As her second term comes to an end, things are getting uncomfortable for Angela Merkel. The opposition wants to dictate the political agenda with its majority in the upper house, and is looking to block new laws.
"We can't let the Bundesrat carry on alone," Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted as saying this week, according to an unnamed source close to her. She was referring to the German government's upcoming initiative to have the far-right National Democratic Party banned by the Constitutional Court. The Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, had set out its own initiative to do just that two months ago.
Now, after some lengthy hesitation, the chancellor has opted to follow suit, on the grounds that the issue is too important to be left to the Bundesrat, where the opposition commands a majority. Otherwise, the reasoning goes, it might look as though the government is not really interested in what could be a decisive measure against right-wing extremism.
The Bundesrat is becoming a troubling problem for Merkel. Her difficulties began in 2010, when Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its coalition partner the Free Democratic Party (FDP) lost several regional elections and along with them its majority in the upper house, which is made up of the governments of Germany's 16 states. In the Bundesrat, state government representatives can re-evaluate and overturn laws passed in the Bundestag, the German parliament's lower house, if the laws affect the states.
Merkel's government has been forced into compromises with the opposition and those compromises have often only come after drawn-out talks in the parliament's bicameral negotiating committee. Occasionally, the government has attempted to use legal loopholes to shut the Bundesrat out of the legislative process, by declaring certain laws as "not subject to approval." But ever since the Lower Saxony election in January, that's no longer possible either. Now states governed by the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the socialist Left party account for 36 of the 69 votes in the Bundesrat.