It was almost a courageous step in the fight for equality: at the beginning of 2019, the coalition of the SPD and the Left Party, in cooperation with the Greens, was the first state government to pass a law according to which parties are only allowed to fill their state lists for state elections equally. With the so-called zipper principle, the alternating occupation of the list places, equal opportunities for women and men should be guaranteed for a mandate.
The law came into force on July 1st of this year. So far, it has not been used – this should happen for the first time in the state election in 2024. The corresponding law overturned the constitutional court of the state of Brandenburg on Friday. The prescribed parity has an impermissible influence on the chances of the parties in the election, it says in the judgment. Through the Parity Act, the legislature withdraws a substantial part of the democratic decision-making process by influencing the composition of the lists.
For Kathrin Dannenberg, parliamentary group leader of the Left in the state parliament, this is “a defeat, but not a knockout.” It is true that the judgment is respected that the equality of women and men in parliaments still results for the left from the democratic principle of the Basic Law. “We’re sticking to it: The voice of the Brandenburg women must have greater weight in the state parliament. Parity does not harm democracy, it strengthens it. “
The state chairwoman of the Left, Anja Mayer, also declared: »The verdict is a bitter signal for the fight for equality. In the opinion of the court, of all things, the level of political decision-makers should be exempted from regulations that ensure equality legally. «The spokeswoman for women’s and equality policy of the SPD parliamentary group, Elske Hildebrandt, spoke of the fact that equal participation of women and Men in political decisions and processes continue to be the declared aim of the SPD in Brandenburg.
The extreme right could be happy: the national associations of NPD and AfD had filed the now negotiated lawsuits against the parity law. They saw the freedom of choice and the freedom of the parties to organize seriously impaired. The plaintiffs argued that the law violates the parties’ freedom to choose their candidates on their own terms. It also discriminates against men and violates the Basic Law and the state constitution. The NPD criticized that because of the low proportion of women it had little chance of meeting the requirements. The AfD may have felt the same way. Right-wing populists have the lowest proportion of women in the state parliament, at 22 percent. Greens and leftists, on the other hand, are already implementing a quota of 50 percent – without any law. Of the total of 88 members of all parliamentary groups, one third are women.
The Young Liberals also welcomed the court’s decision. That the red-red-green alliance gave the NPD and AfD the chance to present themselves as model democrats loyal to the constitution is scandalous, according to their state chairman Matti Karstedt. One now wants to work on “constitutional solutions”.
Decision like in Thuringia
With their verdict, the constitutional judges in Potsdam made the same decision as their colleagues in Thuringia before. In July, the Constitutional Court in Weimar had already declared the state election law reformed by Red-Red-Green to be unconstitutional. It affects “the right to freedom and equality of choice” as well as the “right of political parties to freedom of activity, freedom of programs and equal opportunities.” Both rights also apply to “preparatory acts” such as listing candidates, the verdict said. It was passed with six votes to three. The only two judges in this case and one judge gave separate opinions in which they declared that the law was in conformity with the constitution.
Renate Licht and Jens Petermann decided that the »structural discrimination that actually exists against women in politics« is misunderstood. In the meantime, a complaint has been submitted to the Federal Constitutional Court. It should examine the decision from Weimar. In addition, the parliamentary groups of Left and Greens had declared that they could imagine a new attempt at a parity law. The special votes had shown the legal leeway, said the left parliamentary group leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow after the judgment.
The chairwoman of the Brandenburg Left, Katharina Slanina, announced something similar: “In its judgment, the court has already given the first indications of necessary changes to the state constitution.” It is also assumed that the parties in the governing coalition are also interested in a speedy restart , and am available for appropriate discussions, said Slanina. Group leader Dannenberg said: “Right now we see ourselves strengthened in the fact that this area must also be examined as part of a constitutional reform.”
Despite legal concerns, there are also initiatives for parity laws in other federal states and at the federal level. As a list of the German Women’s Council shows, corresponding demands were made in May 2019 in all federal states except Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and Saarland. The left-wing parliamentary group in Berlin presented a draft in March 2019. A month ago, a study by the SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation confirmed that the project was in conformity with the constitution. The author of the study, Silke Ruth Laskowski, comes to the conclusion: “A parity amendment to the Berlin electoral law is possible and also necessary within the framework of the current constitution of Berlin and the Basic Law!” When the draft law comes to the vote in the House of Representatives, is so far unclear.
In an interview with “nd.DerTag”, the President of the German Association of Women Lawyers (DJB) Maria Wersig explained that there are other ways of combating the underrepresentation of women in addition to quoting. “One could anchor equality concepts in the party law,” she said on Wednesday. “Or expand party funding that honors the results of these efforts.”
From the DJB’s point of view, both the Thuringian and Brandenburg parity laws were constitutional. After the Potsdam judgment, Wersig was nevertheless confident: »The Brandenburg Constitutional Court today missed the opportunity to cement the milestone set by parliament for democracy and equal rights. The debate continues anyway, “she said on the short message service Twitter. “Again,” said the President of the State Parliament, Ulrike Liedtke, after the verdict.