|German Federal Diet
|President of the Bundestag||Norbert Lammert, CDU
Since 18 October 2005
|Vice Presidents of the Bundestag||Wolfgang Thierse, SPD
Gerda Hasselfeldt, CSU
Hermann Otto Solms, FDP
Katrin Göring-Eckardt, Greens
Petra Pau, The Left
Since 27 October 2009
|Voting system||Mixed-member proportional representation|
|Last election||27 September 2009|
|Former Reichstag building
|This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
The Bundestag (Federal Diet; pronounced [ˈbʊndəstaːk]) is a constitutional and legislative body in Germany. In practice, the country is governed by a bicameral legislature, but not a bicameral parliament. While the Bundestag is sometimes viewed as the lower house and the Bundesrat the upper house both do not form a common parliament and do not have powers in the same policies. The Bundesrat generally gets involved in the federal legislative process only if the competences of the Länder (the states of Germany) are being touched by a proposed law; most laws will originate in Bundestag, but the Bundesrat may initiate and pass legislation onto the Bundestag as well. The Bundestag and the Bundesrat, like the other federal constitutional bodies, both meet in Berlin, with the Bundestag occupying the former Reichstag building.
The Bundestag was established by the German Basic Law of 1949, as the successor to the earlier Reichstag. Chapter III of the Basic Law deals entirely with the Bundestag. It meets in the Reichstag Building in Berlin. Norbert Lammert is the current President of the Bundestag. Representatives of the Bundestag are directly elected every several years, usually every four years under normal circumstances. Under some circumstances the Bundestag may be dissolved earlier (or later), such as if the Federal Chancellor loses a vote of no confidence. In such a circumstance the Chancellor may request the Federal President to hold elections and have the Bundestag dissolved earlier, insofar as the Bundestag does not vote in a new Chancellor before that. The procedures for these situations are governed by Articles 67 and 68 of the Basic Law. The Bundestag is unique in that the previously elected body continues to be able to meet and vote on matters even after its successor is chosen in an election, and until the newly elected legislature is ready to convene.
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, which was the capital of the then Kingdom of Prussia (the largest and most influential state in both the Confederation and the empire). 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, the then president, Paul von Hindenburg, a retired war hero, gave Hitler ultimate power through the Decree for the Protection of People and State and the Enabling Act of 1933, although Hitler remained at the post of Federal Government Chancellor (though he called himself the Führer). After this the Reichstag met only rarely to unanimously rubber-stamp the decisions of the government. It 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, owing to the city's legal status, 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 Bundeshaus in Bonn is the former Parliament Building of Germany. The sessions of the German Bundestag were held there from 1949 until its move to Berlin in 1999. Today it houses the International Congress Centre Bundeshaus Bonn and in the north areas the branch office of the Bundesrat (upper house). The southern areas became part of German offices for the United Nations in 2008.
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. Parliamentary committees and subcommittees, public hearings and faction meetings take place in three auxiliary buildings, which surround the Reichstag building: the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus, Paul-Löbe-Haus and Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus.
In 2005, a small aircraft crashed close to the German parliament. It was then decided to ban private air traffic over Central Berlin.
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 British Parliament is the lack of time spent on serving constituents in Germany. This is in part due to Germany's electoral system. 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. In 2005, as a pilot of the potential of internet petitions, a version of e-Petitioner was produced for the Bundestag. This was a collaborative project involving The Scottish Parliament, International Teledemocracy Centre and the Bundestag ‘Online Services Department’. The system was formally launched on 1 September 2005, and in 2008 the Bundestag moved to a new system based on its evaluation.
Members serve four-year terms; elections are held every four years, or earlier in the relatively rare case that the Bundestag is 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, if the recommendation is made and accepted before the Bundestag acts to elect a new Chancellor. This has happened three times: 1972 under Chancellor Willy Brandt, 1983 under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and 2005 under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The procedures for these situations are governed by Articles 67 and 68 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.
All candidates must be at least eighteen years old; there are no term limits. The election uses the MMP electoral system. 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 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 PDS/Die Linke) have entered the Bundestag.
Half of the Members of the Bundestag are elected directly from 299 constituencies (first-past-the-post system), the other half are elected from the parties’ Land lists in such a way as to achieve proportional representation for the total Bundestag (if possible).
Accordingly, each voter has two votes in the elections to the Bundestag. The first vote, allowing voters to elect their local representatives to the Bundestag, decides which candidates are sent to Parliament from the constituencies.
The second vote is cast for a party list; it determines the relative strengths of the parties represented in the Bundestag.
At least 598 Members of the Bundestag are elected in this way. Parties that gain more than 5% of the second votes or win at least 3 direct mandates are allocated seats in the Bundestag in proportion to the number of votes it has received (d'Hondt method until 1987, largest remainder method until the 2005 election, now Sainte-Laguë 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. 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.
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. 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.
|Parties||Constituency||Party list||Total seats|
|Christian Democratic Union (CDU)[a]||13,856,674||32.0||-0.6||173||+67||11,828,277||27.3||−0.5||21||−53||194||+14||31.2|
|Social Democratic Party (SPD)||12,079,758||27.9||−10.5||64||−81||9,990,488||23.0||−11.2||82||+5||146||−76||23.5|
|Free Democratic Party (FDP)||4,076,496||9.4||+4.7||0||±0||6,316,080||14.6||+4.8||93||+32||93||+32||15.0|
|The Left (DIE LINKE)||4,791,124||11.1||+3.1||16||+13||5,155,933||11.9||+3.2||60||+9||76||+22||12.2|
|Alliance '90/The Greens (GRÜNE)||3,977,125||9.2||+3.8||1||±0||4,643,272||10.7||+2.6||67||+17||68||+17||10.9|
|Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU)[a]||3,191,000||7.4||−0.9||45||+1||2,830,238||6.5||−0.9||0||−2||45||−1||7.2|
|Pirate Party (PIRATEN)||46,770||0.1||+0.1||0||±0||847,870||2.0||+2.0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|National Democratic Party (NPD)||768,442||1.8||−0.0||0||±0||635,525||1.5||−0.1||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Human Environment Animal Welfare||16,887||0.0||+0.0||0||±0||230,872||0.5||+0.3||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|The Republicans (REP)||30,061||0.1||−0.0||0||±0||193,396||0.4||−0.1||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Ecological Democratic Party (ödp)||105,653||0.2||+0.2||0||±0||132,249||0.3||+0.3||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Family Party (FAMILIE)||17,848||0.0||−0.1||0||±0||120,718||0.3||−0.1||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Pensioners' Party (RENTNER)||–||–||–||–||–||56,399||0.1||+0.1||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Bavaria Party (BP)||32,324||0.1||+0.1||0||±0||48,311||0.1||±0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|German People's Union (DVU)||–||–||–||–||–||45,752||0.1||+0.1||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Party of Bible-abiding Christians (PBC)||12,052||0.0||-0.1||0||±0||40,370||0.1||-0.1||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Civil Rights Movement Solidarity (BüSo)||34,894||0.1||±0||0||±0||38,706||0.1||±0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|The Violets – for Spiritual Politics (DIE VIOLETTEN)||5,794||0.0||+0.0||0||±0||31,957||0.1||+0.1||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Marxist Leninist Party (MLPD)||17,512||0.0||±0||0||±0||29,261||0.1||±0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Alliance for Germany (Volksabstimmung)||2,550||0.0||±0||0||±0||23,015||0.1||+0.1||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Free Voters (FWD)||–||–||–||–||–||11,243||0.0||+0.0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Christian Centre (CM)||–||–||–||–||–||6,826||0.0||+0.0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Centre Party (ZENTRUM)||369||0.0||±0||0||±0||6,087||0.0||±0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Social Equality Party (PSG)||–||–||–||–||–||2,957||0.0||±0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Alliance of the Centre (ADM)||396||0.0||+0.0||0||±0||2,889||0.0||+0.0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|German Communist Party (DKP)||929||0.0||+0.0||0||±0||1,894||0.0||+0.0||0||±0||0||±0||0|
|Electoral groups and independents||139,275||0.3||±0||0||±0||–||–||–||–||–||0||±0||0|
|Current distribution of seats in the Bundestag:|
|+||CDU and CSU:||237||(38.1%)||including 22 overhang seats|
See the List of Bundestag Members for lists of changes and current members.
|Historic seat distribution in the German Bundestag (at the beginning of each session)|
|Bundestag||Session||Seats||CDU/CSU||SPD||FDP||Alliance '90 /
|The Left2||German Party||Others
1 1983 to 1994 The Greens and 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
|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, 41 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, 76 days|
|4||Kai-Uwe von Hassel (1913–1997)||CDU||5 February 1969||13 December 1972||3 years, 312 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, 168 days|
|7||Richard Stücklen (1916–2002)||CSU||31 May 1979||29 March 1983||3 years, 363 days|
|8||Rainer Barzel*** (1924–2006)||CDU||29 March 1983||25 October 1984||1 year, 210 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, 335 days|
|11||Wolfgang Thierse (b. 1943)||SPD||26 October 1998||18 October 2005||6 years, 357 days|
|12||Norbert Lammert (b. 1948)||CDU||18 October 2005||present||7 years, 213 days|
*resigned for medical reasons
**died in office
***resigned for political reasons
†first woman to hold the post
§ resigned when he became President of Germany
The most important organisational structures within the Bundestag are parliamentary groups (Fraktionen; sing. Fraktion), which are formed by political parties represented in the chamber which incorporate more than 5% of the Bundestag legislators; 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 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 had only two MPs in parliament until 2005 and could 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 Parliamentary groups in the chamber. The council is the coordination hub, determining the daily legislative agenda and assigning committee chairpersons based on Parliamentary group 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 Parliamentary groups 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.
As is the case with some other parliaments, the Bundestag is subject to the principle of discontinuation, meaning that a newly elected Bundestag is legally regarded to be a body and entity completely different from the previous Bundestag. This leads to the result, that any motion, application or action submitted to the previous Bundestag, e.g. a bill referred to the Bundestag by the Federal Government, is regarded as completed by non-decision (German terminology: “Die Sache fällt der Diskontinuität anheim”). Thus any bill that has not been decided upon by the beginning of the new electoral period must to be brought up by the government again, if it aims to uphold the motion, this procedure in effect delaying the passage of the bill. Furthermore, any newly elected Bundestag will have to freshly decide on the rules of procedure (Geschäftsordnung), which is done by a formal decision of taking over such rules from the preceding Bundestag by reference.
Any Bundestag is considered dissolved only once a newly elected Bundestag has actually gathered in order to constitute itself (Article 39 sec. 1 sentence 2 of the Basic Law), which has to happen within 30 days of its election (Article 39 sec. 2 of the Basic Law). Thus, it may happen (and has happened) that the old Bundestag gathers and makes decisions even after the election of a new Bundestag that has not gathered in order to constitute itself. For example, elections to the 16th Bundestag took place on 18 September 2005, but the 15th Bundestag still convened after election day to make some decisions on German military engagement abroad, and was entitled to do so, as the newly elected 16th Bundestag did not convene for the first time until 18 October 2005.
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