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23 October 2013

Germany: Before the start of the coalition negotiations

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Coalition negotiations are likely to be complicated. The Left party and Greens argue that if a grand coalition is formed, the opposition would not hold the number of seats required to exercise crucial checks and balances on the government.

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, CDU General Secretary Hermann Gröhe assumes that the entire month of November will be needed for the coalition negotiations starting this week. Then the SPD members would have their say by postal vote on the negotiated treaty, which would require a further two weeks, he said. But perhaps there was the "possibility" that the election of the Chancellor by the Bundestag could take place before Christmas. SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel layed out a similar timeframe on Sunday after the SPD party convention. CSU chairman Horst Seehofer announced details of the timing of the coalition negotiations, stating that the last meeting of the party delegations to negotiate the coalition treaty was planned for 26 November. As reported by a different FAZ article, the CSU Board has now also formally and unanimously voted to take up coalition negotiations with the CDU and the SPD. 

On Wednesday, the representatives from the CDU, CSU and SPD will start to negotiate a coalition agreement in working groups for the individual fields of politics. According to all three parties, the negotiations are not expected to be concluded by mid-November, when the SPD party congress takes place.

Inaugural meeting of the Bundestag

On Tuesday, the Bundestag convened for the first time since the elections and its President Norbert Lammert was re-elected with a record result, reported the FAZ. He has been in office since 2005. In his address, he warned that if a grand coalition were to be formed, it should be clarified whether the rules of procedure of the Bundestag and legislation to ensure the rights of minorities might require adaptations. "All factions of the Bundestag have expressed willingness to discuss these issues", he said, but "clear election results are not unconstitutional from the outset. Neither are large majorities". 

However there have been disputes about the number of Bundestag Vice Presidents, the FAZ reported. The chairman of the Left Party, Gregor Gysi, criticised the CDU and SPD's plan to increase the number of Vice Presidents - to date, each parlimentary group only had one Vice President, but now the CDU had claimed a second one, and subsequently the SPD had done the same. "I think this is arbitrary and an absurdity", Gysi said. 

Meanwhile, the Left party and the Greens are criticising the fact that if a grand coalition is formed, the opposition would hold less than the minimum of 25 per cent of seats required to exercise crucial checks and balances on the government. The Welt and Süddeutsche Zeitung report that the Greens have threatened to pursue legal action and the Left Party proposes to change the constitution. 

"If the grand coalition does not grant us our opposition rights voluntarily, we will consult the Federal Constitutional Court", said Green Party leader Anton Hofreiter in the ARD. Should SPD and Union agree on a large coalition, they would have nearly 80 per cent of the seats in the new Bundestag. However, in order to form an enquiry commission, to request a law review by the Constitutional Court or to make use of other minority rights, a minimum of 25 per cent of the vote is required. Yet, according to Hofreiter, the future opposition, holding around 20 per cent of the votes, should still have theses rights. 

Even the right to speak, which is allotted according to the seat ratios, would be restricted for the Greens to an extent that Hofreiter said they would not accept. "The Bundestag operates on the principle of discourse and debate", he said, and that would be completely undermined if the Greens and the Left Party each had only six minutes per hour and the rest would be "the government holding a monologue with itself". Left Party chairman Gregor Gysi called in theory for a constitutional amendment to strengthen the rights of the opposition but was confident an agreement could be reached with the SPD and Union. President of the Bundestag Lammert shared this conviction. 

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