The Alternative for Germany in parliament – Still an unexperienced newbie?

FOTO CREDIT: Gordon Gross/pixelio.de

It has been one year since the last German national election and the entry of the Alternative for Germany into parliament. Holding about 30 percent of the legislative seats, the right-wing populist party constitutes the largest opposition fraction. By customary law, leading the opposition in the German parliament involves important symbolic powers such as the right to reply directly to government statements or to chair the influential financial committee. How does the newly elected party make use of its role as largest opposition fraction so far?

A powerful instrument of the opposition to shape policies are proposals or “Anträge”. Through this tool, party fractions can formulate requests to the government, asking the executive to either inform about certain events, topics, and policy areas or obliging them to get involved into policy-making to address a specific problem. A majority of parliamentarians, for instance, recently supported a proposal by the Green party asking the government to reduce sanctions for people profiting from welfare benefits. A total of 342 of such proposals have been submitted to the parliament in this first year of the legislative term. Even though proposals may also be authored by government parties, the government itself, a mixture of opposition and/or governing parties, they are mostly authored by single opposition fractions (83.3% of all cases). In this blog contribution, I analyze the quantity and substance of the proposals submitted by the four opposition parties Alternative for Germany (AfD), Liberals (FDP), Leftists (DIE LINKE), and Greens (Bündnis 90/DIE GRÜNEN) during the last year. [1]

A first insight is that among the opposition parties the Alternative for Germany makes least use of proposals to impact the legislative agenda. As Figure 1 reveals, only 15.4% of all proposals by opposition parties are authored by the right-wing populist party. This number appears particularly small given their numerical strength in parliament (29.9% of the opposition seats). The Leftist Party and the Green Party are with 35.8% and 26.3% respectively the most active authors of proposals. Both party fractions overperform given their share of opposition seats.

 

Fig. 1: Share of proposals by opposition parties in comparison to their seat share.Figure 1_September

One might expect a learning effect, with the Alternative for Germany gathering experience in the functioning of parliamentary procedures over time and thus increasing numbers of proposals authored by the fraction. However, Figure 2 provides evidence that the party’s level of activity did not increase systematically over time. Temporal fluctuation exists but impacts all players independent of their party belonging. At the beginning of the term, in October 2017, all fractions posed rather few questions. They became more active over time, except for the holiday months May and August. The number of submitted proposals by the opposition parties peaked in June 2018 right before the summer break.

 

Fig. 2: Number of proposals by party and month.

Figure 2_September

 

The substance of these proposals covers topics in all resorts (see Table 1). The largest proportion is concerned with foreign policy (14.8%) including questions pertaining to international security, the war in Syria, or Germany military operations. Environmental issues follow as the second most popular topic for proposals (12.7%) tackling sustainable energy policy, climate change, and clean agriculture. Social affairs and employment are further frequent topics of proposals. By contrast, science, culture, and education play a minor role, which mirrors the fact that the German states bear wide-ranging policy-making competences in these areas.

 

Tab. 1: Frequency and percent of proposals by topic.tab1_September

 

Most proposals of the Alternative for Germany address topics related to the functioning of the parliament (mostly concerned with the introduction of new or special committees), EU politics, and internal affairs (including both asylum policies and internal security). These topics thus constitute the heart of the party’s parliamentary work and other parties indeed direct comparatively little attention to these issues. The Green fraction, in turn, most frequently addresses environmental issues, the Liberals promote questions related to the economy and finance, while the Leftist Party highlights social affairs and employment. The substance of each party’s proposals thus mirrors the problems that are salient in their party manifesto and their respective electorate. Nevertheless, the Liberal, Green and Leftist Party use proposals to address a broad set of problems beyond their key areas of expertise, as Figure 3 reveals. By contrast, the substantial work of the right-wing populists does not display such a broad scope. In important policy areas such as foreign policy, social affairs, or finance, the Alternative for Germany remains rather inactive. Concerning housing, agrarian affairs, infrastructure, education, and science, the party stays entirely mute.

 

Figure 3: Share of proposals by parties and policy area.Figure 3_September

 

After gathering experience in parliamentary activities for one year, the Alternative for Germany does not yet make much use of the powerful proposals. If it does, the substantial focus remains limited to a few key issues. Compared to the other opposition parties, the right-wing populists thus still behaves like a newbie. In consequence, the largest counter-player to the German government, who should control and pressure for government activity remains a toothless tiger with little direct impact on policy outputs.

 

By Corinna Kroeber in September 2018

Endnotes

[1] All analyses are based on the list of proposals provided by the documentation system of the website of the parliament (https://www.bundestag.de/dokumente). The coding of the substance of the proposals was conducted by the author.

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