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Will complicated coalitions shape German election?

June 28, 2017

A new three-party government in the state of Schleswig-Holstein has added yet another new coalition to the mix in Germany's upper house. Are the unusual political tie-ups trials for a possible federal government?

Jamaican flag in front of the German Bundestag
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/dpaweb

Daniel Günther, a 43-year-old aspirant of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), got 42 out of 73 votes during Wednesday's assembly ballot in Kiel, seven weeks after voters put an end to a center-left Social Democrat (SPD)-led coalition.

Currently the only German state coalition of its sort, Günther leads a three-way cabinet made up of the CDU, the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and ecologist Greens. The government is known as a "Jamaica coalition" as the parties' traditional colors are, like the Carribean nation's flag, black (CDU), yellow (FDP) and green.

Read more: A guide to Germany's possible coalitions

Daniel Günther
Two members of Günther's coalition parties appeared not to vote for himImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Rehder

A more 'colorful' Bundesrat

Schleswig-Holstein's move, which saw Günther get two votes less than the number of seats held by his government's three parties - follows Tuesday's completion of a CDU-FDP government for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and complicates potential voting trends in the Bundesrat, the upper house of German parliament.  

The Bundesrat comprises representatives of Germany's 16 states, with powers to submit, decline and modify some types of legislation from Germany's more prominent lower chamber, the Bundestag.

A Bundestag vote expected on Friday on a "marriage for all" bill is based on legislative initiatives long-ago written in the Bundesrat.

CDU Laschet and FDP Lindner have formed a coalition in Düsseldorf
NRW Premier Laschet (R) with FDP's Christian LindnerImage: Picture alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini

So too is an initiative floated by NRW's new cabinet that Germany must - in addition to its asylum controls - establish an immigration law, a move also desired by the SPD, who currently govern with Merkel at the federal level.

Implications for federal elections?

There are now 13 different coalition combinations in Germany's 16 states, setting a record for future voting combinations in the Bundesrat. For decades, the chamber was dominated by two blocs - one led by the CDU and the other by the SPD.

Infografik Germany's upper house of parliament

Pundits anticipating Germany's election outcome for September 24 also speculate that such trial constellations could sway the makeup of the next federal government - currently a contest centered on Merkel and her SPD challenger Martin Schulz.

Read more of DW's German election coverage - Germany Decides

The SPD and Greens are each represented in 10 state governments. Merkel's conservatives, comprising her CDU and allied Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) now have stakes in nine regional coalitions.

Seen through a glass door: The Bundesrat's chamber in Berlin
Part of Germany's complicated democracy - the Bundesrat debating chamber in BerlinImage: Imago/IPON

Despite the Bundesrat's complex make-up, one complicated major reform is already through: on June 2 the Bundesrat unanimously approved changes to Germany's tax revenue system that distributes monies among the 16 states; for example, spending on education.

That reform alone, applicable until 2030, required 13 amendments to Germany's constitution or Basic Law.

And, it showed that the states voted less along party lines than according to regional interests.

Read more: What the terms 'right' and 'left' mean in the German election

For example, Bavaria - at the federal level a Merkel ally - broke ranks by voting with the other 15 states to clinch the transfer of more federal funding to the states. 

ipj/sms (AFP, dpa, epd)