Deliberations on EU items in the Bundestag’s committees
The parliamentary committees play a central role in the German Bundestag’s involvement in shaping European legislative acts. The EU items forwarded to the Bundestag by the Federal Government are referred to the committees with the relevant remits as the lead committees; these lead committees are then responsible for further deliberations on the items. Additional committees can also formally provide opinions. Given that the documents which are the subject of negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament frequently change in the course of the deliberations and that the legislative process at EU level is lengthy, it is not unusual for Bundestag committees to deal several times with the same legislative project.
Acknowledgements or recommendations for decisions
During the current electoral term, around 1000 EUitems have already been referred to the committees of the Bundestag for deliberations. Most committees deliberate on EU affairs alongside national and other topics. The Legal Affairs Committee and the Budget Committee have also set up subcommittees to deal with EU issues in greater depth. The Members discuss central legislative projects in detail and often invite Federal Government representatives, experts and sometimes also representatives from the EU institutons along to these deliberations. Hearings often take place, along with occasional video conferences, at which specific EU legislative projects are discussed in detail. The deliberations frequently end with acknowledgement of the item in question, though occasionally the lead committee makes a recommendation for a decision to the plenary. In such cases, the Bundestag’s plenary adopts an opinion in accordance with Article 23 (2) and (3) of the Basic Law. The Federal Government must subsequently take this opinion into account in negotiations in the Council. The Bundestag has adopted around 40 opinions on EU matters during the current electoral term.
Special role of the EU Affairs Committee
The Committee on European Union Affairs plays a special role. It is the lead committee for fundamental issues concerning the EU, changes to the institutions and treaties, enlargement policy and cross-cutting EU initiatives. Alongside the 39 regular members, 17 German MEPs have seats on the Committee; they are entitled to participate in the Committee’s work, but have no voting rights. Under Article 45 of the Basic Law, the EU Affairs Committee can be authorised by the plenary to exercise the Bundestag’s rights vis-à-vis the Federal Government or the European institutions. In addition, the Committee works together with the European affairs committees of the parliaments of the other EU memeber states in the framework of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), in order to engage in dialogue on European matters with them at the earliest possible stage.
Other options open to the committees for exercising influence
The committees sometimes decide not to deliver a formal opinion and instead merely submit “summary views” of their discussions to the Federal Government. These sum up the course of the discussions in the Committee without a vote having been taken to determine the majority position. The expression of views in this informal way does not have the same weight as formally adopted recommendations. However, such views are intended to provide the Federal Government with guidance in its deliberations at EU level.
In addition, the committees and Members can demand from the Federal Government at any time oral or written briefings on EU affairs or the stage of negotiations at EU level. Representatives from EU institutions, such as commissioners, are also often invited to committee meetings, or committee members visit them in Brussels to gain first-hand information or stress their priorities and concerns. Dialogue with specialist policymakers from committees in the other member states takes place in the framework of interparliamentary committee meetings, which are held on a regular basis at the European Parliament in Brussels or at the parliament of the member state holding the Council presidency.