The Bundesrat’s Committee on European Union Questions is the lead committee when it comes to discussing draft legislation from the Council of the European Union and the European Commission that are important to the federal states, as well as deliberating on initiatives concerning European policy that are proposed by the federal states, which can be approved in a Bundesrat vote.
In principle, each federal state sends one member to the committee and also holds one vote there. Committee members are generally the Minister for European Affairs from each federal state government. However, as in the other committees, members can also be represented by public officials specialised in this policy area, who contribute expertise from the federal state administrations.
The Committee Chair is Guido Wolf, Minister of Justice and European Affairs of the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg.
The Committee’s deliberations focus on draft Regulations and Directives from the European Union. It also examines Communications and Green or White Papers, which are often submitted by the European Commission before specific legislative procedures are initiated, with a view to determining the need for and scope of the measures envisaged. A whole host of policy areas are addressed in the committee meetings: from agriculture to services, capital and monetary transactions, the environment and climate, asylum and immigration, transport and competition rules. Questions concerning the EU’s institutional development and functioning are also regularly on the agenda.
In its work, the Bundesrat’s EU Committee usually bases its decisions on recommendations from the 15 other specialised Bundesrat committees. Its deliberations are essentially guided by considerations related to policy on the European Union and European integration.
The topics addressed include scrutinising legislative initiatives from the European Commission to ensure they comply with the subsidiarity principle and determining whether in specific cases the Federal Government must consider the Bundesrat’s opinion to be decisive. If the Committee on European Union Questions considers that Bundesrat Opinions should be forwarded directly to the EU Commission, it formulates a recommendation to that effect, which is put to the vote in the Bundesrat’s plenary session. Meetings of the EU Committee are not public.
The Committee on European Union Questions has a long tradition in the Bundesrat and, in a sense, reflects the progress of European unification. When the European Economic Community was founded, the Bundesrat set up a special Committee on the Common Market and Free Trade Area in December 1957. In 1965 this became a Standing Committee on European Community Affairs. The Committee has had its current title since the Maastricht Treaty came into force on 1st November 1993.
Chamber for European Affairs
A special role is played by the Chamber for European Affairs, which has been dubbed a mini-Bundesrat for urgent European policy questions. As stipulated in the Basic Law, decisions taken by the Chamber for European Affairs are considered to be decisions of the Bundesrat. This means there is no need to convene special plenary sessions to address particularly urgent European proposals. Resolutions can even be passed in a written procedure without a meeting.
The Chamber for European Affairs can only convene if the President of the Bundesrat expressly invokes this option. As a rule, its meetings are public. Each federal state sends one member to the Chamber, where the distribution of votes between the federal states is the same as in the plenary session. There is a rotating chairmanship, linked to whichever federal state holds the Bundesrat Presidency at the time. That is why the Chamber for European Affairs is currently chaired by Katrin Lange, Minister of Finance and European Affairs of the Federal State of Brandenburg.