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Germany Constitutional Court rules national election law unconstitutional

The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany [official website, in German] on Wednesday invalidated the country's election law [judgment, in German] as unconstitutional. Germany has a complex system that sometimes creates extra "overhang" parliamentary seats that benefit the larger parties, a result the court ruled violates constitutional guarantees [Reuters report] of citizens' rights to take part in direct, free and equal elections. Each German voter can cast two ballots, one for a specific constituency candidate and a second for a particular party, and the the peculiar overhang result occurs when a party wins more direct seats in a constituency than it would theoretically get according to the percentage of second votes. The ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel [BBC profile] made changes to the system that would further benefit larger parties like the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which together won 24 overhang seats in 2009. Opposition parties the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens and over 3,000 citizens challenged the election law, which was altered last year without obtaining the traditional cross-party consensus and over objections from opposition parties.

Earlier this month the court heard arguments [JURIST report] over a claim brought in opposition to the 500 billion euro (USD $632 billion) European Stability Mechanism (ESM) [text, PDF]. In June the court ruled [JURIST report] that the German Bundestag has the right to be heard on the European financial crisis, holding in a case initiated by the Green party that Merkel failed to notify the parliament early enough about plans for the ESM regarding its sister party in Austria. Although that decision did not have any effect on the 500 billion euro ESM, it increased the parliament's rights by requiring the chancellor's government to provide notice to the parliament as early as possible in the future. A previous ruling that gave the parliament similar rights over matter concerning the EU was issued in February. The country's constitutional court held [JURIST report] that the use of a parliamentary subcommittee to fast-track decisions related to eurozone bailouts is unconstitutional, instead requiring the entire Bundestag to overview such decisions. In September the court ruled [JURIST report] that the parliament did not unconstitutionally impair its own ability to adopt and control the nation's budget, nor did it infringe on the budget autonomy of future parliaments.

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