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Germany: Opposition parties blast coalition's plans to halt growth of bloated Bundesdag

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Lawmakers attend a meeting of the German federal parliament, or Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin.
Lawmakers attend a meeting of the German federal parliament, or Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin.   -   Copyright  Michael Sohn/Associated Press
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The German government's planned reform to prevent the country's parliament - already one of the world's biggest - from expanding further was widely criticised on Wednesday. Opposition parties slammed the proposal as a half-hearted measure that wouldn't solve the problems facing the country's electoral system.

Germany's complex system is meant to ensure that election results accurately reflect voters' choices and also produce lawmakers with strong ties to their local area.

However, it has an inconvenient side-effect: the Bundestag, or lower house, varies in size and can be much larger than the minimum 598 lawmakers. It currently has a record 709 members, slightly more than the European Parliament. Germany's increasingly fractured political landscape risks making it bigger still, causing more expense and creating space issues.

The issue has become increasingly pressing as the next federal election is due in a year, with parties long deadlocked over how to resolve it. Leaders of the governing parties, Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU-CSU bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats, agreed on Tuesday night on a plan that's meant to prevent a more bloated Bundestag next year but kicks a more substantial change to the 2025 election.

How voting works

Every German voter gets two votes: one for a directly elected candidate, the other for a party list. Half the seats go to directly elected lawmakers, one for each of the 299 constituencies, who are elected by a simple majority.

The other 299 seats, at least, go to candidates elected on party lists. That vote is critical because it determines the percentage of seats each party wins in the lower house, which in turn elects the chancellor.

If a party wins more seats via the direct vote than it would get under the party vote, it keeps the extra seats — but the system also adds seats for other parties to ensure the proportional vote is reflected properly.

Waning popularity

The current governing parties won most of the directly elected seats. They are traditionally Germany's biggest but have seen their support sink in recent years, which effectively has required more seats to be added to parliament.

The new proposal mainly involves keeping the number of constituencies unchanged in the 2021 election but slightly reducing the number of extra seats. By the time of the 2025 election, it calls for the number of constituencies to be cut to 280. A reform commission is supposed to produce a detailed plan.

Opposition parties were not impressed with the governing parties' proposal.

The coalition's proposals “don't banish the danger of an XXL Bundestag,” tweeted Marco Buschmann, the pro-business Free Democrats' chief whip. His counterpart with the Greens, Britta Hasselmann, told news agency DPA the governing parties had taken seven years to produce a proposal that is “unambitious and feeble and won't prevent the Bundestag growing”.