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Germany

Few entrepreneurs in new German parliament

Parliamentarians are supposed to be a representative cross-section of civil society - with all classes and many and mixed professions. So why is the new German parliament dominated by lawyers and teachers?

Cemile Giousouf is no ordinary politician - and not only because she is from a Muslim background in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). At 35, she is relatively young - and she's a woman. But she's much closer to the average when it comes to her degree in political science and her occupation.

CDU member Cemile Giousouf speaking in Münster (Caroline Seidel/dpa)

At 35, Cemile Giousouf is some 15 years younger than the average

Almost twice as many men as women will make up the next parliament. A large number of them are aged around 50 and were "administrative professionals," as the official statistics describe it. More than half of the total 631 parliamentarians belong to this group of professionals: administrators, teachers, lawyers. And Giousouf is one of them, a former consultant to ministries in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The composition of the new parliament is not exactly surprising. It wasn't much different in the last term, with a near-absence of entrepreneurs or blue-collar workers. Indeed, a look in the "Data Handbook on the History of the German Bundestag" confirms that the proportion of civil servants has grown steadily since 1957.

Only bureaucrats are guaranteed a job once they leave

"Someone who is self-employed cannot just leave his company dangling for four years. By then, he will have long since lost his customer base," said Klaus Dauderstädt, Chairman of the German Civil Service Federation (DBB). In contrast, German law guarantees that civil servants will have a job to go back to, without restrictions, should they lose their seat in parliament. Unsurprisingly, Dauderstädt doesn't see anything wrong with this: Civil servants "are another pillar of the state" providing important services to the citizens. It is therefore perfectly fine that so many of them are political decision-makers, he said.

In 1982, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt lost a vote of confidence and was replaced by Helmut Kohl (dpa)

The number of civil servants in parliament keeps on growing

But existential worries alone do not explain why so few from the private sector get involved politically. "Serving as a member of parliament has become extremely unattractive for the self-employed," Dresden political scientist Werner Patzelt said in an interview with DW. That's in part because the pay can't compete with other elite positions in Germany - and there is a widespread belief that only a few members yield real power. So is the problem primarily one of attractiveness? Would higher salaries attract more business elite into parliament?

A closed society: No opportunities for career changers

At present, if you want to get anywhere in German politics, you have to get involved with a party as early as possible. "In our democratic system, it is necessary to be politically active at a very young age," Patzelt said. But this only intensifies the image of a parliament of bureaucrats. And self-employed entrepreneurs hardly have a chance at getting in - that's because politicians' careers follow a strategic plan. First, become a member of the youth organization of a party, then climb from post to post, to be finally given a chance as a candidate one day. And it's next to impossible outside the established political parties at the federal level - and even there, never without the support of a patron.

Werner Patzelt, Technical University of Dresden (imago/Sven Ellger)

Primaries could be the answer, says Werner Patzelt

But then, patrons tend to promote only those within their closed circle. This seems to be partly responsible for the fact that certain groups - not just bureaucrats - are over-represented in parliament.

By comparison, the proportion of women, people with non-German backgrounds and those without university degrees is far lower than the population average. According to the Integration media service, only 37 parliamentarians come from immigrant families. Demographically, the system is far from representative: A successful businessman of Turkish origin, or a mother of three children, would not be typical parliamentarians."This keeps many people outside the political sector," Patzelt said.

Primaries instead of party cadres

Patzelt is certain that something in the electoral system will have to change fundamentally to increase the social mix in parliament. He suggests open primaries for all seats. The people would elect potential candidates directly ahead of the election, thus bypassing the traditional privileged party elite.

Would that be closer to the electorate and to the social reality? "We would have people who have seen more of the world than the innards of their political parties," he said. These would include non-bureaucrats and women, such as Cemile Giousouf, who would gain easier access to politics. They would then become average members of parliament. At least statistically.

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