Speech delivered prior to the start of business
Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is a special sitting – unquestionably so – not only because it is the first regular sitting since the Bundestag was constituted on 24 October, no less than four weeks ago.
All of us have been affected by the collapse of the coalition talks on Sunday. This applies to everyone who was directly involved in the talks but also to the citizens of our country and, not least, to us, their elected parliamentary representatives.
As the reasons for the failure of these talks are discussed, questions arise as to where we go from here – legitimate questions. It is also understandable that people are concerned – concerned about the political capacity and stability of our country.
Since the outcome of the election of 24 September became clear, we have known that the task facing us was not an easy one, that lengthy negotiations lay ahead. It is not without good reason that today’s agenda includes the appointment of a Main Committee – as happened four years ago, incidentally, in a different constellation. This is how we ensure that the Bundestag performs its functions properly and responsibly until a government is formed.
It was clearly evident from the constituent sitting that a Parliament with seven parties in six parliamentary groups will be a more colourful political assembly engaging in livelier debates. The collapse of the coalition talks shows us more clearly that a Parliament reflecting the diversity of society in this way will find it more difficult to form majorities. Democracy, however, requires majorities, and our desire for a stable system also requires sustainable majorities.
As our Basic Law says, all state authority is derived from the people. The people spoke in the election. We, their elected representatives, must now react and do so responsibly.
There is now a great deal of talk about a mandate from the electorate. Every elected Member of Parliament feels bound by that mandate. But what is the mandate we have received from the voters? It is not as simple and clear-cut as it may seem.
Every political party, every Member of Parliament, all of us feel duty-bound to implement the substance of the programmes we promoted during the electoral campaign. But the fact is that the mandate from the electorate also imposes a duty on all of us to form majorities, to help create a government that can govern. Opinions may differ as to how the country should be governed, but there is no doubt that it must be governed. Both of these duties make up the mandate with which the voters have entrusted us. As politically responsible individuals, we must respond conscientiously to both.
In so responding, parties may conclude, on mature reflection, that they do not wish to enter into an alliance with others. That must be possible. But that decision must also be coherently explained, so as to avoid any impression of a desire to abdicate responsibility.
Voters have duties too. They must exercise their capacity to form judgements, be prepared to weigh up arguments and be fair to those who accept responsibility.
There is also a need for those who shape and express public opinion to develop understanding of the complexity of the task, the diversity of interests, opinions and sensitivities and the limitations and finite nature of reality and to be aware that these factors compel us to compromise and seek majority decisions. That is how I put it in my speech at the constituent sitting. These things cannot be done overnight, especially not in view of the complex problems that confront us in many areas today, and certainly not when we are faced with the need to examine details.
There is also a need for understanding of the tightrope walk required of all those who exercise responsibility, which may even involve abandoning parts of their own electoral manifesto for the sake of tenable compromises. That is not ‘capitulation’, nor is it a lack of firm principles. It is the only way to form majorities and the coalitions that are needed to sustain them. It is a strenuous process for everyone. Reaching agreement through mutual concessions requires courage. Yet it is the only way to preserve the capacity to take political decisions, and that, after all, is what people rightly expect of their politicians, of us.
Let me repeat that the responsibility to cherish these foundations of our parliamentary democracy is incumbent on all of us, electors and elected.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We now have an exceptional situation, as the Federal President emphasised yesterday in his statement. It is a testing time, but it is not a national crisis. We should not overdramatise the task by drawing inappropriate historical comparisons. The task is great, but it is achievable.
Our Basic Law sets the rules. They are unequivocal and astute, and within the bounds of those constitutional requirements we shall all have to exercise our responsibility.
Under Article 63 of the Basic Law, it is the duty of the Federal President to propose a Federal Chancellor for election by the Bundestag. Yesterday President Steinmeier announced his intention of holding discussions with the heads of the organs of our Constitution and talks with the chairs of various political parties. He rightly demands that parties must be willing to engage with each other.
In the meantime, we have an executive government – that is the constitutional, prudent and appropriate transitional solution. And we have a Parliament that is able to act – through its overseeing bodies and through today’s appointment of a Main Committee, of the Petitions Committee and of the Committee for the Scrutiny of Elections, Immunity and the Rules of Procedure; a Parliament, moreover, in which each of us can exercise his or her rights as a representative of the people.
We bear joint responsibility for our country – and not only for our country. Europe needs a capable Germany. The reactions from abroad have shown that Europe and many countries in the wider world are waiting for us. The challenges are great. Just as we ourselves need strong partners, our neighbours also want our country alongside them as a reliable partner.
To sum up, the mandate from the electorate means exercising responsibility for our country in Europe and in the world at large. To do that, we need majorities as well as a government that can govern.