Germany's shrunken political opposition have sounded the alarm that, unless Bundestag rules are changed, they will have little to say in the new Berlin parliament.
The 18th Bundestag came together for its constitutive sitting today ahead of tomorrow's first round of coalition talks between Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The post-war Basic Law specifies that the new parliament is to meet a month after the federal election at the latest, even if no government has yet been formed.
If, as looks likely, the CDU and SPD agree to form another grand coalition government, the second under Chancellor Merkel, the new government will have 504 out of 631 seats -- a massive four-fifths majority in parliament.
The Left Party and Greens -- with 127 or 20 per cent of seats -- are alarmed that they will fall short of the quorum of 25 per cent of seats required to establish parliamentary inquiries or to query the constitutionality of laws at Germany's highest court.
"It cannot be the case that we do without this right for four years, that there is no possibility to check a law," said Mr Gregor Gysi, floor leader of the Left Party and, with one seat more than the Greens, the de facto opposition leader.
A grand coalition would also mean that, in every parliamentary sitting hour, the opposition would have just 12 minutes of speaking time compared to 48 minutes for the grand coalition parties.
"We'll have fallen asleep before it's even our turn," said Mr Gysi, adding that he had expressed his concerns in a letter to Norbert Lammert, re-elected today as Bundestag president.
Mr Lammert indicated that he takes the matter seriously, telling freshly elected MPs: “The culture of a parliamentary democracy is expressed less through the decision of majorities but through minorities having rights that are not subject to the approval of the respective majority.”
German constitutional experts are divided on whether the quorum should be lowered – or dropped entirely.
CDU and SPD officials have indicated readiness to discuss the matter but it is as yet unclear whether they will change the constitution or settle on a pragmatic gentleman’s agreement.
SPD legal expert Dieter Wiefelspütz expressed concern that a grand coalition with four-fifths of parliamentary seats was in a position to “smother democracy”
With 80 per cent of seats, a CDU-SPD administration is in a position push through constitutional changes, for which a two-thirds Bundestag majority is required.
Grand coalition talks begin among 12 working groups tomorrow morning, working through everything from social to foreign policy and reporting back on progress to senior party officials.
Outgoing finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble heads the most senior working groups, which also has the longest title: "Finance, budget, federal-state financial relations, bank regulation, Europe, euro".
SPD representative on this key committee is Olaf Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg since 2011 and not known for his ambitions on federal level.
All going well, informed sources say a coalition agreement will be ready within a month.