • The European elections, or Europawahl, take place every five years. They are used to elect representatives for the European Parliament.

Who can vote in each type of election?

In the parliamentary and state elections, only German citizens are allowed to vote.

In the local elections, both German and EU citizens can vote – but only if they’ve lived in Germany for at least three months. As you might expect, all EU citizens can vote in the European elections.

What’s the minimum voting age in Germany?

Nationally, the minimum voting age is 18, so only German citizens aged 18 and over are allowed to take part in the federal parliamentary elections. The same applies in most areas for the state elections though Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Hamburg allow over-16s to vote, as long as they are German passport-holders.


A vote is placed in a state election. In Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Hamburg, anyone over the age of 16 can vote for their regional parliament. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

Once again, the voting age varies when it comes to municipal or local elections, though in general, any EU citizen over the age of 16 can vote. Saxony, Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse and Bavaria are the exceptions to this rule: in those states, only over-18s have a say in picking the next council or local mayor.

Over-18s are allowed to vote in European elections.

Why is 2021 such a major year for German politics?

You may have heard 2021 described as a ‘super election year’ in Germany. That’s because, as well as the crucial parliamentary elections on September 26th, a number of state elections are taking place this year as well.

So far, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt have elected their state parliaments, with Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Berlin and Thuringia all going to the polls on the same date as the general elections.

This year is also a particularly decisive year for politics because long-standing Chancellor Angela Merkel will be retiring in autumn, meaning that Germany will be getting a new chancellor at the helm for the first time in 16 years.

READ ALSO:

For Brits in Germany, September will mark the first parliamentary election since the UK left the European Union on February 1st, 2020. Tens of thousands of Brits opted to secure a German passport before the country left both the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA), so this new cohort will be taking part in the German Bundestagswahl and Landtagswahlen in their home states for the very first time.

READ ALSO: How Brexit pushed thousands of Brits to get German citizenship

Vocabulary

Chancellor candidate – (der/die) Kanzlerkandidat(in)

Electorate – (die) Wählerschaft / Wähler

Eligible to vote – wahlberechtigt

Super election year – (das) Superwahljahr

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POLITICS

‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The Chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

Financial boost for Ukraine

Meanwhile, Germany said it would contribute one billion euros to shore up the Ukrainian government’s finances, as G7 ministers met to discuss further support for Kyiv in the face of the Russian invasion.

The G7 were coordinating “commitments to finance the government functions of the Ukraine”, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said at a press conference following the first day of the meeting in Germany.

Germany “will make one billion euros available to the Ukrainians in grants,” Lindner said, in addition to a $7.5-billion pledge from the United
States in the process of being approved by legislators.

Lindner said he expected “further steps forward” to be made before the end of the meeting on Friday.

The war has blown a hole in Ukraine’s finances, with tax revenue having fallen sharply.

Kyiv needed a “double-digit billion euro” figure to keep essential services going, Lindner said earlier in the day ahead of the meeting in Königswinter, near Bonn.

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