Federal Legislative Procedure

Although essentially a technical matter, constitutional procedures for the federal legislative process naturally shape decisively both the allocation and the exercise of powers in a federal state. This is certainly the case in Germany, where, as noted above, the consent of the Bundesrat is required for a large number of federal laws.

Nevertheless, the rules governing legislative procedure as laid down in Arts. 76-78 of the Basic Law cannot be discussed in exhaustive detail here. For the purposes of this chapter, it is sufficient to state that the main distinction to be made in federal legislation (irrespective of whether it is initiated by the Federal Government, the Bundestag or by the Bundesrat) is that between laws which require the Bundesrat's consent (Zustimmungsgesetze or ‘consent bills’) and those which do not, thus nonetheless giving the Bundesrat a suspensive veto of three weeks (Einspruchsgesetze or ‘objection bills’). The main criteria for the distinction between these two categories have already been touched upon in the discussion of the administrative powers of the Länder. Broadly speaking, all bills containing provisions relating to those powers or to matters with financial implications for the Länder are consent bills, and all others (about 45%) are objection bills. In procedural terms that means that if conflict arises between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, the Bundesrat must demand that the Committee of Mediation be convened in the case of objection bills, while in the case of consent bills it has the choice between two courses of action: it can either convene the Mediation Committee, or it can refuse its consent outright.

An important feature in the relations between the two chambers is the fact that in most fields of legislative procedure the Bundesrat in particular is bound by time limits designed to prevent obstructionism. It has to comment on government bills (preceding their introduction in the Bundestag) normally within six or (if it so demands) nine weeks, and generally has to decide on bills coming or returning from the Bundestag within three weeks. On giving or refusing its consent (if required) it can, however, determine its own timescale for a decision, but must now (following constitutional reform in 1994) decide ‘within an appropriate time’. Even on such bills, though, it must convene the Committee of Mediation within three weeks if it does not decide to refuse consent without making efforts at compromise in the Committee, in which case it must now also make its decision ‘within an appropriate time’. The reformed provisions of Articles 76 and 77 of the Basic Law, which contain these rules, have in return introduced certain time limits for the Federal Government and the Bundestag, while the Bundesrat has always been bound by such limits for government and Bundestag bills.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Juli 1999

Previous Page TOC Next Page