IALL Recap: The Mediation Committee of the Bundestag and Bundesrat: A Special Institution of German Constitutional Law

By Jennifer Allison

On Monday, September 21, the afternoon session of the 2015 IALL Annual Course focused on the Mediation Committee of the Bundestag and Bundesrat.

First, we heard a lecture on this topic at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin by Claus Dieter Koggel. Mr. Koggel is an administrative officer (Ministerialrat in der Sekretariat) for the Bundesrat, one of the two houses of the German Parliament.

JA1Mr. Koggel discussed the history and work of the Mediation Committee (Vermittlungsausschuss), which is a constitutionally-mandated body (established under Article 77 of the Basic Law) that provides a forum for resolving conflicts that arise during the legislative process between the Bundesrat and the other parliamentary house, the Bundestag.

The Mediation Committee is comprised of 16 members of each house. Often these members are experienced parliamentarians with a wide range of knowledge and experience, and they are valued for their ability to think independently while also respecting the positions of their respective political parties.

Under the German Parliament’s legislative process, bills are first considered in the Bundesrat, whose membership consists of members that represent each of the sixteen German states (Länder). After a bill has been passed in the Bundesrat, it is sent to the Bundestag, which then passes its own version and sends it back to the Bundesrat. At that point, if the Bundesrat refuses to pass the Bundestag’s version of the bill, the Mediation Committee is convened to attempt to work out the differences and produce a single, passable version of the bill that can be enacted into law.

Mediation Committee meetings are strictly confidential: the only people allowed to be present during them are the members of the committee, two lawyers, and a stenographer. In addition, if a majority of the membership agrees to it, expert witnesses can be admitted to give testimony.

Once Committee members agree to a compromised version of the bill, it is published immediately online and introduced to both houses for another vote.

The frequency with which the Mediation Committee has been required to convene in it relatively recent history has varied, depending largely on whether the government was headed by the opposition party to that which held the majority in the Bundesrat .

JA2During one session particularly contentious session of Parliament in the past, the Committee was convened for 100 out of the 400 bills considered. That particular Committee enjoyed an 88% success rate, as only 12 bills of the 100 they considered failed to pass after the Committee’s deliberations.

The current parliament only recently convened the Committee for the first time, despite being two years into its session, as they have made a greater attempt to compromise on their own before attempting mediation.

After Mr. Koggel’s lecture, IALL attendees visited the Bundesrat building in person. We were treated to a tour from a very informative and enthusiastic member of the Bundesrat’s administrative staff. She showed us the plenary chamber, where the Bundesrat meetings take place, and discussed the finer points of the plenary procedure.

JA3Following this, we were taken to the Mediation Committee’s meeting room, where were once again met by Mr. Koggel. He took great care to point out certain interesting and useful features of the room, such as the power window shades, which were installed to prevent the prying eyes and long-range camera lenses of the media in adjoining buildings from eavesdropping on the compromises that were taking place during the secret Committee sessions.

Mr. Koggel pointed out during both of his presentations that the Mediation Committee has been the recipient of both praise and criticism in Germany. While it has been lauded as an innovated and positive way to resolve legislative conflicts and arrive at a compromise, it has also been characterized as “a mysterious dark room of legislation.”

JA4Perhaps both of these are true. But it is firmly established as a component of the legislative process, and in addition to its constitutional mandate, the Committee is also influenced by established best practices, parliamentary law, and the judicial decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht).

In the U.S., so many battles between Republicans and Democrats in Congress end up being played out in the media, and politicians often appear to be more motivated by scoring points with voters in upcoming elections than by achieving legislative success.

It struck me during the program that maybe this Mediation Committee would be a valuable import for the U.S. Congress to consider, so much so that I ended up tweeting about it. However, I have to admit that I’m skeptical that an organization like this could ever be considered, let alone work, in our government.

IALL Recap: Legal Blogs as a Means to alter Scientific Communication Structures and Legal Research: Insights from Verfassungsblog’s Research Project

By Teresa Miguel-Stearns

Humbolt University Berlin, Faculty of Law

Humbolt University Berlin, Faculty of Law

Researcher Hannah Birkenkotter, of Humboldt University Berlin, gave a fascinating presentation on the various types of German legal blogs and their effects on German society. She acknowledged that she and her fellow researchers do not know exactly who is reading the blogs, and that although blogs are not yet firmly entrenched in the establishment, they are genre that provides a valuable space for experimentation and the exchange of ideas. Birkenkotter described two types of blogs:

  1. External alteration blogs: to spread ideas and alter scientific discussion
  2. Internal alteration blogs: to shake up academic institutions and structure

In 2009, legal journalist Maximillian Steinbeis, started blogging to report on constitutional law developments in Germany. The intended audience of Verfassungsblog is the general public and the desired outcome is to shape and affect policy. The blog is primarily in English in an effort to reach a broad audience. Although Steinbeis is the solo owner and moderator of this “external alteration” blog, he has a long list of guest contributors including several U.S. law professors.

Humboldt University Berlin, Main Campus

Humboldt University Berlin, Main Campus

Several years ago Andreas Palos, then a practicing attorney, started a popular international law blog. It was short and informative with a clear opinion. Palos is now a sitting judge on the Federal Constitution Court and, therefore, no longer maintains this solo blog, but at the time it was a primary means of sharing developments in international law with the public who would not otherwise have timely, in depth, and easy access to such developments.

Several popular blogs are group projects where there is a pre-publishing peer review process allowing for a less formal forum for publishing one’s scholarship. One such blog is a group of young researcher in German public law who run Junge Wissenschaft im Offentlichen Recht, an “internal alteration” blog. This blog provides ample opportunity for up-and-coming scholars to express their ideas and get feedback from their peers through posted comments and responses.

Some of the most popular legal blogs in Germany are the following:

In sum, blogs in Germany, though not as prolific as in the United States, provide an important tool for scholars and experts to share developments in the law, exchange novel ideas and receive instant feedback, and educate the public in a timely, open fashion. Not so different from DipLawMatics Dialogues!

Humboldt University of Berlin, Main Campus

Humboldt University of Berlin, Main Campus

IALL Recap: Opening Night!

By Susan Gualtier

open2Hello, FCIL-SIS members!  Our IALL conference bloggers have had some very long conference days here in Berlin, but are excited to start bringing you some recaps now that the dust is settling and we being to return to the U.S.

open3The 34th Annual Course on International Law and Legal Information, Within and In Between: German Legal Tradition in Times of Internationalization and Beyond, kicked off on Sunday night at the Microsoft Atrium with welcome addresses from IALL President, Jeroen Vervliet, and President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Hermann Parzinger.  Professor Dr. Thomas Duve then spoke on Transnationalisation of Law and Legal Scholarship: Intellectual and Institutional Challenges.

open4Following the opening remarks, the delegates were treated to a performance by the Berlin Fire Department’s Brass Band and a cocktail reception in the Atrium’s Digital Eatery.  On the way out, few could resist a little souvenir shopping at the nearby Ampelmann shop, featuring the green and red symbols shown on pedestrian signals in the former East Germany, which have since attained cult status as one of the few features of communist East Germany to have survived the German reunification.

Each day since the opening event has been packed with educational programming on German legal issues, as well as social and cultural events courtesy of this year’s local planning committee.  Though we have had a full week so far, we look forward to recapping individual programs and events over the course of the next several weeks.

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DipLawMatic Dialogues Is Heading to Berlin!

iall captureAs most of our readers are surely aware, this weekend marks the beginning of the International Association of Law Libraries 34th Annual Course on International Law and Legal Information!  This year’s conference takes place at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library), and the theme of the conference is “Within and in between: German Legal Tradition in Times of Internationalization and Beyond.”

The conference programming will “reflect Germany’s legal history and will characterize unique perspectives on international and domestic law issues as well as legal information items. Speakers at the sessions will include highly regarded German legal scholars, legal practitioners and law librarians.”  More information is available on the conference website.

If you are attending the conference and would like to contribute to our blog coverage, please contact Susan Gualtier at susan.gualtier@law.lsu.edu.

DipLawMatic Dialogues looks forward to bringing you conference coverage and photos throughout the next week!

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