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GERMAN FEDERAL ELECTION

Post-Merkel parliament more diverse – but critics say more work needed

Germany may not yet have a new government - but the new parliament sat for the first time on Tuesday after last month's election. It ushers in a post-Merkel era that is more female, younger and more ethnically diverse.

Chancellor Angela Merkel with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Bundestag on Tuesday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Bundestag on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Angela Merkel will remain caretaker chancellor until a new government is in place while the body that will elect her successor, the Bundestag lower house of parliament, will convene having swollen to a record 736.

Merkel sat on the visitor balcony during the proceedings because she is not a member of the new parliament.

The September 26th general election left the centre-left Social Democrats as the biggest party, whose candidate Olaf Scholz is working toward cobbling together a ruling coalition by early December.Chancellor Angela Merkel with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday. 

But while the top job is expected to pass from Germany’s first female chancellor to a man, the Bundestag’s powerful speaker Wolfgang Schäuble is set to hand off the podium to Bärbel Bas – only the third woman to hold the post.   

Meanwhile the new-look Bundestag boasts a number of firsts for the EU’s most populous nation, although activists say it still has far to go to truly reflect the rich tapestry of German society.

READ ALSO: People with migrant backgrounds still underrepresented in German politics

The first-ever black woman MP, Eritrean-born Awet Tesfaiesus, 47, will take her seat among the Greens’ parliamentary group.

Having arrived in Germany at age 10, Tesfaiesus went on to become a lawyer and has devoted her career to defending the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers.

“We need diversity in this country,” she told AFP. “We need people who have been victims of racism to be better represented.”

‘Latent racism’

During her mandate, Tesfaiesus said she wants to fight the “label” of foreigner that sticks to her despite her German passport.

“You feel latent racism everywhere,” she said.

“When I’m looking for an apartment, when the postman comes into my law office and talks with my secretary because he automatically thinks she’s my superior…”

Tesfaiesus told local media she launched her political career as a consequence of a racist attack in Hanau near Frankfurt in February 2020, when a far-right gunman shot dead nine people at a shisha bar and a cafe.

She joins Senegalese-born Karamba Diaby, a Social Democrat who was until now Germany’s only black MP, and his party colleague Armand Zorn, who emigrated from Cameroon at the age of 12 and just won his first direct mandate in parliament.

READ ALSO: Meet the Halle politician helping to challenge stereotypes of eastern Germany

The number of foreign-born deputies or those with at least one parent born abroad has climbed to 83, making up 11.3 percent of the Bundestag, up from 8.2 percent in the last assembly.

“We are helping to wake up the political scene,” Deniz Nergiz, head of the Federal Council on Immigration and Integration, which promotes political participation in immigrant communities, told AFP.

“There is also for the first time a refugee elected in the (former communist) east of the country,” where the number of foreign-born Germans is significantly smaller.

Also among the newly elected is Lamya Kaddor, who teaches religion courses about Islam in schools in the Ruhr Valley – a subject hotly debated in recent
years in Germany.

READ ALSO: ‘Germany is a country with a migrant background,’ says President Steinmeier

At the same time, the Greens, who are expecting to serve as junior partners in the new government, touted at least three dozen of their deputies under the age of 35. MP Ricarda Lang tweeted a photo of them on the steps of the parliament building with the tagline: “There’s some new kids in town.”

‘Far behind’

But despite its broader representation, the Bundestag, with its overwhelmingly white and male makeup, still lags in mirroring the modern face of Germany.

Nergiz said parliament was still “far behind” the 26 percent of people of foreign origin “across German society”.

The same is true for women in the ranks of the MPs, even after 16 years with Merkel as the first woman chancellor at the helm. They make up only 24
percent of deputies, up from 20 percent previously.

The gender figures vary widely among the parties with seats in the Bundestag, with the Greens boasting a 59 percent majority of women, including two transgender women: Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik.

Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik pictured outside the Bundestag on September 28th. 

By contrast the far-right Alternative for Germany only has 13 percent of women among its ranks.

Talks are ongoing between the Social Democrats, Greens and the Free Democrats to form a new government. They want to have the three-way coalition in place by early December. 

By Deborah COLE and Yannick PASQUET

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POLITICS

Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
 
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
 
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
 
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
 
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

READ ALSO: 

Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.

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