So far, a German chancellor can always be re-elected. Term limits are a contentious issue. What about it now? Questions to Konstantin Kuhle.
Berlin – Olaf Scholz* has followed in Angela Merkel’s chancellor’s footsteps. But can he also shape an era like his predecessor? 16 years of chancellorship: This may no longer be possible with a limit on the head of government’s term of office. This does not yet exist, but the topic is discussed again and again. The FDP is in favor of this – and so is its member of the Bundestag Konstantin Kuhle. In an interview, he reveals why he wants to continue discussing a limit with his colleagues in the Bundestag and what the consensus is in the traffic light coalition* IPPEN.MEDIA*.
Interview with Konstantin Kuhle on the term limit for chancellors: what about that now?
Mr. Kuhle, if you still want to change something in this legislative period, when does something have to happen on the subject of limiting the term of office for chancellors?
There are different opinions in the traffic light coalition on the question of whether the terms of office of Federal Chancellors should be limited in principle. You noticed that during the coalition negotiations, where we naturally raised this issue. In the end, it succeeded in being mentioned in the coalition agreement*. Relatively soon, probably in March or April, at least in spring 2022, a commission will be set up in the Bundestag to deal with the reform of electoral law and parliamentary work. In any case, I think the term limit is a good idea.
In the past legislative period there was already a commission of which you were a member. How high up on the agenda was the topic? After all, there are many questions that the committee should deal with.
In the last electoral term, the issue played no role at all because the commission was set up very late and was a vehicle for the grand coalition to settle or outsource its disputes over electoral reform and the downsizing of the Bundestag. It would be a pity if the Commission again only produced paper in the new legislature and made no real proposals for change. However, I am confident that we will approach the issue with great seriousness.
What is in the traffic light coalition agreement on the term limit of chancellors
In the chapter on electoral law it says on page 11: “We will re-appoint the ‘Commission for the Reform of Federal Electoral Law and for the Modernization of Parliamentary Work’. The Commission will deal with the goal of equal representation of women and men in Parliament and discuss the legal framework. The Commission will also examine proposals for bundling election dates, extending the legislative period to five years and limiting the term of office of the Federal Chancellor.”
FDP MP Konstantin Kuhle: “The limitation can help that change is more internalized as a value of democracy”
In other parliamentary systems of government, term limits for chancellors are unusual. Then why does Germany need it?
There are already term limits in our constitutional system, for example for the Federal President or the judges of the Federal Constitutional Court. They are neither alien to democratic systems nor to the German Basic Law. I believe that they can help ensure that political personalities are willing to push through decisions that they think are right, even at personal risk. I don’t think that a term limit should be a reaction to a long chancellorship like that of Angela Merkel. Rather, it should be directed towards the future and help us to think more about the fact that democracy always means temporary power. The limitation can help that change is more internalized as a value of democracy.
Limit Chancellor’s term of office? FDP MP Kuhle explains his point of view in an interview
A counter-argument is that the limit means there is a risk that the ruler may abuse his office at the end of his term or act out of self-interest because he cannot be re-elected. Don’t see this problem?
No. If the chancellor were to abuse his office, he would have to resign or be removed from office by initiating a constructive vote of no confidence. Even the Federal Chancellor cannot simply enact laws, but needs a majority in the German Bundestag. The checks and balances system is not overridden.
But in times of instability or during crises, shouldn’t the people then have the opportunity to re-elect a possibly very popular politician?
The argument is of course a valid one, but speaks against any form of term limits. In Germany we have gotten used to the fact that Federal Chancellors are in office for a very long time. This stability of the German political system is a value. An annual change of head of government would also not do the German system any good. But a middle ground, where you say, maybe after eight or ten years at the head of the federal government, ‘Now is enough’ would help the political culture. One of the strengths of democracy is that changes take place in times of crisis or special responsibility. At the handover between Angela Merkel* and Olaf Scholz in the middle of the peak phase of the corona pandemic* you could see that beautifully.
You said eight or ten years: would you also be in favor of a limit if there were no extension of the legislative period from four to five years?
No. The Bundestag is discussing an extension to five years for good reason. But I definitely cannot imagine that without the Bundestag getting down to a smaller size and reforming the electoral law. If that succeeds in turn, then one would have to adapt a term limit for the Federal Chancellor to this electoral period. Of course, you also have to find a solution for what happens when election periods have started. But with all these details: What is certain is that there is currently no agreement that we want a term limit. We proposed that as the FDP, we stand by it and would be happy if people thought a little more creatively about how our political system could be made more effective.
Unfortunately, I don’t see a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag at the moment.
The Greens had written an examination of this step in their election program for the 2021 federal election. There could be more resistance in the SPD. How do you intend to convince your coalition partner?
We will discuss this in the commission, invite interesting experts and see if they can provide us with arguments that the SPD may not have heard of before.
But you need a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag and Bundesrat. So you may have to convince colleagues from the Union as well. How realistic is all of this?
Unfortunately, I don’t see a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag at the moment. But I believe that even in the Union, people are not fundamentally opposed to discussions on the further development of the Basic Law. Nevertheless, parties that have asked the Chancellor before seem to me to be rather skeptical on this question. Because of course they benefit from the office bonus of a federal chancellor in election campaigns.
What was in the election programs of the traffic light parties for the 2021 federal election
SPD*: The Social Democrats did not use the word “term limit”.
Green*: “We want to expand the role of the Bundestag in legislation. Its ability to work must be guaranteed and strengthened. That is why we advocate electoral reform that significantly reduces the size of Parliament, including by reducing constituencies, which is also fair and constitutional, and where every vote counts equally. As part of this reform, the extension of the legislative period and the term limit for the office of Federal Chancellor should be examined, among other things.”
Free Democratic Party*: “We Free Democrats want to limit the term of office of Federal Chancellors to a maximum of two full electoral terms or a maximum of ten years. Democracy also lives from the change of responsible personalities. Offices in a democracy should therefore always be temporary offices.”
Konstantin Kuhle: “Even from the point of view of large parties, it can make sense to have a term limit”
So far, the FDP has not been in a position to appoint the chancellor. So do you simply want to limit the power of others with the project?
No, we want to strengthen the dynamics and decision-making in democracy. From the point of view of large parties, too, it can make sense to have a term limit. Because scenarios are conceivable in which an entire party is so overwhelmed by the popularity and presence of a single personality that it has no choice but to nominate this person for a term of office over and over again.
The interview was conducted by Cindy Boden. *Merkur.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA
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