aufgeschlagenes Gesetzbuch

© panthermedia | Helma Spona

"The Länder shall have the right to legislate insofar as this Basic Law does not confer legislative power on the Federation" (Article 70, Sub-section 1, Basic Law).

The Basic Law has on the whole transferred legislative power to the Federation, against the backdrop of the tenet that certain powers and responsibilities are in the first instance incumbent on the federal states. Only a few areas remain under the aegis of the federal states, for example education, culture, police and administrative law. It is only in these spheres that parliaments in the federal states are entitled to adopt their own legislation.

The vast majority of bills are adopted by the German Bundestag and hence by the Federation.

Participation in the Federation’s legislative process

Bundesrat participation in the legislative process is therefore particularly significant (Article 50, Basic Law). No federal bill comes into being without Bundesrat involvement. Many bills can only enter into force with explicit consent from the Bundesrat. The Basic Law includes clear provisions in various passages concerning the legislation that falls into this category. Other bills are classified as objection bills. The Bundesrat’s influence on such legislation is more restricted than for bills that require Bundesrat consent. For this category of legislation, the Bundesrat can only express disagreement by entering an objection to the bill. However, such an objection can usually be overturned by the German Bundestag with a vote by an absolute majority of its members (known as the "Chancellor’s majority").

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Right of initiative and resolutions

Like the Bundestag and the Federal Government, the Bundesrat also has a right to initiate legislation (Article 76, Sub-section 1, Basic Law). Bills adopted by the Bundesrat are first forwarded to the Federal Government. The Federal Government may present an opinion on the legislation within a six-week deadline – in particular cases, within a three or nine-week deadline. The draft bill is then forwarded to the Bundestag.

Resolutions, which are a key parliamentary instrument, are increasingly used as a political complement to the right of initiative. These resolutions are generally addressed to the Federal Government, and seek to draw attention to particular problems, present the Bundesrat’s position on a specific topic or urge the Federal Government to initiate a legislative procedure on a particular point. Resolutions are however not legally binding.