A path to new elections: A chancellor asked it twice: the question of confidence and its consequences

Four weeks after the Federal Constitutional Court's historic budget ruling, the traffic light government has agreed on how it wants to close the billion-dollar hole in the 2024 federal budget.

A path to new elections: A chancellor asked it twice: the question of confidence and its consequences

Four weeks after the Federal Constitutional Court's historic budget ruling, the traffic light government has agreed on how it wants to close the billion-dollar hole in the 2024 federal budget. Savings and cuts are planned that will also affect consumers in electricity, gas and gasoline prices. The debt brake will not be suspended next year, but back doors remain open.

Opposition leader Friedrich Merz (CDU) complained that the traffic light had only found a "formula compromise" and accused the Chancellor of "financial trickery". He called on Scholz to ask the vote of confidence in parliament - but because of a different issue: Almost at the same time as the agreement on the budget crisis was reached, it became known that a package of measures on migration policy could no longer be passed this year because the traffic lights had not yet reached an agreement is.

While the Bundestag can vote out the Chancellor in the event of a vote of no confidence, the Chancellor links the vote of confidence with the vote on a law that is controversial in the government coalition. Olaf Scholz (SPD) would thus give “his” MPs the choice of either agreeing to the law – in the current case the budget – or withdrawing their trust in it. If the Chancellor does not receive a majority, Parliament must elect his successor - or the Federal President dissolves the Bundestag: new elections will then follow. That's exactly what opposition leader Merz is aiming for. However, given the current poor poll numbers, none of the traffic light parties are likely to be interested in holding new elections soon. In this respect, it is unlikely that Scholz will even take the unnecessary risk of a vote of confidence.

1972: Willy Brandt

Because of Chancellor Willy Brandt's (SPD) controversial Eastern policy, so many members of the governing parties SPD and FDP defected to the CDU/CSU faction that the opposition faction was as large as the government faction. This allowed the opposition to block all laws. On September 22, 1972, Brandt finally asked for a vote of confidence - and lost: only 233 MPs expressed their confidence in him and 248 voted against him. However, the result was what Brandt wanted: he wanted to resolve the stalemate between the government coalition and the opposition through new elections.

1982: Helmut Schmidt

Unlike Brandt, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (SPD) wanted to secure a government majority despite his shattered government coalition of SPD and FDP. The coalition was particularly burdened by the NATO double decision: in the 1970s, the Soviet Union began to modernize its medium-range nuclear missiles aimed at Western Europe. In Schmidt's eyes, the new SS20 threatened the strategic balance in Europe. The NATO double decision ultimately stipulated that the Soviet Union should first negotiate the dismantling of the SS-20. If the talks are not successful within four years, then the USA also wants to station medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe - especially in the Federal Republic. The Soviet Union took this as an ultimatum and refused all negotiations.

But Schmidt's economic policy course in view of the economic crisis and rising unemployment also caused a dispute between the SPD and FDP. Schmidt himself finally asked the vote of confidence, which the Bundestag voted on on February 5, 1982: out of 493 votes cast, he received 269. 226 members voted against him. Despite this victory, Schmidt's government only lasted a few months and collapsed in September 1982.

1982: Helmut Kohl

Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl had brought down his predecessor Helmut Schmidt with a constructive vote of no confidence on October 1, 1982, when he himself asked for a vote of confidence on December 13, 1982. His goal was the same as Brandt's: new elections. Because the poll numbers promised a clear victory for the CDU and FDP. The Federal Constitutional Court ultimately had to decide on the question of whether Kohl's path to new elections was constitutional. In the end it was a complete success for Kohl: the BVG finally approved his vote of confidence for the purpose of new elections - and he achieved 48.8 percent for the CDU, the second-best result since 1957.

2001: Gerhard Schröder

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) had been leading a red-green coalition for three years when he asked the Bundestag the question of confidence on November 16, 2001 - and created a novelty: for the first time, a Chancellor linked the question of confidence with a very specific factual question. The federal government wanted to send German soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the US-led anti-terror operation “Enduring Freedom”. Schröder himself supported the deployment, as did the opposition leaders of the CDU and FDP, but there was resistance in his coalition. Shortly before the vote it looked close, in the end, out of 662 MPs, 336 voted "yes" (two votes more than the required absolute majority) and 326 voted "no".

2005: Gerhard Schröder

Similar to Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl before him, Schröder wanted to ask for a vote of confidence in 2005 in order to bring about new elections. The dispute over Hartz IV had shattered his red-green coalition. Schröder's announcement of the vote of confidence caused irritation and constitutional debates. In the vote on July 1, 2005, of the 595 deputies who took part in the vote, 151 voted "yes" and 296 voted "no". 148 abstained. This paved the way for new elections. On September 18, 2005, the Germans voted on a new Bundestag - and elected Angela Merkel to the Chancellery instead of Schröder.

Sources: "Federal Agency for Civic Education" on the question of trust, "Bpb.de" on the question of trust in Willy Brandt, "Bundestag.de" on the question of trust in Helmut Schmidt, "Bundestag.de" on the question of trust in Helmut Kohl, "Bundestag.de" on the question of trust in Schröder 2001 , "Bundestag.de" on Gerhard Schröder's vote of confidence in 2005.