With the elections over, German lawmakers are discussing the seating chart for the next Bundestag. The question of where to place the country's newest parliamentary party, the far-right AfD, is dominating the debate.
Bundestag lawmakers gathered on Wednesday to oversee the change of parliament after Germany's September 24 elections. The transitional council, which includes members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), is holding preliminary talks on seating arrangements and future committee chair positions.
Technically, when the first session of the new parliament gathers on October 24, the AfD should sit on the far right. But many leading members of Germany's established parties have expressed opposition to such an arrangement. Having the AfD's parliamentary group leaders, Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel, sitting so close to the government's bench is the last thing they want.
On Wednesday, the Left party's Petra Sitte said a provisional agreement had been reached to seat the AfD on the far right, with the
laissez-faire Free Democrats (FDP) alongside them, but that a final deal still had to be "discussed and examined."
Britte Hasselmann, who heads the Greens' parliamentary group, confirm the provisional deal mentioned by Sitte and said her party supported it. Under the agreement, the Greens would sit on the far left of parliament.
Marco Buschmann, the FDP's parliamentary group leader, sad he "could not confirm" the agreement, but stressed his party was very much against a seating arrangement that would put the liberals next to the AfD. The FDP, in Buschmann's view, belongs "in the middle."
Few lawmakers have been willing to speak openly about the parliament's seating debate. One member of the Social Democrats (SPD) called the dispute a "farce," saying the AfD will obviously sit on the far right — where else? The majority of the SPD's parliamentarians are in favor of behaving rationally with the the far-right party, the lawmaker added, saying few Social Democrats are of the opinion that "complete exclusion" is the right way to go.
'A cynical relationship'
Unlike other lawmakers, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert has been free to express his opinion on the future of parliamentary culture, as he is retiring. In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt, he urged the AfD to take its mandate seriously. "This requires linguistic discipline in debates that show the importance of a parliament and value of cooperation, not provocation," he said. After the elections, AfD parliamentary group leader Gauland announced that he and his party would "hunt" Chancellor Angela Merkel. Lammert responded to this threat by saying: "A parliament is not a hunting ground."
Lammert also spoke harshly of former AfD leader Frauke Petry, who left the party shortly after the Bundestag elections. Petry won a direct Bundestag mandate in Saxony, which she intends to keep, despite her resignation from the AfD. "The fact that a party chairman doesn't join her own parliamentary group and then leaves no room for doubt that this decision had been in the making long before the election reveals a cynical relationship with political mandates," Lammert said.
Tough debates are expected in the future — even before the Bundestag officially reconvenes after the general elections. But a fair number of deputies seem have faith in the authority of Wolfgang Schäuble, the man widely expected to be the next parliamentary president. Many are certain that Schäuble, a Bundestag member with 45 years of experience under his belt, cabinet minister and negotiator for German reunification, will set the right tone.