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 Visits the Library of the German Bundestag

By Teresa Miguel-Stearns

On Thursday, September 24, about 100 of us visited the beautiful Library of the German Bundestag (Federal Parliament). The Parliament’s original library was completely destroyed in World War II. Housed in a new building across the River Spree from Parliament, the Library is merely one section of Parliament’s larger Research and Documentation Services, which has four departments:

  1. Library
  2. Archive
  3. Parliamentary Documentation
  4. Press Documentation

Our visit focused on the Library. The Library’s website is available in German, English, French and Arabic. The Library is responsible for cataloging and indexing printed material and electronic media as well as document delivery and distribution of information. The Library oversees the open-access catalogue, the lending and reading room, information and reference services, publications, and digital resources.

The Library has 85 employees, many of whom are part-time. They are spread among the four sections of the library. Two sections combine to cover acquisitions, publications, and special collections. One section is responsible for cataloging, indexing, and collection building. A final section provides lending and reference services.

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Holdings:

The Library has 1.4 million volumes and acquires 15,000 new items annually. It subscribes to 8,000 periodicals, mostly in print; 6,000 of which are official gazettes, yearbooks, and other official government publications from other European nations. The collection consists of about 20% monographs, 20% periodicals, and 40-50% electronic services. The Library collects heavily in law, economics, social sciences, parliaments, political science, and statistics. The Library’s budget is about $1.5 million.

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Acquisitions:

Of the 80,000 new titles published in Germany annually, about 50% are fiction.

The Library reviews a weekly bibliography from the German national library (available online, free) which aids is selection. The Library purchases a large number of international publications from international agencies and IGOs such as the OECD, FAO, UN, EU. As mentioned, the Library also purchases many foreign parliamentary publications, including gazettes and statistics, mostly from European countries and the US, and mostly in English. The Library has some reciprocal arrangements for the exchange of materials rather than purchase. The Library also seeks to purchase gray literature from NGOs, trade unions, political parties, academic societies, citizen political groups, and the like. The vast majority of material acquired is in German, plus some English and French, too. The Library previously had a small collection of Russian-language materials but it was so infrequently used that the Library donated it to another library that could use it.

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Catalogue:

The Catalogue covers the holdings of the entire Library. It also contains item records for over 800,000 articles from various journals it holds. The item records link to the full-text.

Services:

The Library serves 4500 persons in Parliament and provides limited services to many more. The Library is not open to general public but grants access to scholars for 10-day periods.

The Library operates on the principle that it provides non-partisan, equal access of all material to all its patrons. When a patron is in the Library, it takes less than 30 minutes to retrieve an item from the closed stacks. The open stacks in the multiple floors of the library contain 20,000 volumes and 1,000 journals. There are 60 individual desks for reading and 30 personal computing workstations. When a patron requests a title that the Library does not own, the Library is generally able to put it in the patron’s hands in 2-3 days.

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Information and Reference Services:

The Library receives over 600 in-depth inquiries annually. It offers advice to Library users, and answers inquiries via telephone, email and web-form. The librarians prepare bibliographies on specific topics, compile lists of materials, share information about new acquisitions, prepare displays on topical issues, and give guided tours.

Internal Publications:

The Librarians publish, both in print and electronically (internet and intranet), documents such as a monthly list of new books and recently-published articles, short abstracts with annotations of new books, bibliographies on specific topics when a new committee is established in Parliament, and literature lists. Literature lists correspond to hot topics in Parliament; examples include Germany 25 years of reunification, health care, and nutrition.

In sum, the Library of the German Bundestag provides tremendous services to its patrons, has a comprehensive and heavily-used collection, and sits in a beautiful, open, airy space. It was a pleasure to visit and learn about this impressive Library.

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