|President of the Bundesrat||Jens Böhrnsen, SPD
since November 1, 2009
|Political groups||Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union
Social Democratic Party
Free Democratic Party
|Preußisches Herrenhaus, Berlin|
The German Bundesrat (literally "Federal Council"; pronounced [ˈbʊndəsʁaːt]) is a legislative body that represents the sixteen Länder (federal states) of Germany at the federal level. It has its seat at the former Prussian House of Lords in Berlin.
The Bundesrat co-decides about federal laws that affect Länder competences, but German constitutional commentators do not consider it a parliament or chamber of the parliament. The only federal parliament in Germany is the Bundestag. Nonetheless foreign commentators tend to compare it to upper houses such as the U.S. Senate or the House of Lords in the United Kingdom.
The composition of the Bundesrat is different from other legislative bodies representing states (such as the Russian Federation Council or the U.S. Senate). Firstly, its members are not elected – either by popular vote or by the state parliaments – but are normally members of the state cabinets, which appoint them and can remove them at any time. Normally, a state delegation is headed by the respective minister-president. Secondly, the states are not represented by an equal number of delegates, since the population of the respective state is a factor, as the following table shows.
What the table actually shows is the number of votes each state has in the Bundesrat, so the votes cast are not the votes of the delegates, but of the state. The state cabinet then may appoint as many delegates as the state has votes, but is under no obligation to do so; it can restrict the state delegation even to one single delegate. However, this does not affect the influence of the respective state in the Bundesrat, due to its unusual voting system (see below). Anyway, this system of unequal representation, although designed to reflect Land populations more accurately than equal representation would, in fact still affords greater representation per inhabitant to the smaller states. Since state elections are not coordinated across Germany and can occur at any time, the majority distributions in the Bundesrat can change after any such election.
The number of votes a state is allocated is based on a form of degressive proportionality. It is based on the size of each state's population, and very roughly proportional to its square root. This way, smaller states have more votes than a distribution proportional to the population would grant. The allocation of votes is regulated by the German constitution (Grundgesetz). Every state is allocated at least three votes. However, states with more than
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In contrast to many other legislative bodies, the delegates to the Bundesrat from any one state are required to cast the votes of the state as a bloc (since the votes are not those of the respective delegate). Furthermore, it is possible (and quite customary) that only one of the delegates (the Stimmführer, "leader of the votes" - normally the minister-president) casts all votes the respective state has, even if the other members of the delegation are present. Because coalition governments are common, states frequently choose to abstain if their coalition cannot agree on a position.
This is a compromise only on first sight because every decision of the Bundesrat requires an absolute majority of the votes of all states, abstaining means, in effect, voting against a proposal, as does a split vote, which invalidates the respective state's entire vote.
The chairperson or speaker is the President of the Bundesrat (Bundesratspräsident), who is 4th in the German order of precedence after the Federal President, the Bundestag President, the Chancellor and before the President of the Federal Constitutional Court.
By tradition, the presidency rotates annually among the minister-presidents of each of the federal Länder (states). The President of the Bundesrat convenes and chairs plenary sessions of the body and is formally responsible for representing the Federal Republic in the Bundesrat. He or she is aided by three vice-presidents who play an advisory role and deputise in the president's absence. The four together make up the Bundesrat's executive committee.
Because the Bundesrat is so much smaller than the Bundestag, and also because it is more or less an organized cooperation of Land governments rather than a real parliament, it does not require the extensive organizational structure of the Bundestag. The Bundesrat typically schedules plenary sessions once a month for the purpose of voting on legislation prepared in committee. In comparison, the Bundestag conducts about fifty plenary sessions a year. The voting Bundesrat delegates themselves rarely attend committee sessions; instead, they delegate that responsibility to civil servants from their ministries, as allowed for in the Basic Law. The delegates themselves tend to spend most of their time in their state capitals, rather than in the federal capital. The delegations are supported by the Landesvertretungen, which function basically as embassies of the states in the federal capital.
The legislative authority of the Bundesrat is subordinate to that of the Bundestag, but it nonetheless plays a vital legislative role. The federal government must present all its legislative initiatives first to the Bundesrat; only thereafter can a proposal be passed to the Bundestag. Further, the Bundesrat must approve all legislation affecting policy areas for which the Basic Law grants the Länder concurrent powers and for which the Länder must administer federal regulations. The Bundesrat has increased its legislative responsibilities over time by successfully arguing for a broad, rather than a narrow, interpretation of what constitutes the range of legislation affecting Land interests. In 1949, only 10 percent of all federal laws, namely, those directly affecting the Länder, required Bundesrat approval. In 1993 close to 60 percent of federal legislation required the Bundesrat's assent. The Basic Law also provides the Bundesrat with an absolute veto of such legislation. Constitutional changes require a majority of 2/3 of all votes, thus giving the Bundesrat an absolute veto against constitutional change. Against all other legislation the Bundesrat has a suspensive veto, which can be overridden by passing the law again. As an added provision, a law vetoed with a majority of 2/3 must be passed again with a majority of 2/3 in the Bundestag. If the absolute veto is used, the Bundesrat, the Bundestag, or the government can convene a joint committee to negotiate a compromise. That compromise cannot be amended and both chambers (Bundesrat and Bundestag) are required to hold a final vote on the compromise as is. The political power of the absolute veto is particularly evident when the opposition party or parties in the Bundestag have a majority in the Bundesrat, which was the case almost constantly between 1991 and 2005. Whenever this happens, the opposition can threaten the government's legislative program. Such a division of authority can complicate the process of governing when the major parties disagree, and, unlike the Bundestag, the Bundesrat cannot be dissolved under any circumstances. Such stalemates are not unlike those that may be experienced under cohabitation in other countries.
Some observers emphasize that different majorities in the two chambers ensure that all legislation, when approved, has the support of a broad political spectrum--a particularly valuable attribute in the aftermath of unification, when consensus on critical policy decisions is vital. The formal representation of the Länder in the federal government through the Bundesrat provides an obvious forum for the coordination of policy between the Länder and the federal government. The need for such coordination, particularly given the specific, crucial needs of the eastern Länder, has become only more important.
It could also be argued that the Bundesrat serves as a control mechanism on the Bundestag in the sense of a system of checks and balances. Since the executive and legislative functions are closely intertwined in any parliamentary system, the Bundesrat's ability to revisit and slow down legislative processes could be seen as making up for that loss of separation.
Other observers claim that the opposing majorities lead to an increase in backroom politics, where small groups of high-tier leaders make all the important decisions and the Bundestag representatives have a choice only between agreeing with them or not getting anything done at all. The German "Federalism Commission" was looking into this issue, among others. There have been frequent suggestions of replacing the Bundesrat with a US-style elected Senate, which would be elected at the same date as the Bundestag. This is hoped to increase the institution's popularity, reduce Land bureaucracy influence on legislation, make opposing majorities less likely, make the legislative process more transparent, and generally set a new standard of democratic, rather than bureaucratic leadership. It remains to be seen if existing party leaderships or the german people are willing to support such a step.
The German Bundesrat was first founded, together with the German Empire, in 1871, replacing a body of the same name and with the same functions in the North German Confederation. With the Weimar Constitution, it was replaced in 1919 by the Reichsrat (1919-1934).
The delegates to the original Bundesrat as those to the Reichsrat, while appointed by the state governments just as today, usually were high-ranking civil servants, not cabinet members. The original Bundesrat was very powerful: Every bill needed its consent, making it equal to the popularly elected Reichstag.
The Reichsrat had considerably less influence, since it could only veto bills and even then be overruled by the Reichstag. However, overruling the Reichsrat needed a majority of two-thirds in the Reichstag splintered into many parties. So in most cases a bill vetoed by the Bundesrat effectively died because there were not enough votes in the Reichstag to overrule the veto.
The composition of the Bundesrat, 1871-1919, was:
(including states annexed in 1866)
|17 other small states||
each with 1 vote
|Baden-Württemberg||10,736,000||6 █ █ █ █ █ █||CDU and FDP||Stefan Mappus (CDU)|
|Bavaria||12,469,000||6 █ █ █ █ █ █||CSU and FDP||Horst Seehofer (CSU)|
|Berlin||3,395,000||4 █ █ █ █||SPD and The Left||Klaus Wowereit (SPD)|
|Brandenburg||2,559,000||4 █ █ █ █||SPD and The Left||Matthias Platzeck (SPD)|
|Bremen||663,000||3 █ █ █||GreensSPD and||Jens Böhrnsen (SPD)|
|Hamburg||1,744,000||3 █ █ █||CDU and Greens||Ole von Beust (CDU)|
|Hesse||6,092,000||5 █ █ █ █ █||CDU and FDP||Roland Koch (CDU)|
|Mecklenburg-Vorpommern||1,707,000||3 █ █ █||SPD and CDU||Erwin Sellering (SPD)|
|Lower Saxony||7,994,000||6 █ █ █ █ █ █||CDU and FDP||Christian Wulff (CDU)|
|North Rhine-Westphalia||18,058,000||6 █ █ █ █ █ █||CDU and FDP||Jürgen Rüttgers (CDU)|
|Rhineland-Palatinate||4,059,000||4 █ █ █ █||SPD||Kurt Beck (SPD)|
|Saarland||1,050,000||3 █ █ █||GreensCDU, FDP and||Peter Müller (CDU)|
|Saxony||4,274,000||4 █ █ █ █||CDU and FDP||Stanislaw Tillich (CDU)|
|Saxony-Anhalt||2,470,000||4 █ █ █ █||CDU and SPD||Wolfgang Böhmer (CDU)|
|Schleswig-Holstein||2,833,000||4 █ █ █ █||CDU and FDP||Peter Harry Carstensen (CDU)|
|Thuringia||2,335,000||4 █ █ █ █||CDU and SPD||Christine Lieberknecht (CDU)|