Germany’s first post-Merkel parliament meets and opens up new perspectives on diversity
Germany’s new parliament will sit for the first time on Tuesday after last month’s elections, ushering in a more feminine, younger and ethnically diverse post-Merkel era.
Angela Merkel will remain acting Chancellor until a new government is in place while the body that will elect her successor, the lower house of the Bundestag, will meet after reaching a record high of 736.
The September 26 general election left the center-left Social Democrats as the largest party, whose candidate Olaf Scholz is striving to form a ruling coalition by early December.
But while the top post is expected to move from Germany’s first female Chancellor to male, powerful Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble is expected to cede the podium to Baerbel Bas – only the third female to hold the post.
Meanwhile, the new Bundestag is claiming a number of firsts for the EU’s most populous nation, although campaigners say it still has a long way to go to truly reflect the rich tapestry of German society.
The very first black MP, Awet Tesfaiesus, 47, of Eritrean origin, will sit in the parliamentary group of the Greens.
Arriving in Germany at the age of 10, Tesfaiesus became a lawyer and devoted her career to defending the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers.
“We need diversity in this country,” she told AFP. “We need people who have been victims of racism to be better represented.”
During his tenure, Tesfaiesus said he wanted to fight against the foreign “label” that sticks to him despite his German passport.
“You feel latent racism everywhere,” she said.
“When I’m looking for an apartment, when the postman walks into my law firm and talks to my secretary because he automatically thinks she’s my boss …”
Tesfaiesus told local media that she launched her political career following a racist attack in Hanau near Frankfurt in February 2020, when a far-right gunman shot and killed nine people in a shisha bar and A coffee.
She joins Karamba Diaby of Senegalese origin, a social democrat until then the only black MP from Germany, and his party colleague Armand Zorn, who emigrated from Cameroon at the age of 12 and has just won his first direct term. in parliament.
The number of MEPs born abroad or with at least one parent born abroad rose to 83, or 11.3% of the Bundestag, against 8.2% at the last assembly.
“We are helping to revive the political scene,” Deniz Nergiz, president of the Federal Council for Immigration and Integration, which promotes the political participation of immigrant communities, told AFP.
“There is also for the first time an elected refugee in the (ex-communist) east of the country”, where the number of Germans born abroad is significantly lower.
Among the newly elected officials is also Lamya Kaddor, who teaches religion classes on Islam in schools in the Ruhr Valley, a subject that has been hotly debated in recent years in Germany.
At the same time, the Greens, who hope to serve as junior partners in the new government, have touted at least three dozen of their MPs under 35. MP Ricarda Lang tweeted a photo of them on the steps of parliament with the slogan: “There are new children in town.”
But despite its larger representation, the Bundestag, with its predominantly white and male makeup, still lags behind in reflecting the modern face of Germany.
Nergiz said Parliament was still “far behind” the 26% of people of foreign origin “in German society”.
The same goes for women in the ranks of MPs, even after 16 years with Merkel as the first female Chancellor at the helm. They represent only 24% of deputies, against 20% previously.
Gender figures vary widely between parties with seats in the Bundestag, with the Greens having a 59% female majority, including two transgender women: Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik.
In contrast, the far-right Alternative for Germany has only 13% of women in its ranks.