Bundesrat decisions that have a legal impact beyond the Bundesrat must, as a general rule, be taken by the plenary, which comes together approximately 12 times a year for public sessions.
This schedule means meetings are usually sufficiently frequent to offer a viable framework in which to address draft European Union legislation effectively. In exceptional cases however the Bundesrat may need to respond more rapidly, for example to express in due time the Bundesrat's opinion in the context of the European early warning system for the scrutiny of the respect of the principle of subsidiarity.
The Basic Law (Article 52, Sub-section 3 a) provides for a Chamber for European Affairs to deal with precisely such eventualities and to handle subjects that need to be examined confidentially; decisions taken by this Chamber are considered to be decisions of the Bundesrat plenary.
Members and voting procedure
Each federal state appoints a Bundesrat member or an alternate to the Chamber for European Affairs. As a rule the Chamber's deliberations are public, except when it is dealing with a confidential topic. Members and envoys of the Federal Government may also participate in the deliberations of the Chamber for European Affairs, along with envoys from the Land governments of each federal state.
The federal states hold the same number of votes in the Chamber for European Affairs as they do in the plenary. A federal state's votes can only be cast en bloc and only representatives in attendance at the meeting may cast the votes. The full member and the alternate member of the Chamber for European Affairs from each federal state are entitled to vote. The Chamber is quorate when the members present represent the majority of the Chamber's votes. The votes of Chamber members may also be cast using a written procedure should the chair consider that a meeting is not required to discuss the issue in question.
When an issue falls within the remit of the Chamber for European Affairs, because a matter needs to be addressed urgently or confidential deliberations are required, the President allocates the subject-matter in question to the Chamber. Issues may also be allocated to the Chamber for deliberation by the Secretary General of the Bundesrat, acting on behalf of the President and in consultation with the chair of the Committee on European Union Questions. There is a one-week deadline for convening the Chamber; this deadline can however be shortened in urgent cases.