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Germany’s bulging Bundestag
September 27, 2021 - The new 735-member Bundestag tops both the 672-seat chamber elected in 1994 and the 709-seat chamber in 2017 to become the largest ever. The only parliament that is any larger is the Chinese National People’s Congress.
The reason is Germany’s complicated electoral law. Mandates for “overhang” seats (Überhangmandate) and compensation “leveling” seats (Ausgleichsmandate) ensure that the composition of the Bundestag is proportionate to the votes for the parties.
Since September 1949, when Konrad Adenauer became the first elected chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), eight chancellors have presided over 19 sessions of the Bundestag.
The first session of the lower house had 402 seats. The military occupation of West Germany ended in 1952, and in 1955 West Germany was recognised internationally as an independent nation. It joined NATO in 1955 and the European Economic Community in 1957.
West and East Germany were reunified in 1990, and Bundestag members swelled to 662.
The prospect of an ever-larger Bundestag not only threatens the chamber’s ability to function, but also exposes taxpayers to increased costs.
“Democracy is allowed to cost money,” said Robert Vehrkamp, director of the Future of Democracy programme at the Bertelsmann Foundation. But too many seats will make parliament dysfunctional.
In a bid to prevent further enlargement of Germany’s lower chamber, the leaders of the three parties in the Grand Coalition government -- the Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and the Social Democrats (SPD) -- reached a deal in August 2020. The agreement includes limiting the number of constituencies from 299 to 280 by the 2025 election.