2021 German federal election
The 2021 German federal election is expected to be held on 26 September 2021 to elect the 20th Bundestag. On the same day, state elections will be held as well: Berlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Thuringia will elect their respective state parliaments.
All 598 seats in the Bundestag (plus overhang and leveling seats)
300 seats needed for a majority
Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel will retire after the election.
The 2017 federal election was held after a four-year grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD. Though the CDU/CSU remained the biggest parliamentary group, both it and the SPD suffered significant losses. The SPD leadership, recognising the party's unsatisfactory performance after four years in government, announced that it would go into opposition. With the CDU/CSU having pledged not to work with either the AfD or The Left before the elections, the only remaining option for a majority government was a Jamaica coalition consisting of the CDU/CSU, FDP, and the Greens. Exploratory talks between the parties were held over the next six weeks, though on 20 November the FDP withdrew from the negotiations, citing irreconcilable differences between the parties on migration and energy policies. Chancellor Angela Merkel consulted with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who implored all parties to reconsider in order to avoid fresh elections.
Consequently the Social Democrats (SPD) and their leader Martin Schulz indicated their willingness to enter into discussions for another coalition government with the CDU/CSU. The SPD leadership voted to enter into exploratory discussion on 15 December 2017 and at a party congress in January 2018 a majority of the party's delegates voted to support the coalition talks. The text of the final agreement was agreed to by the CDU/CSU and SPD on 7 February, though was conditioned on the approval of a majority of the SPD's party membership. The 463,723 members of the SPD voted to approve or reject the deal from 20 February to 2 March, with the result announced on 4 March. A total of 78.39% of members cast valid votes, of which 66.02% voted in favor of another grand coalition. Merkel was voted in by the Bundestag for a fourth term as Chancellor on 14 March, with 364 votes for, 315 against, 9 abstentions, and 4 invalid votes – 9 more votes than the 355 needed for a majority. The new government was officially referred to as the Fourth Merkel cabinet.
Party leadership changes and political instability
Merkel's new government was subject to intense instability. The 2018 German government crisis saw the longstanding alliance between the CDU and CSU threatened to split over asylum seeker policy. Interior Minister and CSU leader Horst Seehofer threatened to undercut Merkel's authority by closing German borders for asylum seekers registered in another European Union (EU) country. The split, eventually repaired following a summit with EU countries, threatened to bring down the government. Seehofer was replaced as CSU leader at a party conference in January 2019, although he retained his position as Interior Minister in the Cabinet.
Merkel herself announced that she would resign as leader of the CDU at the party's conference in December 2018 and step down as Chancellor of Germany at the forthcoming election, following poor results at state elections for the CSU in Bavaria and for the CDU in Hesse. Merkel's preferred candidate for the party leadership, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, narrowly defeated conservative rivals who opposed Merkel's leadership. However, Kramp-Karrenbauer struggled to unify the party's liberal and conservative factions, and in February 2020, she announced her intention to step down as CDU leader and withdraw her interest in running as the party's nominee for Chancellor at the election. A party convention to elect a new leader was scheduled for April, but repeatedly delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The election was held in January 2021, with Armin Laschet, incumbent Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia, winning with 52.8% of delegate votes. His main opponent was Friedrich Merz, a long-time critic of Merkel, who won 47.2%.
The other party in the coalition government, the SPD, also had leadership instability. Following their worst general election result since 1945, the party elected Andrea Nahles as their leader in April 2018. Nahles had earlier been successfully nominated as leader of the SPD parliamentary group. However, she was unsuccessful in improving the party's stocks, as it continued to slide in opinion polls and was well beaten by the centre-left party Alliance 90/The Greens at the 2019 European Parliament election. She resigned on 2 June 2019, precipitating a leadership election for the SPD. Progressive candidates Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken defeated more moderate candidates and were elected co-leaders by the party's membership. Their election raised prospects of the coalition government collapsing and early elections being called, although Reuters reported that the duo would seek to achieve agreement from the CDU/CSU on increasing public spending rather than allow the government to collapse. In August 2020, the party appointed Merkel's deputy Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz as its candidate for Chancellor at the election, despite Scholz having lost to Walter-Borjans and Esken in the party leadership election.
The Left also underwent a change in leadership, with Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger stepping down after nine years as party co-leaders. They were succeeded by Janine Wissler and Susanne Hennig-Wellsow at a party conference held digitally on 27 February 2021. Wissler is considered a member of the party's left wing, formerly aligned with the Socialist Left faction, while Hennig-Wellsow is considered a moderate. Both support their party's participation in federal government, particularly Hennig-Wellsow, who played a major role in the "red-red-green" government of The Left, SPD, and Greens in the state of Thuringia.
The Greens appointed two co-leaders in January 2018 (Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck) and rose in the opinion polling, settling in second behind the CDU/CSU over the next three years. The party had its best ever showings at the 2019 European Parliament elections, 2020 Hamburg state election, and 2021 Baden-Württemberg state election.
Germany uses the mixed-member proportional representation system, a system of proportional representation combined with elements of first-past-the-post voting. The Bundestag has 598 nominal members, elected for a four-year term; these seats are distributed between the sixteen German states in proportion to the states' number of eligible voters.
Every elector has two votes: a constituency vote (first vote) and a party list vote (second vote). Based solely on the first votes, 299 members are elected in single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting. The second votes are used to produce a proportional number of seats for parties, first in the states, and then in the Bundestag. Seats are allocated using the Sainte-Laguë method. If a party wins fewer constituency seats in a state than its second votes would entitle it to, it receives additional seats from the relevant state list. Parties can file lists in every single state under certain conditions – for example, a fixed number of supporting signatures. Parties can receive second votes only in those states in which they have filed a state list.
If a party, by winning single-member constituencies in one state, receives more seats than it would be entitled to according to its second vote share in that state (so-called overhang seats), the other parties receive compensation seats. Owing to this provision, the Bundestag usually has more than 598 members. The 19th and current Bundestag, for example, has 709 seats: 598 regular seats and 111 overhang and compensation seats. Overhang seats are calculated at the state level, so many more seats are added to balance this out among the different states, adding more seats than would be needed to compensate for overhang at the national level in order to avoid negative vote weight.
In order to qualify for seats based on the party-list vote share, a party must either win three single-member constituencies via first votes or exceed a threshold of 5% of the second votes nationwide. If a party only wins one or two single-member constituencies and fails to get at least 5% of the second votes, it keeps the single-member seat(s), but other parties that accomplish at least one of the two threshold conditions receive compensation seats. In the most recent example of this, during the 2002 election, the PDS won only 4.0% of the second votes nationwide, but won two constituencies in the state of Berlin. The same applies if an independent candidate wins a single-member constituency, which has not happened since the 1949 election.
If a voter cast a first vote for a successful independent candidate or a successful candidate whose party failed to qualify for proportional representation, his or her second vote does not count toward proportional representation. However, it does count toward whether the elected party exceeds the 5% threshold.
The Basic Law and the federal election act provide that federal elections must be held on a Sunday or on a national holiday no earlier than 46 and no later than 48 months after the first sitting of a Bundestag, unless the Bundestag is dissolved earlier. The 19th and current Bundestag held its first sitting on 24 October 2017. Therefore, the next election has to take place on one of the following possible dates:
- 29 August 2021 (Sunday)
- 5 September 2021 (Sunday)
- 12 September 2021 (Sunday)
- 19 September 2021 (Sunday)
- 26 September 2021 (Sunday)
- 3 October 2021 (Sunday and German Unity Day)
- 10 October 2021 (Sunday)
- 17 October 2021 (Sunday)
- 24 October 2021 (Sunday)
The exact date is determined by the President of Germany in due course. On 9 December 2020, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier ordered the election to be held on 26 September 2021. This does not preclude a possible snap election at an earlier date.
Federal elections can be held earlier if the President of Germany dissolves the Bundestag and schedules a snap election. They may only do so under two possible scenarios described by the Basic Law.
- If the Bundestag fails to elect a Chancellor with an absolute majority of its members on the 15th day after the first ballot of a Chancellor's election, the President is free to either appoint the candidate who received a plurality of votes as Chancellor or to dissolve the Bundestag (in accordance with Article 63, Section 4 of the Basic Law).
- If the Chancellor loses a confidence motion, they may ask the President to dissolve the Bundestag. The President is free to grant or to deny the Chancellor's request (in accordance with Article 68 of the Basic Law).
In both cases, federal elections would have to take place on a Sunday or national holiday no later than 60 days after the dissolution. Under both scenarios, a snap election is not possible during a State of Defence.
Federal elections can also be held later, if a State of Defence is declared. If a State of Defence prohibits a scheduled federal election and prolongs a legislative period, new elections have to take place no later than six months after the end of the State of Defence.
The table below lists parties currently represented in the 19th Bundestag.
|2017 result||Seats in 19th|
|CDU/CSU||CDU||Christian Democratic Union of Germany
Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands
|Christian democracy||Armin Laschet||Armin Laschet||Ralph Brinkhaus||26.8%||
246 / 709
245 / 709
|CSU||Christian Social Union in Bavaria
Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern
|SPD||Social Democratic Party of Germany
Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
|Social democracy||Olaf Scholz||Saskia Esken
153 / 709
152 / 709
|AfD||Alternative for Germany
Alternative für Deutschland
|Right-wing populism||Alice Weidel
94 / 709
88 / 709
|FDP||Free Democratic Party
Freie Demokratische Partei
|Classical liberalism||Christian Lindner||Christian Lindner||Christian Lindner||10.7%||
80 / 709
80 / 709
|Democratic socialism||Janine Wissler
|Amira Mohamed Ali
69 / 709
69 / 709
|Grüne||Alliance 90/The Greens
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen
|Green politics||Annalena Baerbock||Annalena Baerbock
67 / 709
67 / 709
|Marco Bülow, Verena Hartmann,
Lars Hermann, Uwe Kamann,
Mario Mieruch, Georg Nüßlein,
Frank Pasemann, Frauke Petry
0 / 709
8 / 709
After the election of Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet as federal CDU chairman in January 2021, he became the presumptive CDU nominee for the CDU/CSU's joint Chancellor candidacy. However, he was challenged by Minister-President of Bavaria Markus Söder of the CSU, who consistently polled well among voters and had been discussed as a potential candidate since mid-2020. As the contest intensified in March/April 2021, Söder was backed by the CSU as well as some state and local CDU associations, while Laschet received the support of most of the CDU. The two men failed to come to an agreement by the given deadline of 19 April, leading the federal CDU board to hold an impromptu meeting to break the deadlock. The board voted 31 to 9 in favour of Laschet. After the vote, Söder announced his support for Laschet as Chancellor candidate.
On 10 August 2020, the Social Democratic Party nominated incumbent Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as their lead candidate for the election. Scholz, who served as Mayor of Hamburg from 2011 to 2018, unsuccessfully sought the SPD leadership in the 2019 leadership election. Scholz was formally elected at a party conference on 8–9 May 2021, supported by 96% of delegates.
The AfD's lead candidates were chosen via a membership vote held from 17 to 24 May 2021. The ticket of party co-chairman Tino Chrupalla and Bundestag co-leader Alice Weidel were elected with 71% of votes; they were opposed by the ticket of former Luftwaffe lieutenant-general Joachim Wundrak and MdB Joana Cotar, who won 24%. 14,815 votes were cast, correspoding to a turnout of 48%.
On 21 March 2021, the FDP association in North Rhine-Westphalia elected federal chairman Christian Lindner as top candidate for the party list in that state. He was re-elected as chairman on 14 May, winning 93% of votes with no opponent. The vote also served to confirm him as lead candidate for the federal election.
The Left announced Janine Wissler and Dietmar Bartsch as their co-lead candidates on 2 May 2021. Wissler was elected federal party co-leader earlier in the year alongside Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, who chose not to seek the co-lead candidacy. Bartsch had co-chaired The Left's Bundestag group since 2015, and was previously co-lead candidate in the 2017 federal election. Wissler and Bartsch were formally selected by the party executive on 8–9 May, receiving 87% of votes.
Due to their rise in national opinion polling since 2018, the Greens were expected to forgo the traditional dual lead-candidacy in favour of selecting a single Chancellor candidate. Party co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck were considered the only plausible candidates. Annalena Baerbock was announced as Chancellor candidate on 19 April.
For the first time since the 2002 election, the four major television broadcasters ARD, ZDF, RTL and ProSieben/Sat.1 will not hold a joint television debate. Separate debates were previously prevented by incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel, who is not running for reelection. For the first time in history, three-way major debates will be held, as the Greens were invited after overtaking the Social Democrats in opinion polls.
|2021 German federal election debates|
|Date||Broadcasters||P Present I Invited NI Not invited|
|17 May||RBB Fernsehen||NI||P
|20 May||WDR, tagesschau24
|29 August||RTL, n-tv||I
|12 September||Das Erste, ZDF||I
|13 September||Das Erste, ZDF||NI||NI||NI||I
|23 September||Das Erste, ZDF||I
Members of Parliament not standing for reelection
- Norbert Barthle
- Manfred Behrens
- Sybille Benning
- Peter Bleser
- Norbert Brackmann
- Maria Flachsbarth
- Hans-Joachim Fuchtel
- Alois Gerig
- Eberhard Gienger
- Astrid Grotelüschen
- Mark Hauptmann
- Matthias Heider
- Heribert Hirte
- Karl Holmeier
- Alois Karl
- Volker Kauder, former CDU/CSU parliamentary leader
- Andreas Lämmel
- Karl A. Lamers
- Katharina Landgraf
- Nikolas Löbel
- Thomas de Maizière, former Minister of the Interior
- Hans-Georg von der Marwitz
- Angela Merkel, incumbent Chancellor
- Hans Michelbach
- Elisabeth Motschmann
- Gerd Müller, incumbent Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development
- Michaela Noll
- Georg Nüßlein
- Martin Patzelt
- Joachim Pfeiffer
- Eckhardt Rehberg
- Lothar Riebsamen
- Anita Schäfer
- Klaus-Peter Schulze
- Uwe Schummer
- Patrick Sensburg
- Frank Steffel
- Karin Strenz
- Peter Tauber
- Arnold Vaatz
- Kees de Vries
- Peter Weiß
- Marian Wendt
- Tobias Zech
- Bela Bach
- Lothar Binding
- Ingrid Arndt-Brauer
- Fritz Felgentreu
- Ulrich Freese
- Dagmar Freitag
- Barbara Hendricks, former minister of Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
- Marcus Held
- Gustav Herzog
- Thomas Jurk
- Daniela Kolbe
- Ralf Kapschack
- Christine Lambrecht, incumbent Minister for Justice and Consumer Protection
- Christian Lange
- Kirsten Lühmann
- Caren Marks
- Christoph Matschie
- Hilde Mattheis
- Markus Paschke
- Florian Pronold
- Sascha Raabe
- Ernst Dieter Rossmann
- Ulla Schmidt, former minister of Federal Ministry of Health
- Ursula Schulte
- Martin Schulz, SPD candidate for Chancellor in the 2017 federal election
- Swen Schulz
- Rainer Spiering
- Sonja Steffen
- Kerstin Tack
- Gabi Weber
- Dagmar Ziegler, incumbent Vice President of the Bundestag
- Scholz was nominated as the SPD's Chancellor candidate on 10 August 2020, but is not party leader.
- Weidel was elected co-lead candidate on 24 May 2021, but is not party co-leader.
- Currently sits as an Member of the Landtag of North Rhine-Westphalia for Aachen II. Running in Aachen I and North Rhine-Westphalia list.
- Currently Vice Chancellor and Minister of Finance. Running in Potsdam – Potsdam-Mittelmark II – Teltow-Fläming II and Brandenburg list.
- Bartsch was announced as co-lead candidate on 2 May 2021, but is not party co-leader.
- Running in Rheinisch-Bergischer Kreis.
- Currently sits as a list member of the Landtag of Hesse.
- Running in Potsdam – Potsdam-Mittelmark II – Teltow-Fläming II.
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- Schweriner Volkszeitung: :Wer beerbt Merkel, Rehberg, Bluhm und Co? – Quelle: https://www.svz.de/29961687 ©2021 (german)
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