How the German government will be tested in 2023 with four state elections

Bavaria, Hesse, Bremen, and Berlin are all set to have state parliament elections this year – with the capital having to repeat the one it ran barely a year ago. What does that mean for the federal traffic light coalition’s agenda?

Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck of the Greens with the SPD's Olaf Scholz and the FDP's Christian Lindner in November 2021 during coalition agreement negotiations.
Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck of the Greens with the SPD's Olaf Scholz and the FDP's Christian Lindner in November 2021 during coalition agreement negotiations. Lindner's FDP may end up being battered in 2023 state elections, whereas the Greens might have the most to gain. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Although they’re not facing a federal vote until 2025, Germany’s government will be tested several times this year. Four of the country’s 16 federal states will vote in 2023.

Campaigning and voting has already started in Berlin, ahead of February 12th’s Wiederholungswahl – or “repeat vote.” Berliners will be voting again for the same choices of candidates, after the state constitutional court declared the 2021 Berlin vote invalid due to logistical snafus with Berlin Marathon roadblocks preventing ballots from reaching polling stations.

As the year rolls on, we’ll see Bremen vote on May 14th and Bavaria on October 8th. Hesse will vote sometime in autumn but the exact date isn’t clear yet.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Berlin could vote again after 2021 election disaster

Federal politicians like Chancellor Olaf Scholz will keep their eye on state elections for two main reasons. The first is that it’s a litmus test for how popular each of the parties are doing. The second is that each state election may theoretically end up changing the composition of the Bundesrat – Germany’s upper chamber that represents the states. Depending on the law being considered, that can sometimes make it harder for the federal government to pass laws.

State elections as a popularity contest

The party most concerned about state election results is likely to be the liberal Free Democrats (FDP). Their poll ratings have had the biggest drop of the three governing parties since taking office and state-level votes could end up confirming this. Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) have also lost popularity, but to a slightly lesser extent.

“If the liberals’ negative trend continues in the 2023 elections, it will shake the coalition federally,” Uwe Jun, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Trier, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

The Greens’ Bettina Jarasch und the SPD’s Franziska Giffey are facing off for the Mayor’s office in Berlin’s repeat election this February. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild/POOL | Soeren Stache

Meanwhile, the Greens and conservative Christian Democrats have enjoyed rises in popularity and may well be looking forward to state results. In Berlin, polls are close enough between current SPD Mayor Franziska Giffey, Green candidate Bettina Jarasch, and CDU leader Kai Wegner that the Mayor’s office may well change hands. At 25 percent in the polls, there’s even the possibility the conservatives could take the Berlin Mayor’s office for the first time in over 20 years.

State elections and the Bundesrat

When a new state government is elected, it sends new representatives to Germany’s upper chamber – the Bundesrat. Since laws in Germany have to pass both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, a German Chancellor will always have his or her eye on their Bundesrat majority. As each year usually sees a handful of state elections, each year tends to offer several chances for the Bundesrat’s makeup of delegates to change.

The current party composition of Germany’s upper legislative chamber, the Bundesrat, which represents state governments. A citizenship reform bill must pass both the Bundestag and Bundesrat. But a Bundesrat veto will be hard to achieve and its composition is unlikely to change much in 2023. Image: Bundesrat

The current polls though, suggest the Bundesrat’s makeup is unlikely to change very much. Both Bavaria’s and Bremen’s state governments are on track to be comfortably re-elected – something that might well happen in Berlin too. In Hesse, either the Greens or SPD look likely to take state leadership from the conservative CDU. That’ll make it even easier for Olaf Scholz to pass traffic light coalition legislation federally.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany’s conservatives block dual citizenship?

Certain landmark legislation, such as the federal government’s citizenship reform bill – which will allow dual citizenship and shorten the time someone needs to be resident in Germany before naturalising – is also likely to pass in summer. That’ll be after Berlin and Bremen have voted but before Bavaria and Hesse, meaning that not enough seats could even theoretically change hands in the Bundesrat to block the bill before it passes.

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Turks in Germany predict artist exodus after Erdogan reelection

Turkish artists and intellectuals living in Germany fear that a whole generation of creative young people will leave Turkey after Erdogan's historic election win.

Turks in Germany predict artist exodus after Erdogan reelection

Turkish artist Bugra Erol, 36, has worked between Berlin and Istanbul over the last few years but his country’s decision to re-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spurred him to move his studio to Germany
for good.

“Life has been difficult for artists like me in the last decade and the result of the last election was the cherry on the cake,” he told AFP.

“I feel like I spent all my life with the struggle,” said Erol, who first came to Berlin in 2017 in search of more artistic freedom.

Erdogan, who enters his third decade of rule with Sunday’s historic victory, has overseen the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1990s with inflation running at more than 40 percent.

He has also caused growing consternation with his crackdowns on dissent, with thousands of opposition figures and campaigners jailed since an attempted coup in 2016.

READ ALSO: Turkish diaspora voters head to polls in Germany

Refuge for dissidents

Isil Egrikavuk, a performance artist and academic based in Berlin, believes many of her peers will choose to leave Turkey.

“People have been leaving increasingly” since the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and “in the last years these numbers increased also”, she said.

“Some people were waiting for the result of the elections, of course, to determine whether to leave or stay. And I think with this result, the brain migration will continue.”

Egrikavuk, 42, points to “a bit of relief in seeing that (Erdogan) won with a very close margin”.

Turkish citizens voting in Germany

A man casts his vote at a polling station at the Turkish consulate general in Hürth, western Germany. Photo: Oliver Berg / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT

“That shows that he is not so strong any more, half of the country doesn’t want him,” she said. But she also sees “hopelessness or sadness or despair among the opposition, or people who are more open minded and liberal, who want more freedom”.

There are roughly three million people of Turkish origin or descent living in Germany, the largest diaspora outside Turkey.

A clear majority of Turks in Germany voted for Erdogan in both the first election two weeks ago and the runoff on Sunday.

The so-called Turkish guest workers who arrived in the 1960s were often religious working-class people from rural areas and have passed on their values to their children — many of whom vote Erdogan today.

But Germany has also become a refuge for Turkish dissidents in recent years, attracting artists, musicians and academics who have clashed with the government or grown frustrated with restrictions on their freedom.

‘Still hope’

Some politicians in Germany have also expressed disappointment with the election result, including Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir — who himself has Turkish roots.

Ozdemir accused Erdogan’s supporters in a tweet of celebrating his victory “without having to answer for the consequences of their vote”.

Many people in Turkey would have to continue living in poverty and with restrictions on their freedom, he said. “They are rightly angry. This will have to be talked about!”

READ ALSO: Turks in Germany hope for citizenship law overhaul

Exiled journalist Can Dundar, who has been living in Berlin since 2016 with an arrest warrant against him in Turkey, also believes many young creatives will now leave Turkey.

“The country is unbearable now for (young people) in every sense, economically, psychologically, sociologically, daily life is destroyed, economic conditions are horrible,” he told AFP.

But Dundar, who was handed a jail sentence after his Cumhuriyet newspaper published an article criticising the government, has always intended to return home.

“From the first day, it was my target to go back and struggle for the reestablishment of Turkish democracy. And I still want to do so,” he said.

He believes “there is still hope” of shifting Turkey away from autocratic rule.

“Turkey is not a proper democracy like France or Germany, but it’s not Belarus or Iran,” he said.

Likewise, Erol said he will “always be part of the struggle to live the life we want.

“Istanbul will always be my real home.”