The Bundestag (German pronunciation: [ˈbʊndəstaːk], ‘Federal Diet’) is the German federal parliament. It can be compared to the chamber of deputies along the lines of the United States House of Representatives or the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Through the Bundesrat, a separate institution, the individual states of Germany participate in legislation similar to a second house in a bicameral parliament.
The Bundestag was established by article III of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Constitution) in 1949 as one of the legislative bodies of Germany and thus the historical successor to the earlier Reichstag.
Since 1999 it has met in the Reichstag Building in Berlin. Wolfgang Schäuble is the current President of the Bundestag. Members of the Bundestag (Mitglieder des Bundestages) are usually elected every four years by all adult German citizens in a mixed system of constituency voting and list voting. The constitutional minimum number of seats is 598; with overhang and leveling seats there are currently 709 seats. The Election Day can be called earlier than four years after the last if the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) loses a vote of confidence and asks the Federal President (Bundespräsident) to dissolve the Bundestag in order to hold new general elections.
In the 19th century, the name Bundestag was the unofficial designation for the assembly of the sovereigns and mayors of the Monarchies and Free Cities which formed the German Confederation (1815–1866). Its seat was in the Free City of Frankfurt on the Main.
With the dissolution of the German Confederation in 1866 and the founding of the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) in 1871, the Reichstag was established as the German parliament in Berlin, which was the capital of the then Kingdom of Prussia (the largest and most influential state in both the Confederation and the empire). Two decades later, the current parliament building was erected. The Reichstag delegates were elected by direct and equal male suffrage (and not the three-class electoral system prevailing in Prussia until 1918). The Reichstag did not participate in the appointment of the Chancellor until the parliamentary reforms of October 1918. After the Revolution of November 1918 and the establishment of the Weimar Constitution, women were given the right to vote for (and serve in) the Reichstag, and the parliament could use the no-confidence vote to force the chancellor or any cabinet member to resign. In March 1933, one month after the Reichstag fire, the then President of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, a retired war hero, gave Adolf Hitler ultimate power through the Decree for the Protection of People and State and the Enabling Act of 1933, although Hitler remained at the post of Federal Government Chancellor (though he called himself the Führer). After this, the Reichstag met only rarely, usually at the Krolloper (Kroll Opera House) to unanimously rubber-stamp the decisions of the government. It last convened on 26 April 1942.
With the new Constitution of 1949, the Bundestag was established as the new West German parliament. Because West Berlin was not officially under the jurisdiction of the Constitution, a legacy of the Cold War, the Bundestag met in Bonn in several different buildings, including (provisionally) a former waterworks facility. In addition, owing to the city's legal status, citizens of West Berlin were unable to vote in elections to the Bundestag, and were instead represented by 22 non-voting delegates chosen by the House of Representatives, the city's legislature.
The Bundeshaus in Bonn is the former parliament building of Germany. The sessions of the German Bundestag were held there from 1949 until its move to Berlin in 1999. Today it houses the International Congress Centre Bundeshaus Bonn and in the northern areas the branch office of the Bundesrat ("Federal Council"), which represents the Länder – the federated states). The southern areas became part of German offices for the United Nations in 2008.
The former Reichstag building housed a history exhibition (Fragen an die deutsche Geschichte) and served occasionally as a conference center. The Reichstag building was also occasionally used as a venue for sittings of the Bundestag and its committees and the Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly), the body which elects the German Federal President. However, the Soviets harshly protested against the use of the Reichstag building by institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany and tried to disturb the sittings by flying supersonic jets close to the building.
Since April 19, 1999, the German parliament has again assembled in Berlin in its original Reichstag building, which was built in 1888 based on the plans of German architect Paul Wallot and underwent a significant renovation under the lead of British architect Lord Norman Foster. Parliamentary committees and subcommittees, public hearings and parliamentary group meetings take place in three auxiliary buildings, which surround the Reichstag building: the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus, Paul-Löbe-Haus and Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus.
In 2005, a small aircraft crashed close to the German Parliament. It was then decided to ban private air traffic over Central Berlin.
Although most legislation is initiated by the executive branch, the Bundestag considers the legislative function its most important responsibility, concentrating much of its energy on assessing and amending the government's legislative program. The committees (see below) play a prominent role in this process. Plenary sessions provide a forum for members to engage in public debate on legislative issues before them, but they tend to be well attended only when significant legislation is being considered.
The Bundestag members are the only federal officials directly elected by the public; the Bundestag in turn elects the Chancellor and, in addition, exercises oversight of the executive branch on issues of both substantive policy and routine administration. This check on executive power can be employed through binding legislation, public debates on government policy, investigations, and direct questioning of the chancellor or cabinet officials. For example, the Bundestag can conduct a question hour (Fragestunde), in which a government representative responds to a previously submitted written question from a member. Members can ask related questions during the question hour. The questions can concern anything from a major policy issue to a specific constituent's problem. Use of the question hour has increased markedly over the past forty years, with more than 20,000 questions being posed during the 1987-90 term. Understandably, the opposition parties are active in exercising the parliamentary right to scrutinize government actions.
Constituent service does also take place in the form of the Petition Committee. In 2004, the Petition Committee received over 18,000 complaints from citizens and was able to negotiate a mutually satisfactory solution to more than half of them. In 2005, as a pilot of the potential of internet petitions, a version of e-Petitioner was produced for the Bundestag. This was a collaborative project involving The Scottish Parliament, International Teledemocracy Centre and the Bundestag ‘Online Services Department’. The system was formally launched on 1 September 2005, and in 2008 the Bundestag moved to a new system based on its evaluation.
The Bundestag is elected for four years, and new elections must be held between 46 and 48 months after the beginning of its electoral term, unless the Bundestag is dissolved prematurely. Its term ends when the next Bundestag convenes, which must occur within 30 days of the election. Prior to 1976, there could be a period where one Bundestag had been dissolved and the next Bundestag could not be convened; during this period, the rights of the Bundestag were exercised by a so-called "Permanent Committee".
Members serve four-year terms, with elections held every four years, or earlier in the relatively rare case that the Bundestag is dissolved prematurely by the president. The Bundestag can be dissolved by the president on the recommendation of the chancellor if the latter has lost a vote of confidence in the Bundestag if the recommendation is made and accepted before the Bundestag acts to elect a new Chancellor. This has happened three times: 1972 under Chancellor Willy Brandt, 1983 under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and 2005 under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The procedures for these situations are governed by Articles 67 and 68 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Law regarding the election procedure itself is the Federal Election Act 1956 (Bundeswahlgesetz/BWahlG)
All candidates must be at least eighteen years old; there are no term limits. The election uses the MMP electoral system. In addition, the Bundestag has a minimum threshold of either 5% of the national party vote or three (directly elected) constituency representatives for a party to gain additional representation through the system of proportional representation. Thus, small minority parties cannot easily enter the Bundestag and prevent the formation of stable majority governments as they could under the Weimar constitution.
The most recent election, the German federal election, 2017, was held on 24 September 2017.
Half of the Members of the Bundestag are elected directly from 299 constituencies (first-past-the-post system), the other half are elected from the parties’ Land lists in such a way as to achieve proportional representation for the total Bundestag (if possible).
Accordingly, each voter has two votes in the elections to the Bundestag. The first vote, allowing voters to elect their local representatives to the Bundestag, decides which candidates are sent to Parliament from the constituencies.
The second vote is cast for a party list; it determines the relative strengths of the parties represented in the Bundestag.
At least 598 Members of the Bundestag are elected in this way. Parties that gain more than 5% of the second votes or win at least 3 direct mandates are allocated seats in the Bundestag in proportion to the number of votes it has received (d'Hondt method until 1987, largest remainder method until the 2005 election, now Sainte-Laguë method).
In addition to this, there are certain circumstances in which some candidates win what are known as overhang seats when the seats are being distributed. If a party has gained more direct mandates in a Land than it is entitled to according to the results of the second vote, it does not forfeit these mandates because all directly elected candidates are guaranteed a seat in the Bundestag. The other parties are then compensated by getting additional seats as well, the balance seats, so proportionality is preserved.
The last Federal elections were held on Sunday, 24 September 2017, to elect the members of the 19th Bundestag.
The election saw the CDU/CSU win 33% of the vote, a drop of more than 8% and its lowest share of the vote since 1949, while the SPD achieved its worst result since the Second World War with just 20% of the vote. Alternative for Germany (AfD)—which was previously unrepresented in the Bundestag—became the third party in the Bundestag with 12.6% of the vote and a plurality of the vote in Saxony. No party won an outright majority in any state, including Bavaria, where the CSU often wins majorities and won a majority of the vote in 2013.
List of Bundestag by session
1 1983 to 1994 The Greens and 1990 to 1994 Alliance 90, since 1994 Alliance 90/The Greens 2 1990 to 2005 PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), 2005 to 2007 The Left Party.PDS, since 2007 The Left 3 BP 17, KPD 15, WAV 12, Centre Party 10, DKP-DRP 5, SSW 1, Independents 3 4 GB-BHE 27, Centre Party 3
Presidents since 1949
resigned for medical reasons died in office resigned for political reasons †first woman to hold the post § resigned when he became President of Germany
The most important organisational structures within the Bundestag are parliamentary groups (Fraktionen; sing. Fraktion), which are traditionally formed by political parties who win at least 5% of the "second vote." The CDU and CSU have always formed a single united Fraktion. The size of a party's Fraktion determines the extent of its representation on legislative committees, the time slots allotted for speaking, the number of committee chairs it can hold, and its representation in executive bodies of the Bundestag. The Fraktionen, not the members, receive the bulk of government funding for legislative and administrative activities.
The leadership of each Fraktion consists of a parliamentary party leader, several deputy leaders, and an executive committee. The leadership's major responsibilities are to represent the Fraktion, enforce party discipline and orchestrate the party's parliamentary activities. The members of each Fraktion are distributed among working groups focused on specific policy-related topics such as social policy, economics, and foreign policy. The Fraktion meets every Tuesday afternoon in the weeks in which the Bundestag is in session to consider legislation before the Bundestag and formulate the party's position on it.
Parties that do not cross the 5% threshold but win at least three seats by direct elections (i.e. which have at least three MPs representing a constituency seat) can be granted the status of a group in the Bundestag. This applied to the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) from 1990-1998. This status entails some privileges which are in general less than those of a Fraktion. In the current Bundestag, there are no such groups (the PDS had only two constituency MPs in parliament until 2005 and could thus not even considered a group anymore; the party—now The Left—has held full Fraktion status in the Bundestag since 2005).
The Bundestag's executive bodies include the Council of Elders and the Presidium. The council consists of the Bundestag leadership, together with the most senior representatives of each fraktion, with the number of these representatives tied to the strength of the Parliamentary groups in the chamber. The council is the coordination hub, determining the daily legislative agenda and assigning committee chairpersons based on Parliamentary group representation. The council also serves as an important forum for interparty negotiations on specific legislation and procedural issues. The Presidium is responsible for the routine administration of the Bundestag, including its clerical and research activities. It consists of the chamber's president (usually elected from the largest fraktion) and vice presidents (one from each fraktion).
Most of the legislative work in the Bundestag is the product of standing committees, which exist largely unchanged throughout one legislative period. The number of committees approximates the number of federal ministries, and the titles of each are roughly similar (e.g., defense, agriculture, and labor). There are, as of the current eighteenth Bundestag, 23 standing committees. The distribution of committee chairs and the membership of each committee reflect the relative strength of the various Parliamentary groups in the chamber. In the current eighteenth Bundestag, the CDU/CSU chaired twelve committees, the SPD seven, The Left (Die Linke) two, and the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), two. Members of the opposition party can chair a significant number of standing committees (e.g. The budget committee is always chaired by the biggest opposition party). These committees have either a small staff or no staff at all.
Principle of discontinuation
As is the case with some other parliaments, the Bundestag is subject to the principle of discontinuation, meaning that a newly elected Bundestag is legally regarded to be a body and entity completely different from the previous Bundestag. This leads to the result, that any motion, application or action submitted to the previous Bundestag, e.g. a bill referred to the Bundestag by the Federal Government, is regarded as void by non-decision (German terminology: "Die Sache fällt der Diskontinuität anheim"). Thus any bill that has not been decided upon by the beginning of the new electoral period must be brought up by the government again if it aims to uphold the motion, this procedure in effect delaying the passage of the bill. Furthermore, any newly elected Bundestag will have to freshly decide on the rules of procedure (Geschäftsordnung), which is done by a formal decision of taking over such rules from the preceding Bundestag by reference.
Any Bundestag is considered dissolved only once a newly elected Bundestag has actually gathered in order to constitute itself (Article 39 sec. 1 sentence 2 of the Basic Law), which has to happen within 30 days of its election (Article 39 sec. 2 of the Basic Law). Thus, it may happen (and has happened) that the old Bundestag gathers and makes decisions even after the election of a new Bundestag that has not gathered in order to constitute itself. For example, elections to the 16th Bundestag took place on 18 September 2005, but the 15th Bundestag still convened after election day to make some decisions on German military engagement abroad, and was entitled to do so, as the newly elected 16th Bundestag did not convene for the first time until 18 October 2005.