The Bundestag is the only constitutional body elected directly by the people. It passes federal laws and the budget and takes decisions on Bundeswehr deployments abroad. The Bundestag is responsible for scrutinising the government and elects the Federal Chancellor at the start of an electoral term. The 16 Federal Länder are involved in the Federation’s legislative process through the Bundesrat, which may lodge an objection against a bill. Consent from the Bundesrat is required if the interests of the Länder are particularly affected by federal legislation. The Bundestag and Bundesrat’s participation in affairs of the European Union contributes towards Germany’s activities at European level.
Members of the Bundestag and its key bodies
Following the elections to the 19th German Bundestag on 24 September 2017, there are 709 Members of Parliament. The CDU/CSU parliamentary group has 246 seats, while the SPD parliamentary group holds 152. The AfDparliamentary group has 89 seats, and the FDP group has 80. The Left Party parliamentary group is represented by 69 mandates, while the Alliance 90/The Greens group occupies 67 seats. Six Members do not currently belong to any group.
President of the Bundestag Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble is the highest-ranking political representative in Parliament. Together with his Vice-Presidents Thomas Oppermann (SPD), Dr Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU), Wolfgang Kubicki (FDP), Petra Pau (The Left Party) and Claudia Roth (Alliance 90/The Greens), he forms the Presidium of the Bundestag, which discusses matters concerning the management of the internal affairs of the Bundestag. The Presidium is supported in this by the Council of Elders, which is responsible for the organisation of daily parliamentary business, among other things setting the agenda for the plenary sittings and examining disputes concerning the interpretation of the Rules of Procedure. In addition to the members of the Presidium, 23 other Members sit on the Council of Elders – including the First Parliamentary Secretaries of the parliamentary groups – in accordance with the relative size of each group.
Work in the Bundestag’s parliamentary groups, committees and plenary chamber
The Members’ work is structured around their membership of parliamentary groups and committees. As political alliances of Members of the Bundestag, the parliamentary groups – of which there are currently six – prepare decisions taken by the Bundestag. They have their own parliamentary rights, such as the ability to introduce bills and motions. In order to assert their parliamentary rights or the rights of the Bundestag in their entirety, the groups can also apply to the Federal Constitutional Court. The relative size of the groups determines the composition of the committees and the appointment of committee chairs. In the 19th electoral term the Bundestag has 24 permanent committees, which for the most part reflect the portfolios of the government ministries – for example, the Committee on Internal Affairs and Community discusses the work of the Federal Ministry of the Interior along with all matters of domestic security. The committees of the Bundestag have between 14 and 49 full numbers and an equal number of substitute members. They deliberate on bills in their policy area referred to them by the plenary and attempt to draft proposals for decisions which are designed to obtain majority support. In addition to the permanent committees, the Bundestag is also able to appoint committees of inquiry to investigate specific occurrences. In preparation for legislative decisions on wide-ranging and significant issues, study commissions can also be established. These are composed of Members of the Bundestag and external experts on an equal footing. The Bundestag generally comes together for 20-22 sitting weeks each year. Outside of sitting weeks, the Members’ work is focused on their constituencies.
The Bundestag in the Reichstag Building
The German Bundestag meets in the Reichstag Building in Berlin. The building was constructed between 1884 and 1894, based on the designs of architect Paul Wallot. Shortly after the National Socialists came to power in January 1933, a fire broke out in the building on the night of 27 February that same year, destroying the plenary chamber and the cupola. Until the end of the Second World War, the Reichstag Building was not used for parliamentary purposes. In the years that Germany was divided, the Berlin wall ran directly along the east side of the building. After being subjected to extensive damage during the Second World War, the Reichstag Building was modernised in the 1960s and subsequently used for exhibitions and special events. The German Bundestag‘s committees and parliamentary groups also occasionally met there. Following German Unification, the decision was taken in 1991 to relocate the seat of the Bundestag to the Reichstag Building as the parliament for the whole of Germany. British architect Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to remodel the building to meet the needs of the parliament. The result preserved the building’s historic shell and added modern, transparent elements such as the walk-in glass dome. At the same time, a new, modern parliamentary and government district in the heart of Berlin was created around the Reichstag Building, attracting millions of visitors each year from throughout Europe and all over the world.
More information on the tasks, working methods and history of the German Bundestag can be found here: https://www.bundestag.de/en/parliament
The website below provides further details on the architecture and history of the parliamentary building: https://www.bundestag.de/besuche/architektur/reichstag