Bundestag

Bundestag

[boon-duhs-tahg; Ger. boon-duhs-tahk]
Bundestag, lower house of the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is a popularly elected body that elects the chancellor, passes all legislation (subject to executive veto on budget matters), and ratifies the most important treaties. It can remove the chancellor in a vote of no confidence by electing a new chancellor, but can be dissolved by the President if deadlocked on a new government. The upper house of the parliament, the Bundesrat [federal council] cannot be dissolved, represents the states (Länder), and receives all government draft legislation before the Bundestag. Its approval is required for most laws.

Lower house of the German bicameral legislature. It represents the nation as a whole and is elected by universal suffrage under a system of mixed direct and proportional representation. Members serve four-year terms. The Bundestag in turn elects the chancellor. The term was formerly used to refer to the federal Diet of the German Confederation (1815–66), known as the Reichstag under the Weimar Republic (1919–34). Its building burned down in 1933 (see Reichstag fire), and its members were not allowed to meet again for the duration of the Nazi regime (1933–45). The Reichstag was reconstituted as the Bundestag in the governmental reorganization of 1949. Its membership was again reorganized after German unification in 1990.

Learn more about Bundestag with a free trial on Britannica.com.

The Bundestag ("Federal Diet" or "Lower House of German Parliament") is the parliament of Germany. It was established with Germany's constitution of 1949 (the Grundgesetz), and is the successor of the earlier Reichstag. The current President of the Bundestag is Norbert Lammert.

History

The Bundestag was also the nickname of the governing body of the German Confederation from 1815 to 1866 (officially called Bundesversammlung, Federal Assembly). This body met in Frankfurt and was presided over by the Austrian delegate. As one of the chief instruments of the reactionary forces opposed to democracy and nationalism, it was dissolved during the liberal revolution of 1848 but reconvened in 1850. It is a predecessor to the modern Bundestag in name only. While the modern parliament is elected by the people, the Bundestag of the German Confederation was appointed by the various princes and the governments of the free cities.

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. 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, parliament ceded its powers to the Federal Government of Chancellor Adolf Hitler by passing the infamous Enabling act of 1933. Afterward it met only rarely to unanimously rubber-stamp the decisions of the government. It was 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 and because of the Cold War, the Bundestag met in Bonn in several different buildings, including (provisionally) a former water works facility. In addition, citizens of West Berlin were unable to vote in elections to the Bundestag, and were instead represented by 20 non-voting delegates, indirectly elected by the city's House of Representatives.

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, 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 1999, the German parliament has again assembled in Berlin in its original Reichstag building, which dates from the 1890s and underwent a significant renovation under the lead of British architect Sir Norman Foster.

In 2005, a small aircraft crashed close to the German parliament. It was then decided to ban private air traffic over Central Berlin.

Tasks

Together with the Bundesrat, the Bundestag is the legislative branch of the German political system.

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.

One striking difference when comparing the Bundestag with the U.S. Congress is the lack of time spent on serving constituents in Germany. In part, that difference results from the fact that only 50 percent of Bundestag deputies are directly elected to represent a specific geographic district; the other half are elected as party representatives (see below). The political parties are thus of great importance in Germany's electoral system, and many voters tend not to see the candidates as autonomous political personalities but rather as agents of the party. A practical constraint on the expansion of constituent service is the limited personal staff of Bundestag deputies. Despite these constraints especially those deputies that are elected directly normally try to keep close contact with their constituents and to help them with their problems, particularly when they are related to federal policies or agencies.

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.

Election

Members serve four-year terms; elections are held every four years, or earlier in the relatively rare case that the Bundestag is being 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. This has happened three times as of 2005: 1972 under Chancellor Willy Brandt, 1982 under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and 2005 under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

All candidates must be at least eighteen years old; there are no term limits. The election uses the MMP electoral system, a hybrid of the first-past-the-post election system and party-list proportional representation. 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 (and often extremist) minority parties cannot easily enter the Bundestag and prevent the formation of stable majority governments as they could under the Weimar constitution. Since 1961, only two new parties (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and Die Linke) have entered the Bundestag.

The additional member system results in a varying number of seats; since the 2005 elections, there have been 614 seats. The distribution of the seats is calculated by the Largest remainder method. The additional seats are distributed to ensure that the combined total of direct and additional seats is proportional to the vote; this is calculated separately for each state. Sometimes parties win more seats directly than what their proportional share would entitle them to — these are known as overhang seats. Unlike the situation in some German state parliaments, overhang seats are not compensated in the Bundestag.

Distribution of seats in the Bundestag

Half of the Members of the Bundestag are elected directly from 299 constituencies (first-past-the-post election system), the other half on the parties’ Land lists (party-list proportional representation).

Accordingly, each voter has two votes in the elections to the Bundestag. The first vote (first-past-the-post election system), allowing voters to elect their local representatives to the Bundestag, decides which candidates are sent to Parliament from the constituencies.

The second vote (party-list proportional representation) is cast for a party list. And it is this second vote that determines the relative strengths of the parties represented in the Bundestag.

At least 598 Members of the Bundestag are elected in this way. 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.

The 598 seats are distributed among the parties that have gained more than 5% of the second votes or at least 3 direct mandates. Each of these parties is allocated seats in the Bundestag in proportion to the number of votes it has received (Largest remainder method).

When the total number of mandates gained by a party has been determined, they are distributed between the Land lists. The distribution of the seats of that party to the 16 Lands is proportional to that party's second vote results in the Lands (Largest remainder method). The first of the mandates allocated to each Land go to the candidates who have won direct mandates in that Land. The rest are assigned in order to the candidates on the Land list put forward before the election.

Overhang seat: 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.

Detail of the Land list seats won by each party

Election result

Seats by party (16th Bundestag, since general election on 18 September 2005)

+ CDU and CSU: 223 (36.6%) including 4 overhang seats
+ SPD: 222 (36.2%) including 9 overhang seats
+ FDP: 61 (9.9%)
+ The Left: 53 (8.6%)
+ Alliance '90/Greens: 51 (8.3%)
+ Independents/No parliamentary group: 2 (0.3%)

Number of the Land list seats won by each party For a list of current members, see the List of Bundestag Members.

List of Bundestag by Session

Historic seat distribution in the German Bundestag

Historic seat distribution in the German Bundestag (at the beginning of each session)
Bundestag Session Seats CDU/CSU SPD FDP Alliance '90 /
The Greens
1
The Left2 German Party Others
1st Bundestag 1949–1953 402 139 131 52 –   – 17 633
2nd Bundestag 1953–1957 487 243 151 48 –   – 15 304
3rd Bundestag 1957–1961 497 270 169 41 17
4th Bundestag 1961–1965 499 242 190 67
5th Bundestag 1965–1969 496 245 202 49
6th Bundestag 1969–1972 496 242 224 30
7th Bundestag 1972–1976 496 225 230 41
8th Bundestag 1976–1980 496 243 214 39
9th Bundestag 1980–1983 497 226 218 53
10th Bundestag 1983–1987 498 244 193 34 27
11th Bundestag 1987–1990 497 223 186 46 42
12th Bundestag 1990–1994 662 319 239 79 8 17
13th Bundestag 1994–1998 672 294 252 47 49 30
14th Bundestag 1998–2002 669 245 298 43 47 36
15th Bundestag 2002–2005 603 248 251 47 55 2
16th Bundestag since 2005 614 226 222 61 51 54
1: 1983 to 1990 The Greens, 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

For detailed information on particular sessions of the Bundestag, please refer to the List of German Bundestage.


Presidents since 1949

Presidents of the Bundestag
Name Party Beginning of term End of term Length of term
1 Erich Köhler* (1892–1958) CDU 7 September 1949 18 October 1950 1 year 1 month 11 days
2 Hermann Ehlers** (1904–1954) CDU 19 October 1950 29 October 1954 4 years 10 days
3 Eugen Gerstenmaier*** (1906–1986) CDU 16 November 1954 31 January 1969 14 years 2 months 15 days
4 Kai-Uwe von Hassel (1913–1997) CDU 5 February 1969 13 December 1972 3 years 10 months 8 days
5 Annemarie Renger† (1919-2008) SPD 13 December 1972 14 December 1976 4 years 1 day
6 Karl Carstens§ (1914–1992) CDU 14 December 1976 31 May 1979 2 years 5 months 17 days
7 Richard Stücklen (1916–2002) CSU 31 May 1979 29 March 1983 3 years 9 months 29 days
8 Rainer Barzel*** (1924–2006) CDU 29 March 1983 25 October 1984 1 year 6 months 26 days
9 Philipp Jenninger*** (b. 1932) CDU 5 November 1984 11 November 1988 4 years 6 days
10 Rita Süssmuth (b. 1937) CDU 25 November 1988 26 October 1998 9 years 11 months 1 day
11 Wolfgang Thierse (b. 1943) SPD 26 October 1998 18 October 2005 6 years 11 months 22 days
12 Norbert Lammert (b. 1948) CDU 18 October 2005
*resigned for medical reasons
**died in office
***resigned for political reasons
†first woman and Social Democrat to hold the post
§ resigned when he became President of Germany

Organization

The most important organizational structures within the Bundestag are parliamentary groups (Fraktionen; sing. Fraktion), which are formed by political parties represented in the chamber which have gained more than 5% of the total votes; 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 which do not fulfill the criterion for being a Fraktion but which have at least three seats by direct elections (i.e. which have at least three MPs representing a certain electoral district) in the Bundestag can be granted the status of a group of 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 only had two MPs in parliament until 2005 and was thus not even considered a group anymore; the party has now returned to the Bundestag with full Fraktion status).

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 party in the chamber. The council is the coordination hub, determining the daily legislative agenda and assigning committee chairpersons based on party 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). Between 1987 and 1990, the term of the eleventh Bundestag, there were twenty-one standing committees. The distribution of committee chairs and the membership of each committee reflect the relative strength of the various parties in the chamber. In the eleventh Bundestag, the CDU/CSU chaired eleven committees, the SPD eight, the FDP one, and the environmentalist party, the Greens (Die Grünen), one. Members of the opposition party can chair a significant number of standing committees. These committees have either a small staff or no staff at all.

See also

External links

Search another word or see Bundestagon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature