The center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who became the most powerful party in last month’s parliamentary elections, have nominated their candidate for one of Germany’s highest office: the president of the Bundestag. Traditionally, a member of the strongest parliamentary group holds the post.

The President of the Bundestag is elected without contest. His most important duty is to preside over sessions of parliament, to determine the order of speakers, to open and close debates and to ensure that they are conducted in order. Since 2017, the post has been held by veteran conservative politician Wolfgang Schäuble of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which, together with its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is the most powerful group in the federal parliament. for 16 years. years – until now.

The President of the Bundestag is sworn in for the new government, as Schäuble did when Merkel was sworn in as Chancellor in 2018

Bärbel Bas, 53, health expert, has been a member of the SPD parliamentary group since 2009. The left-wing social democrat hails from Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, and will only be the third woman in German. history of taking up the post of President of the Bundestag, which will meet for its inaugural sitting on 26 October.

Four men, five top jobs

The post of President of the Bundestag “must be filled by a woman,” Maria Noichl, head of the SPD women’s organization, told RND media network ahead of Wednesday’s announcement. “The SPD’s agenda for the future calls for a decade of equality,” she said. “These words demand action.”

Infographic showing the proportion of women in the respective parties in the new Bundestag

Sociologist Jutta Allmendinger and former chairman of the German Ethics Council, Peter Dabrock, wrote an open letter to SPD deputies, calling for the appointment of the chairman of the Bundestag to be “a signal of departure and progress for the credibility of the party, which became an election winner with the keywords “respect” and “participation”.

The main state offices are: the Federal President, the President of the Bundestag; Federal Chancellor; president of the Federal Constitutional Court and president of the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

The SPD chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, is said to be the head of government of the party’s new coalition with the Greens and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP). If a man were to become president of the Bundestag, there would not be a single woman among Germany’s top five leaders, write Allmendinger and Dabrock in their letter. “It would seem a lot late,” they write.

Controversial gender parity in the new coalition

Indeed, Bas’s appointment could have an impact on other personnel decisions such as that of the Federal President. He is currently held by a Social Democrat: Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is running for re-election for his second of two possible terms next year and has indicated his willingness to stay in office. He had been pressured to consider withdrawing in favor of a candidate. But this pressure can now be reduced.

The Federal President is the head of state, but his powers are largely limited to ceremonial functions such as state visits and the signing of new laws in force.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier giving a speech to the soldiers of the Bundeswehr

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the current German head of state

If Steinmeier were to be upheld, another problem of fair political representation would arise: then the SPD, which won just 24% of the vote in the last election, would occupy three of the top positions in the state.

Gender parity is also likely to be a sticking point in forming the new government. Although Scholz has indicated that his goal is gender parity, the FDP opposes it.

“If you want to reflect society in Cabinet, it makes sense, of course, to have the same number of male and female ministers. said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, member of the board of directors.

Angela Merkel’s last cabinet set up after the previous general elections was almost equal: it consisted of seven female ministers and nine male ministers.

Aydan Özoguz (right) and Olaf Scholz

Aydan Özoguz of the SPD had been nominated as candidate for the presidency of the Bundestag

In the new Bundestag, the Greens have the highest proportion of women in their own parliamentary group, with 58.8%, followed by the Left Socialist Party (53%) and then the SPD (41.7%). The conservative parties are lagging behind: the FDP (23.9%), the CDU / CSU (23.5%) and the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), with only 13.3% of women in its parliamentary group.

A few weeks ago, SPD MP Aydan Özuguz was presented as a possible candidate for the presidency of the Bundestag. The 54-year-old politician is of Turkish origin and one of the founding members of the SPD group of Muslim parliamentarians. Thirty percent of the members of the SPD Bundestag have an immigrant background. Özuguz is now billed as one of the many vice presidents.

Diversity in representation has been one of the most debated topics in German party politics.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW’s editors summarize what’s going on in German politics and society, with the aim of understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here, to stay abreast of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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