This article examines the impact of party system change in Germany on the role, status and power of the two catch-all parties (CDU/CSU and SPD) in the light of the 2009 federal election. It argues that party system change has had a paradoxical impact. On the one hand, the decline in the overall catch-all vote undermines the two parties’ integrative function. On the other, the presence of three small parties (FDP, Greens, Left Party) means that, with the possible exception of the Greens, no single small party has the potential to be ‘kingmaker’ and, because of their relative positions in ideological space, neither can they act in concert to extract concessions from the two catch-all parties. Thus, despite the impressive performance of the FDP in the 2009 federal election and the electoral meltdown suffered by the SPD, in office-seeking terms the catch-all parties are currently less vulnerable to small party threats of defection to alternative coalitions.