Party of one: Petry abandons AfD to enter Bundestag alone
Frauke Petry has left the Alternative for Germany. As an independent member of parliament, her privileges will be limited: She might not even get a desk in the Bundestag's plenary chamber.
On Monday, the day after Germany's federal elections, Frauke Petry caused a stir when she announced that she would not represent the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the Bundestag. On Friday, she stepped down as co-chair and officially left the AfD.
That wasn't just a reminder of the fact that there are different ideologies within the AfD: It also has significant consequences for Petry's forthcoming term as a member of parliament. Independent deputies have fewer privileges in the Bundestag than those who go in with the backing of a major party, such as the Christian Democrats (CDU), Social Democrats (SPD), Free Democrats (FDP), Greens, AfD and Left, all of which will hold seats next term.
It takes at least 5 percent of all Bundestag members to form a parliamentary party. The forthcoming Bundestag, which will convene by the end of October, will have 709 seats, meaning that any such alliance will require at least 35 members. The Greens, the smallest parliamentary party in the next Bundestag, have 67 seats.
Restrictions on independents
Bundestag members who are not part of such a group are considered independents, or "fraktionslose" (partyless). They cannot vote in committees and, with speaking time allocated by parliamentary party size, are given very little microphone time in Bundestag debates. On average, independents get about three to five minutes to speak in debates, and they usually go last.
Independents cannot petition the Council of Elders — which consists of the Bundestag president and 29 other experienced representatives and runs the day-to-day business — to hold parliamentary debates, and they cannot introduce bills.
They may become consultative members of the many Bundestag committees, which would allow them to speak and file requests. Though they can state which committees they'd like to belong to, their top choice isn't guaranteed. Instead, the Bundestag president assigns them to committees as he or she sees fit.
Representatives without parliamentary parties may also file requests regarding the Bundestag's bylaws, and they are allowed, like their affiliated colleagues, to formally ask the German government a question and request a written or oral response.
The seating chart
The Bundestag's seats are arranged in a half circle, and the parties are seated according to their place on the political spectrum. The Left Party sits on the very left, for example, and CDU members are seated further toward the right. There are no clear rules for independents.
Erika Steinbach, the lone independent in the most recent Bundestag, had to literally sit at the back of the class: behind the rows of the CDU/CSU parliamentary party, which she was a member of from 1990 until she left the bloc this January, after deeming Chancellor Merkel's policies too liberal. Like previous unaffiliated deputies, Steinbach didn't have a telephone at her seat — or even a table to work on.
In the 2002 election, Petra Pau and Gesine Lötzsch won the most direct votes in their respective constituencies and became the only two politicians from the PDS (the predecessor of the Left party) in the Bundestag. Lötzsch has won the direct mandate from her constituents in Berlin in every national election since 2002 and became the head of the budget committee in 2014.
Thomas Wüppesahl was a trailblazer for unaffiliated deputies. He became a Bundestag representative for the Greens in the 1987 election, left the party a few months after that and was suspended from its parliamentary group in 1988.
After he was expelled from all committees, he sued at the Federal Constitutional Court. Almost all of his other demands were rejected, but the judges stated that denying independent deputies committee seats would violate their rights.