The Federal States: political profiles

The Federal Republic of Germany has 16 states – the Bundesländer.

The five East German states – Brandenburg,  Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia (as well as east Berlin) – were incorporated into the Federal Republic in 1990 with German reunification.

Federalism means that each state has its own parliament and government and is responsible for internal security, schools, universities, culture, and municipal administration.

The states participate in federal decision-making through the Bundesrat, which represents the states at federal level. Each state has between 3 and 6 of the Bundesrat’s 69 seats, depending on population size.

Baden-Württemberg

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the Green Party and the CDU. The government consists of the Minister-President, ten Ministers and one State Counsellor with voting rights in the cabinet. 

Minister President: Winfried Kretschmann (Green Party)

Parliament: Landtag of Baden-Württemberg

143 seats in parliament: Greens 47, CDU 42, SPD 19, AfD 23, FDP 12

Next election: March 2021

Bundesrat votes: 6

GDP per capita 2019: 47,290 euros (fourth highest in Germany)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

baden-württemberg.de website in English

Capital: Stuttgart

Population: 11.08 million

The CDU has dominated in Baden-Württemberg for many years, ruling alone as a majority party from 1972 – 1992, and having been in government for all but 12 years since 1952.

Baden-Württemberg made history in 2016 when it elected a Green-led coalition government. It is the first time the Green Party has led a state government in Germany. Green politician Winfried Kretschmann, who first became Minister President under the previous SPD-Green coalition, is also the first Minister President who is not from the CDU or the FDP.

Kretschmann has promoted a business-friendly, conservative-Green agenda. After winning 30.3% at the last election in 2016, the Green Party has remained strong in the polls, even climbing as high as 38% in 2019. The Green ascendancy has been at the cost of the SPD, which won 23.1% in 2011,but fell to 12.7% in 2016.

Bavaria (Bayern)

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the CSU and the Freie Wähler (Free Voters). The government of Bavaria is composed of the Minister President, eleven Ministers and six Secretaries of State. 

Minister President: Markus Söder (CSU)

Parliament: Bayerische Landtag

205 seats in parliament: CSU 85, Freien Wähler 27, Green Party 38, SPD 22, AfD 22, FDP 11

Next election: autumn 2023

Bundesrat votes: 6

GDP per capita 2019: 48,323 (third highest in Germany)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

bayern.de website

Capital: Munich

Population: 13.09 million

The Free State of Bavaria is Germany’s second most populous state and the largest in terms of area.

Bavarian politics is dominated by the CSU (the CDU’s sister party), which has traditionally won over 50% of the vote and which lies to the right of the CDU. However, the 2018 state election result was its worst in over 60 years. The party’s strategy of challenging Merkel’s refugee policy and attempting to win voters from the AfD contributed to it losing ten points, finishing on 37.2%, while the Green Party came second with 17.6%. This forced the CSU into a coalition with the centre-right Free Voters.

Minister President Markus Söder is currently a popular choice amongst voters to be the CDU/CSU’s Chancellor candidate.

Berlin

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the SPD, Left Party and Green Party. The government of the federal state of Berlin is called the Senate and consists of the Mayor and ten Senators.

Mayor: Michael Müller (SPD)

Parliament: Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin

160 seats in parliament: SPD 38, Greens 27, Left Party 27, CDU 31, AfD 22, FDP 11, without party 4

Next election: autumn 2021

Bundesrat votes: 4

GDP per capita 2019: 41,967 euros (sixth highest in Germany)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

berlin.de wesbite in English

Population: 3.65 million

Berlin has been a city-state since reunification in 1990. It has 12 boroughs, is Germany’s largest city and became Germany’s capital city again in 1991.

The SPD has been a member of every governing coalition since 1990, 4 times as leading party. Three of these were under previous Mayor Klaus Wowereit (2001 – 2014), who was famous for describing Berlin as ‘poor but sexy’.

Since then, Berlin’s massive debt has decreased (from 60 billion in 2012 to less than 55 billion in 2018), new industry has developed (the city is known as a start-up hub) and housing prices have exploded. The failure to open Berlin’s new airport, Berlin-Brandenburg, which was scheduled in 2011, was seen as symbol of dysfunctional government under Wowereit; the airport is still not open.

Like the national party, the Berlin SPD is polling on only around 15-16%, while the CDU and the Greens are each over 20%. Mayor Müller is planning to seek a place in the Bundestag in the next election; the party is placing its hopes for a resurgence in probable successor Franziska Giffey.

Brandenburg

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the SPD, CDU and Green Party. The government of Brandenburg consists of the Minister President and 10 Ministers.

Minister President: Dietmar Woidke (SPD)

Parliament: Landtag Brandenburg

88 seats in parliament: SPD 25, CDU 15, Green Party 10, AfD 23, Left Party 10, Free Voters 5

Next election: autumn 2024

Bundesrat votes: 4

GDP per capita 2019: 29,541 euros (third lowest in Germany)

Deustche Welle profile in English

brandenburg.de website in English

Capital: Potsdam

Population: 2.51 million

Surrounding Berlin, Brandenburg is one of the former East German states which joined the Federal Republic in 1990. The Tesla Gigafactory is currently being constructed in Brandenburg.

Since 1990, the SPD has always been the largest party in parliament, has been in every state government, and has provided every Minister President. The current Minister President, Woidke, has been in office since 2013.

In the 2019 election, Brandenburg, like Saxony and Thuringia, was faced with the job of forming a coalition excluding the AfD, which finished as second largest party, since the other parties in Germany have an agreement not to cooperate with the AfD. Therefore a ‘Kenya’ (red- black-green) coalition was formed.

Bremen

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the SPD, Green Party and Left Party. The government of Bremen is called the Senate and is composed of the Mayor and 10 Senators.

Mayor : Andreas Bovenschulte (SPD)

Parliament:  Bremische Bürgerschaft

84 seats in parliament: SPD 23, Greens 16, Left Party 10, CDU 24, AfD 5, FDP 5, BIW (Citizens in Rage) 1

Next election: spring 2023

Bundesrat votes: 3

GDP per capita 2019: 49,215 euros (second highest in Germany)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

bremen.de website

Capital: Bremen

Population: 0.68 million


The Hanseatic city state of Bremen is the smallest German state, with the lowest population. It consists of the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven and is surrounded by the state of Lower Saxony.

Bremen has suffered from the decline of the shipbuilding industry and has the highest unemployment rate in Germany.

Until 2019, Bremen had always been ruled by an SPD Mayor, but in 2019 the SPD lost its majority to the CDU for the first time in 73 years in a symbolic defeat for the national party.

This, and the European elections which took place the same day, was one of the reasons for the subsequent resignation of the leader of the national SPD, Andrea Nahles.

Hamburg

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the SPD and Green Party. The government of Hamburg is called the Senate and consists of the First Mayor and 11 Senators.

First Mayor: Peter Tschentscher (SPD)

Parliament: Hamburgische Bürgerschaft

123 seats in Parliament: SPD 54, Greens 33, CDU 15, Left Party 13, AfD 7, FDP 1

Next election: spring 2025

Bundesrat votes: 3

GDP per capita 2019: 66,879 euros (highest in Germany)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

hamburg.com website in English

Population: 1.84 million

The Hanseatic city of Hamburg is surrounded by Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and a major European port.

The SPD bucked the national trend this year in Hamburg, winning the February election with 39.2% (albeit losing 6.4% ) under moderate SPD Mayor Peter Tschentscher, who is cast in the mould of his predecessor, Finance Minister and SPD Chancellor-candidate Olaf Scholz. The Green party won 24.2%, up 11.9%, coming in second place.

The FDP, in the wake of its involvement in the political crisis in Thuringia, won only 4.9% (the final result took two and a half weeks to be confirmed) and thus failed to meet the 5% hurdle. However one FDP politician won a seat under the direct constituency vote.

Hesse (Hessen)

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the CDU and Green Party. The government of Hesse consists of the Minister President and 11 Ministers.

Minister President: Volker Bouffier (CDU)

Parliament: Hessischer Landtag (Parliament of Hesse)

137 seats in Parliament: CDU 40, Greens 29, SPD 29, AfD 18, FDP 11, The Left 9, Independent 1

Next election: autumn 2023

Bundesrat votes: 5

GDP per capita 2019: 46,923 euros (fifth highest in Germany)

Deustche Welle profile in English

hessen.de website in English

Capital: Wiesbaden

Population: 6.27 million

Hesse’s most populous city is Frankfurt am Main, which is one of the major European financial centres, and the headquarter of the European Central Bank. It is also a commerce centre and hosts an international trade fair, the Frankfurt Messe.

The 2018 election in Hesse saw the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) enter parliament for the first time, after winning 13.1% of the vote. The CDU and SPD lost heavily – the CDU lost 11.3% (falling to 27 %) and the SPD 10.9% (falling to 19.8%). Apart from the AfD, the other party making gains was the Green party, which won 19.8% (up 8.3%).

The election in Hesse, and the election in Bavaria, both in the autumn of 2018, had major repercussions for the SPD, which lost more than 40% of its supporters, and for the CDU; shortly afterwards, Merkel announced she would not be standing as party leader in the December 2018 leadership election. The elections came after a fractious summer for the federal coalition partners.

Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the SPD and CDU. The government of Lower Saxony consists of the Minister President and 10 Ministers.

Minister President: Stephan Weil (SPD)

Parliament: Niedersächsische Landtag (Parliament of Lower Saxony)

137 seats in parliament: SPD 55, CDU 50, Greens 12, FDP 11, AfD 9

Next election: autumn 2022

Bundesrat votes: 6

GDP per capita 2019: 38,423 euros (under the German average)

Deustche Welle profile in English:

lower-saxony.de website in English

Capital: Hanover

Population: 7.99 million

Lower Saxony has had some famous SPD Minister Presidents, including Gerhard Schröder, who went on to be Chancellor of Germany and Sigmar Gabriel, who later became SPD leader.

The SPD has been in power in Lower Saxony for much of the Federal Republic’s history, but lost power in 2003, when the CDU and FDP formed a series of coalitions lasting until 2013. In 2013 the SPD under Stephan Weil returned to power, forming a coalition with a 1 seat majority with the Green Party. The last election was held in 2017, when the SPD, against the national trend, increased its vote and won the greatest number of seats (49 seats, with 36.9 % of the vote). The Green Party lost 5% of its vote, so Weil made a coalition with the CDU. The AfD entered the parliament for the first time, with 9 seats.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Government: The governing coalition is made of the the SPD and the CDU. The government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is composed of the Minister President and 8 Ministers.

Minister President: Manuela Schwesig (SPD)

Parliament: Landtag Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

71 seats in parliament: SPD 26, CDU 16, AfD 18, Left Party 11

Next election: autumn 2021

Bundesrat votes: 3

GDP per capita 2019: 28,940 euros (second lowest in Germany)

Deustche Welle profile in English

mecklenburg-vorpommern.de website in Englsih

Capital: Schwerin

Population: 1.60 million

The Baltic Sea state, with 2,000 km of coastline encompassing famous holiday destinations such as Rügen and Usedom, is Germany’s least densely populated and least industrialised state. It has the smallest state capital in Germany, with a population of under 100,000, and is one of the former East German states.

The SPD has been the largest party Mecklenburg-Vorpommern since 1998, although the CDU is currently overtaking the SPD in the polls. In the last election in 2016, the SPD, like all the other parties, lost significantly when the AfD entered parliament with 20.8% of the vote and 18 seats, making it the second largest party. The Green Party and the FDP failed to make the 5% hurdle.

Minister President Erwin Sellering resigned due to ill health in 2017, and his protege Manuela Schwesig, then Federal Minister for Families, returned to the state as Minister President. Schwesig is one of the SPD’s hope-bearers and is spearheading  the task of reversing the party’s collapse in the east of the country.

North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen)

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the CDU and FDP. The government of NRW consists of the Minister President and 13 Ministers.

Minister President: Armin Laschet (CDU)

Parliament: Landtag Nordrhein-Westfalen 

199 seats in parliament: CDU 72, FDP 28, SPD 69, AfD 16, Green 14

Next election : spring 2022

Bundesrat votes: 6

GDP per capita 2019: 39,678 euros (slightly lower than the German average)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

land.nrw.de website in English

Capital: Düsseldorf

Population: 17.93 million

NRW is the fourth largest state, has the highest population and makes the greatest contribution to the German economy. The region has undergone major structural change as a result of the decline of it traditional industrial base of coal and steel.

NRW’s industrial base meant that it was traditionally a stronghold of the SPD; the state was governed by the SPD or SPD-led coalitions from 1966 to 2005, when the CDU won one term. In 2017, Armin Laschet defeated the ruling SPD-Green coalition in a surprise victory, winning 33% for the CDU.

This was only the second time the CDU had won in the state in 50 years. The SPD, which saw a nearly 8% drop in its vote, won 31.2% and Laschet was able to form a coalition with the FDP which has a majority of just 1.

Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz)

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the SPD, FDP and Green Party. The government of Rheinland-Pfalz is made up of the Minister President and ten Ministers.

Minister President: Malu Dreyer (SPD)

Parliament: Landtag Rheinland-Pfalz

101 seats in parliament:  SPD 39, FDP 7, Green Party 6, CDU 35, AfD 14

Next election: March 2021

Bundesrat votes: 4

GDP per capita 2019: 35,457 euros (below the German average)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

rlp.de website

Capital: Mainz

Population: 4.08 million

Rheinland-Pfalz has provided Germany with some political heavyweights: Helmut Kohl, CDU Chancellor from 1982 – 1998 and former SDP leader Rudolf Scharping have both been Minister President of Rheinland-Pfalz.

From 1947 -1991, politics in Rheinland-Pfalz was dominated by the CDU. In 1991, Rudolf Scharping, who went on to lead the national party and stand as Chancellor candidate in the 1994 election, won 44.8% for the SPD. That was the first time the SPD had been the largest party and started an SPD-dominated era. In the 2016 election, the previous SPD-Green coalition, which had been elected in 2011, was defeated. The SPD remained the largest party, but the Green Party suffered a 10.1% loss, and so SPD leader Malu Dreyer formed a traffic light coalition with both the Greens and the FDP, which had re-entered parliament after having failed to meet the 5% hurdle in 2011.

Saarland

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the CDU and SPD. Saarland’s government is the smallest of any state, with 7 Ministers and the Minister President.

Minister President: Tobias Hans (CDU)

Parliament: Landtag des Saarlands

51 seats in Parliament: CDU 24, SPD 14, Left Party 7, AfD 3

Next election: spring 2022

Bundesrat votes: 3

GDP per capita 2019: 36,684 euros (below the German average)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

saarland.de website in English

Capital: Saarbrücken

Population: 0.98 million

Bordering on France and Luxembourg, Saarland is Germany’s most passionately European state. Saarland provides 3 of the Federal Cabinet’s 16 Ministers (Foreign Secretary Heiko Maas, Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier and Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer). Former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine is also from Saarland.

The CDU dominated in Saarland from 1947 to the turn of the 1980s. In 1985, future national party leader Oskar Lafontaine won a convincing majority for the SPD, heralding an era of SPD dominance until the turn of the century. Since then, the CDU have headed all the government coalitions, winning 40.7% of the vote in 2017 under Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), compared to the SPD’s 29.6%. AKK’s hugely successful record in Saarland placed her in a strong position in the CDU leadership election in December 2018, which she won. However, just over a year later, she announced she would step down as leader, triggering another leadership contest which has not to date taken place. 2017 also saw the entry of the AfD into parliament, after the party won 6.2% of the vote.

Saxony (Sachsen)

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the CDU, Greens and SPD. The government of Saxony is composed of the Minister President and 12 Ministers.

Minister President: Michael Kretschmer (CDU)

Parliament: Sächsische Landtag

119 seats in parliament: CDU 45, Green Party 12, SPD 10, AfD 38, Left Party 14,

Next election: autumn 2024

Bundesrat votes: 4

GDP per capita 2019: 31,453 euros (bottom 5 in Germany)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

sachsen.de website

Capital: Dresden

Population: 4.08 million

Following unification and the entry of Saxony into the Fedeal Republic, the CDU won enormous majorities in the state elections in 1990 (53.8%), 1994 (58.1%) and 1999 (56.9%). It lost its majority in 2004 and formed a grand coalition with the SPD.

Like Thuringia and Brandenburg, Saxony was presented with a problem after its 2019 election: forming a coalition without the AFD, which came in second place with 27.5% of the vote, after the CDU, which won 32.1%. The SPD’s collapse in the east was starkly illustrated in Saxony: the party dropped 4.6% two 7.7% and came in fifth place, behind the Left Party and the Greens. This meant that the previous CDU-SPD governing coalition lost its majority, meaning that incumbent Minister President Kretschmer had to form a ‘Kenya’ coalition with the Green Party and SPD.

Following the election in Saxony, AfD leader Jörg Meuthen remarked that the coalitions were “more fragile than they had ever been.”

Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt)

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the CDU, SPD and Green Party There are 8 ministries in the government of Saxony-Anhalt.

Minister President: Reiner Haseloff (CDU)

Parliament: Landtag von Sachsen-Anhalt 

87 seats in parliament: CDU 30, SPD 11, Green 5, Linke 16, AfD 25

Next election: June 2021

Bundesrat votes: 4

GDP per capita 2019: 28,880 euros (lowest in Germany)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

sachsen-anhalt.de website in English

Capital: Magdeburg

Population: 2.20 million

Since its entry into the Federal Republic in 1990, the eastern state of Saxony Anhalt has mostly been governed by the CDU-led coalitions, with two SPD-led coalitions, including one minority coalition.

As in other states, the entry of the AfD into parliament in 2016 as the second largest party with 24.3% of the vote and 25 seats created a problem. The centre parties have had to form larger coalitions excluding the extremes; the CDU does not cooperate either with the AfD or with the Left Party.

In 2016, the governing CDU-SPD coalition lost its majority, with all the major parties losing support. CDU Minister President Haseloff, who had been in office since 2011, formed a Kenya coalition composed of the CDU, SPD and Green Party.

Schleswig-Holstein

Government: The governing coalition is made up of the CDU, Green Party and FDP. The government of Schleswig-Holstein is made up of seven ministers and the Minister President.

Minister President: Daniel Günther (CDU) 

Parliament: Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein

73 seats in Parliament: CDU 25, Green Party 10, FDP 9, SPD 21, AfD 5, SSW (Südschleswigsche Wählerverband) 3

Next election: spring 2022

Votes in Bundesrat: 4

GDP per capita 2019: 33,712 euros (in bottom half)

Deutsche Welle profile in English

schleswig-holstein.de website in English

Capital: Kiel

Population: 2.89 million

Schleswig-Holstein has always been governed by either SPD or CDU coalitions.

The South Schleswig Voter Federation (Südschleswigsche Wählerverband) is a small party which represents the Danish and Frisian minorities; as such, it is not subject to the 5% hurdle. In 2005 the SSW backed a minority SPD-Green coalition (but did not agree to enter a coalition); however, the government failed to receive enough votes for its Minister President, so a grand coalition was formed again. In 2012, the SSW, with 3 seats, entered a SPD-Green-SSW coalition government for the first time.

In 2017, the government lost its majority and a Jamaica coalition with the CDU, Greens and FDP was formed.

Thuringia (Thüringen)

Government: The governing coalition is composed of the Left Party, SPD and Green Party. The Thuringian government is composed of the Minister President and eight ministers.

Minister President: Bodo Ramelow (Left Party)

Parliament: Thüringer Landtag

90 seats in Parliament: Left Party 29, SPD 8, Greens 5, AfD 22, CDU 21, FDP 5

Next election: theoretically autumn 2024 which is five years after the last, but the parties agreed in February to have a new election in April 2021

Votes in Bundesrat: 4

GDP per capita 2019: 29,883 euros (fourth from bottom)

Deustche Welle profile in English

thueringen.de website

Capital: Erfurt

Population: 2.13 million

Thuringia is the only state that has a Left Party-led coalition. Bodo Ramelow became Minister President in 2014, the first time the Left Party had ever led a government coalition.

Thuringia was the centre of a political crisis this year. In the autumn 2019 election, the incumbent Left-SPD-Green government lost its majority. The Left Party increased its vote, winning with 31%; but the AfD came second with 23.4% of the vote, and a 12.8% swing, while the SPD dropped over 4% and the CDU nearly 12%. After months of coalition negotiations, a minority Left Party-SPD-Green coalition was agreed. However, when the parliament met to elect the Minister President, CDU and FDP politicians cooperated with the AfD to elect an FDP Minister President, Thomas Kemmerich, instead of Left Party leader Bodo Ramelow. This caused a national outrage and Kemmerich resigned a few days later, leading to the re-election of Ramelow a month later.

Links

The results of all state elections since 1946 can be found on the tagesschau website.

State election dates are on the Bundesrat website.

Population size and votes in the Bundesrat are on the Bundesrat website.

Statista has information such as GDP and unemployment by state.

Short party profiles are on the politikonline.org website

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