Parties: The Changing Face of Germany’s Party System

Another student guest blog on Germany; you can read some of their other work here.


There are two interesting and interrelated trends occurring in Germany’s party system. Firstly, in the 2009 election the amount of votes given to the small parties (The Green Party, Free Democratic Party, and the Left) and rose drastically at the expense of the two entrenched parties of the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party (Weldon and Nüsser 48). The graph shows the gains and losses of the political parties in Germany in comparison with the 2005 elections. Secondly, the voter turnout continues to decrease in Germany and in 2009 a record low of 70.8% was reported (Weldon and Nüsser 48). Why is this the case? Let’s take a look at these parties to get a better sense of the aforementioned trends.

The Christian Democratic Union of Germany is one of the oldest and strongest parties in Germany, in fact five of the eight chancellors of Germany since 1949 have been members of the CDU, including the current chancellor Angela Merkel. The CDU supports conservative social values, social welfare programs, the free market economy, and assistance to the former East German states. As the SPD, the CDU has historically been known as a catch all party, but it has slowly been losing its appeal. In 2009 the CDU earned 27.3% of the national vote and 31% of the seats in parliament (194 of 622) (Bundeswahlleiter 1).

In 2009 the FDP received 14.6 % of the national vote and about 15% of the seats in parliament (93/622) (Bundeswahlleiter 1). The FDP supports free trade, reducing the role of the state in economic policy, individual liberty, and is pro-business.

The Social Democratic Party is Germany’s oldest political party and was founded in 1875. An interesting fact about the SPD is that it was the only party that emerged from the Weimar period with a record of opposition to Hitler, which bolstered its support in post-war Germany. The SPD represents the interests of the working class and strives to support the disadvantaged.  In the last elections the SPD received 23% of the national vote and 146 (roughly 24%) of the seats in parliament (Bundeswahlleiter 1). Although 146 may seem like a lot of seats, this is much less than the 222 they had in 2005.

The Christian-Social Union in Bavaria is the union partner to the CDU, however this union is not always harmonious. The CSU is more conservative than the CDU especially when it comes to issues like abortion, immigration, and integration. The CSU is unique, in that it is the only regional party to hold seats in the Bundestag. In 2009 they received 6.5% of the national vote and approximately 7% of the seats in parliament (45/622) (Bundeswahlleiter 1).

The Left received 11.9% of the national vote and obtained 76 seats in parliament (12%) (Bundeswahlleiter 1). The Left party is the result of the merging two parties one of them being former East German communist party. The Left party is adamantly opposed to foreign military deployments (Afghanistan) and desires to return to socialist principles.

In 2009 Alliance 90 / The Greens received 10.7% of the vote and approximately 11% of the seats in parliament (68 of 622). As one would imagine, the Green Party supports pacifism and environmental activism; however, they also actively support civil rights issues such as equality for women and homosexual rights.

Now lets arrange the parties ideologically from left to right by party family:

  • The Left (Democratic Socialists)
  • The Greens (Greens)
  • SPD (Democratic Socialists)
  • FDP (Liberals)
  • CDU (Conservatives / Christian Democrats)
  • CSU(Conservatives / Christian Democrats / Regional Parties)

Back to the original puzzle. Why do we see the rise of small parties and the decline of voter turnout? One explanation is the phenomena of the Wutbürger (enraged citizen), which reflects an unhappiness and feeling of alienation from the traditional political parties (Dempsey German Politics 1). While we see the trend of small parties gaining more votes, some argue that the rise of the small parties is inherently paradoxical, as it actually grants more power to the two larger parties by depriving all of the small parties of the status of “Kingmaker” (Lees Coalition 131). In conclusion, it is clear that the ideological monopoly that the CDU and SPD held is now being challenged but the German system is very fluid and it is too early to tell what reforms, if any, will occur within the party system.

References

Bundeswahlleiter. “Endgültiges Ergebnis der Bundestagswahl 2009.” Bundeswahlleiter. 5 March 2012.<http://www.bundeswahlleiter.de/de/bundestagswahlen/BTW_BUND_09/ergebnisse/bundesergebnisse/index.html>.

Bündis 90 / Die Grünen. “The Future Is Green: Party Program and Principles.” Bündis 90 / Die Grünen.10 May 2009. 5 March 2012. <http://www.gruene.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Dokumente/Wahlprogramm/BTW_Wahlprogramm_2009_final_screen_060709.pdf>.

Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. “Background Note: Germany.” U.S. Department of State. 1 July 2011. 6 March 2012. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3997.htm>.

Christlich-Soziale Union Deutschlands. “Chancen für alle! In Freiheit und Verantwortung gememinsam Zukunft gestalten.” Christlich-Soziale Union Deutschlands. 28 Sep. 2007. 5 March 2012. <http://www.csu.de/dateien/partei/gsp/grundsatzprogramm.pdf>.

Christliche Demokratische Union Deutschlands. “Freedom and Security Principles for Germany: Party Manifesto of the Christian Democratic Union Germany.” Christliche Demokratische Union Deutschlands. 4 Dec. 2007. 5 March 2012.  < http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_13533-544-2-30.pdf?110509134359>.

Dempsy, Judy. “German Foreign Minister Defends Governing Coalition.” The New York Times. 6 Jan. 2011. 4 March 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/world/europe/07germany.html>.

Dempsy, Judy. “German Politics Faces Grass-Roots Threat.” The New York Times. 1 May 2011. 4 March 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/world/europe/02germany.html?pagewanted=all>.

Die Linke. “Programme of Die Linke Party.” Die Linke. 23 Oct. 2011. 5 March 2012. <http://www.die-linke.de/fileadmin/download/dokumente/englisch_die_linke_programm_erfurt.pdf>.

Elo, Kimmo. “The Left Party And The Long-Term Developments Of The German Party System.” German Politics & Society 26.3 (2008): 50-68. 

Freie Demokratische Partei. “Die Mitte Stärken. Deutschlandprogramm 2009.” Freie Demokratische Partei. 17 May 2009. 5 March 2012. <http://www.fdp.de/files/565/Deutschlandprogramm09_Endfassung.pdf>.

Hough, Dan. “Small But Perfectly Formed? The Rise And Rise Of Germany’s Smaller Parties.” German Politics 20.1 (2011): 186-199. 

Isenson, Nancy. “Political Parties Form Colorful Spectrum in Germany” Deutsche Welle. 18 Aug. 2009. 5 March 2012.  <http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,4541120,00.html>.

Lees, Charles. “Coalition Dynamics And The Changing German Party System.” German Politics & Society 28.3 (2010): 119-132.

Lees, Charles. “Coalition Formation And The German Party System.” German Politics 20.1 (2011): 146-163. 

Nordsieck, Wolfram. “Legeslative Elections: Deutscher Bundestag.” Parties and Elections in Europe. 4 March 2012.  <http://www.parties-and-elections.de/germany.html>.

Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands. “Hamburg Programme: Principle Guidelines of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.” Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands. 28 Oct. 2012. 5 March 2012.   <http://www.spd.de/linkableblob/5056/data/hamburger_programm_englisch.pdf>.

Spiegel Online. “A Quick Guide to Germany’s Political Parties.” Der Spiegel. 25 Sept. 2009. 4 March 2012. <http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,druck-651388,00.html>.

Weldon, Steven, and Andrea Nüsser. “Bundestag Election 2009: Solidifying The Five Party System.” German Politics & Society28.3 (2010): 47-64.

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