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Germany’s new coalition government ‘thwarted Merkel plan for two-week lockdown’

Germany’s new government thwarted a plan by outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel to put in place a two-week Austria-style national lockdown, German tabloid Bild reported on Wednesday.

Germany's outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa POOL | Michael Kappeler
Germany's outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa POOL | Michael Kappeler

One of Germany’s new ‘traffic light’ coalition government’s first actions was to overrule a plan by the government of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel to put in place an immediate two-week lockdown. 

Merkel put forth the proposal on Tuesday evening, and according to Bild the lockdown would have applied from Thursday onwards. It was however knocked back by the incoming government, who said it would have been interpreted by the public as a “bad political trick” in tandem by the old and the new government, Bild reported on Wednesday afternoon

Citing several sources close to the government, Bild said Merkel wanted to cut rising infection rates through a ‘handbrake’ style national lockdown, which would have included closures of bars, restaurants and shops. 

READ ALSO: LATEST: Germany’s next government sets out roadmap for post-Merkel era

Like Austria’s lockdown, which came into effect on Monday, November 22nd, the measure would have applied not only to the unvaccinated, but also to those who have been vaccinated against Covid or who have recently recovered from the virus. 

Germany’s new Infection Protection Act came into effect on Wednesday, which prevents such a nationwide lockdown and instead places greater responsibility on Germany’s 16 federal states. 

Therefore, the new act restricts the current government’s power to put in place a nationwide lockdown should it be deemed necessary and will require agreement from the states should harsher measures be adopted. 

Covid cases have been surging in Germany in recent days, hitting record heights. 

Several parts of the country, primarily in the heavily-hit south, have put in place restrictive measures including stay at home orders and requiring restaurants to close. 

READ ALSO: UPDATE: European countries ‘must act urgently’ amid worsening Covid outlook

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POLITICS

Why Germany’s supersize Bundestag might become smaller

With 736 MPs, the German Bundestag is one of the world’s largest parliaments - and keeps growing. But the coalition government wants to cap it at under 600 seats so it's not as bloated.

Why Germany's supersize Bundestag might become smaller

What’s happening?

The German Bundestag – the lower house of parliament – currently has 138 seats more than it technically should have.

Several attempts at reform in the past have so far failed to change this significantly. The country’s voting system was brought in following the war and it was seen as a compromise for smaller parties, who were worried they wouldn’t win any seats.

But now Germany’s political landscape has changed; there are no longer just two big parties – the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats – vying for a majority. 

Now politicians from the ruling coalition, made up of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), have come up with a drastic proposal.

In order to significantly reduce the size of the Bundestag, the ‘overhang mandates’ and therefore also the compensatory mandates to achieve the balance of power would be abolished. 

What will this mean for voters?

Reducing the size of parliament could change some considerations about how Germans vote. That’s because Germany’s complicated voting system is what makes the Bundestag so large.

When Germans vote in an election – most recently in September 2021 – they cast two votes. The first vote, or Erststimme, is a vote for the representative in your district and is counted in the same way as a district vote in the US, UK, or Canada would be counted.

Right now, if someone wins the first vote outright, they go into the Bundestag. The second vote, or Zweistimme, is more important, as it’s for a party. Each party is assigned a number of seats proportional to the number of second votes they got.

READ ALSO: ‘My vote counts’: How Germany’s new legion of foreign voters see the election

But what if more members win seats on the first vote than the share of the second vote results entitles them to? When that happens, the Bundestag is allocated additional seats to compensate. These are called the ‘overhang seats’ and they’re part of why the Bundestag has so many members. To make up for this, other parties also get more seats, to ensure that the relative proportion of parties in the Bundestag reflects the election result. 

There is also the question on if taxpayer-money is being spent wisely – each of those extra MPs is also entitled to staff. 

The joint proposal for reform from three MPs, each representing one of the three governing parties, would get rid of these overhang seats. The number of seats a party receives in the Bundestag would then be decided exclusively by the second vote, which would be renamed a ‘list vote’ or ‘Listenstimme‘.

It would mean that Bundestag would always have its intended size of 598 members, which is the aim of the reform. 

How would this work in practice?

According to the proposal, if a party wins more direct mandates in a federal state than it would be entitled to according to the result of the second vote, then the “surplus” direct mandates with the weakest result should be capped.

To ensure that the votes for these candidates are not forfeited, voters should have a “substitute vote” in addition to their first vote. With this, according to the proposal, they can choose the candidate who will be their second choice as constituency representative.

If the mandate of the “overhang candidate” were to be eliminated, these substitute votes would be counted instead and the winning candidate would enter the Bundestag. Unlike today, winning a constituency would no longer guarantee a Bundestag mandate. The reformers therefore want to rename the first vote “personal vote” and the second vote “list vote”.

The joint proposal also envisions reducing the number of constituencies in Germany from 299 to 280.

Is this definitely happening?

No. The proposal would still have to be debated by parliament and could run into resistance from members who rely on direct votes. The opposition Christian Democrats, for example, generally oppose any measures to get rid of overhang seats.

Vocabulary:

German Federal Parliament – (der) Bundestag

Member of German Parliament – Mitgleid des Deutschen Bundestages (MdB) or Bundestagsabgeordneter 

Vote – (die) Stimme

Overhang Seat – (das) Überhangmandat 

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