29 September 2023

The German Center

The Power of the Minority is the title of an essay published this week in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The AfD, its author argues, is so successful because so many people in Germany feel powerless in the face of minorities that „dominate politics to an irritating degree“. These minorities exercise not just veto, but „policy shaping power“, because their party – the Greens – has so many coalition options and is so present and dominant in public discourse. This gives them more power than they deserve, and using this power, this minority imposes its asylum and language policy preferences on the powerless majority. No wonder the majority is getting angry. What to do? With „illusionless realism“ and with „courage and a willingness to learn“, the author recommends, let’s open up to the issues of the „counter-minority“ represented by the AfD,  and re-expand the „discussion space for the controversial search for solutions to problems“ that the Greens have narrowed „to their advantage“.

That is what the juste milieu in Germany is telling itself right now. That is how they’d like to see it.

The author of these desperately apolitical reflections is, God help us, one of the most respected political scientists in Germany, Peter Graf Kielmansegg, Professor Emeritus of the University of Mannheim.

Do I have to explain to a man who has done nothing but thinking about politics for the longest time of his 86 years of life, how politics in a parliamentary democracy actually works? That the answer to the majority/minority question is the product of democratic negotiation processes, not their naturally given precondition? That the Greens exert the power they have as parts of government majorities in federal and state parliaments? That this is all you need to know if you ask about the legitimacy of their „policy shaping power“?

Of course not. The professor surely knows all of that himself. Which raises all the more the question of what he wants to achieve with this text.


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A few days ago, a book with a similar title was published in the USA: Tyranny of the Minority, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two political scientists from Harvard University whose previous bestseller, How Democracies Die, is one of the key texts for understanding the global rise of authoritarian populism and its methods. The particular vulnerability of the American Constitution in this respect – that is the main thesis of their new book – has to do with its „countermajoritarian institutions“: the Electoral College, the Senate, the filibuster, the Supreme Court – the political system is crammed with provisions that ensure that the outvoted minority is not entirely outvoted after all and always retains some degree of power over the majority. The roots of this are to be found in the primordial conflict of the nation, the Southern states‘ insistence not to be majoritised by the North in the matter of slavery, a conflict which continues to the present day. The immense destructive impact these countermajoritarian institutions have had on democracy in the US in recent years is the result of the realisation by the Republicans that, by replacing the Democrats as the champion of the racist white South, they have tied themselves to a demographically increasingly hopeless minority, which makes it increasingly difficult to win elections in a democratically clean way. Which is why they are trying to win them in democratically unclean ways. Having the Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional. Tweaking the electoral system in their favour. Blocking Democratic Supreme Court candidates and Senate majorities. Storming the Capitol.

This is what the tyranny of the minority looks like. As far as Germany is concerned, the AfD is likely to win blocking minorities in three East German state parliaments next year. In one of them, Thuringia, we have started scrutinizing the situation as part of our Thuringia project. Björn Höcke, the Nazi leader of the Thuringian AfD, has set 33.3 per cent as his election target, and he knows exactly why. This means he can block all decisions that require two-thirds majorities. For example, the election of the members of the judges‘ election committee by the state parliament. Without that committee, Thuringia can no longer appoint new judges, and this in a situation where the judiciary is already understaffed and a gigantic wave of retirements is rolling towards the state. Between 30 and 50 per cent of judges will retire in the next few years. Murder trials might fall apart if they can’t be replaced in time. There is literally the threat of a standstill in the administration of justice. And the one who does the threatening is Björn Höcke.


Pünktlich zum Verfassungsjubiläum erscheint der HK-ThürVerf, der unzählige Bereiche gelebter Staatspraxis erstmalig kommentiert, etwa

  • Wahl des Ministerprädidenten
  • Neuorganisation des Verfassungsschutzes
  • Einführung des inklusiven Unterrichts
  • Religiöse Symbole in der Schule
  • Schulpflicht und Pandemie
  • Paritätsgesetze, Neutralitätspflicht von Regierungsmitgliedern
  • gesetzliche:r Richter:innen
  • Absenkung des Wahlalters und Unterschriftenquoren im Kommunalwahlrecht
  • Rechte parlamentarischer Gruppen

Die hochaktuellen und praxisnahen Kommentierungen bieten Orientierung in einer tiefgreifend veränderten parlamentarischen Landschaft

Hier erhältlich.


There is nothing wrong with blocking minorities per se. There can be good democratic reasons for not handing over certain decisions to the government majority alone, and it can be argued that personnel decisions on the judiciary are among them. But when you are dealing with a party that telling everyone that corrupt elites are running the country down, and when this party strategically exploits all its possibilities of blockade and obstruction to keep adding new evidence to this narrative – then the blocking minority no longer serves to protect the minority from majoritarian oppression, but to destroy democracy.

This is what the tyranny of the minority looks like. And it is coming. It’s already here. It’s happening already.

Obviously, the AfD is a minority. Even in Thuringia. They will only be capable of gaining a majority when there are others willing to give a hand. People of the righteous bourgeois center who find such an option all the more attractive, the harder decisions they would otherwise have to make, in the realisation, for example, that climate goals must be met and migrants can’t be kept out. To put it in the apt words of Count von Kielmansegg: „illusionless realism“. Awfully expensive and risky decisions, requiring a hell of a lot of „courage and willingness to learn“. How much easier it is to make common cause with the fascists instead and to get rid not of the problems but of those who insist on a solution.

The Week on Verfassungsblog

How ruthlessly the Green minority wields power to shape migration policy has become shockingly clear this week. The EU asylum law reform, the introduction of border controls at the Polish and Czech borders… they stop at nothing, do they? (Irony off). On the latter topic, DANIEL THYM explains the legal situation and makes it clear: border controls as a permanent state of affairs, as at the German-Austrian border, are and remain illegal, and so is the push-back of asylum seekers. The most recent ruling of the ECJ on the French practice of turning back asylum seekers at the border with Italy cannot be applied to Germany.

The fact that no one can be held liable for illegal pushbacks at the external borders, least of all the EU border protection agency Frontex, is a long-known and well-lamented matter, which the General Court in Luxembourg recently found itself unable to change. CHRISTOPHER PASKOWSKI has a proposal how it could be done, though, if one wanted to.

This week, the European Court of Human Rights heard the case of six Portuguese children and young people, the largest climate change case ever brought before the Strasbourg Court. CORINA HERI was there and reports on her impressions.

ERIK TUCHTFELD is irritated by the uncritical and uninformed attitude that the Human Rights Court has recently shown towards the use of AI in content moderation in digital media.


Vacancy: Policy Fellow for EU Democracy

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In France, schoolgirls are sent home if they wear an abaya. The garment, they argue, is Islamic, i.e. religious, and therefore incompatible with the principle of laïcité. If this is so, shouldn’t the schoolgirls‘ fundamental right to religious freedom play a role? CHRISTIAN POPP asks this question and comes to the following conclusion: „Already in the middle of the last century, the French constitutional lawyer Jean Rivero spoke of laïcité as a word that smelled of gunpowder. That religious groups now dare not even invoke religious freedom is a worrying development.“

With respect to the inclusion of children with disabilities at school, an UN committee has found Germany in violation of its obligations under international law. VANESSA BLIECKE investigates how this came about.

It has been two years since the EU launched its multi-billion dollar Recovery and Resilience Facility. What has the money been spent on? The Commission has published its second evaluation report, and PÄIVI LEINO-SANDBERG has read it thoroughly and listened to the hearings in the EU Parliament. Her impression: Member States have been raking in what they could get to plug mundane budget holes.

Can Ukraine hold parliamentary elections in the middle of a war? No, say YULIA KYRYCHENKO and OLHA IVASIUK, free and fair elections are not possible in war. Moreover, adds OLEKSANDR VODIANNIKOV, elections in wartime are explicitly excluded in the Ukrainian constitution and would entail the danger of democratic backsliding.

Finally: I am particularly pleased about the great response to our VerfassungsBook Kleben und Haften on civil disobedience in the climate crisis (kudos to editor Maxim Bönnemann). The volume has already been downloaded over 1,000 times and, as far as I can tell, is widely received – and in a different way than the individual blogposts were. FAZ editor Jürgen Kaube, for example, suddenly has Samira Akbarian’s post on his radar and quotes it extensively (€). Much appreciated indeed! So, this is worthwhile and will certainly not be the last anthology we develop from our output. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, the collection of reports and analyses on civil resistance in the climate crisis continues to grow: JEVGENIY BLUWSTEIN, CLÉMENCE DEMAY and LUCIE BENOIT investigate how the justice system in Switzerland deals with climate protests.

That’s all for now. All the best to you, bon courage, and see you next week!

Max Steinbeis

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SUGGESTED CITATION  Steinbeis, Maximilian: The German Center, VerfBlog, 2023/9/29, https://verfassungsblog.de/the-german-center/, DOI: 10.17176/20230930-103432-0.

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