Draft bills may be introduced to the German Bundestag by the Federal Government, the Bundesrat or members of the Bundestag.
In the latter case, the motion must be supported by five per cent of all Bundestag members or by a parliamentary group. In the other two aforementioned scenarios, the body in question – the Federal Cabinet or the Bundesrat – must adopt a resolution on introducing the legislation. An absolute majority is required in the Bundesrat to adopt a resolution on introducing legislation, which may be proposed as a motion by one or more federal states.
Bundesrat legislative initiatives are forwarded to the Bundestag by the Federal Government. The Federal Government may submit its opinion within six weeks – or within a deadline of three or nine weeks in certain specific cases.
In the case of draft bills from the Federal Government, the Bundesrat is entitled to comment on the draft in what is known as the first reading, even before the German Bundestag comments. The Bundesrat may submit an opinion on the draft government bill within six weeks – or within a deadline of three or nine weeks in certain specific cases.
The Federal Government tables its position on this opinion in a counter-statement. The draft bill is then submitted to the Bundestag, along with the Bundesrat opinion and the government counter-statement.
Legislation adopted by the German Bundestag
The German Bundestag generally examines draft legislation in three readings. At the end of the first reading the draft bill is assigned to one or more committees. The second and third readings follow after deliberations in the committees. Whilst the second reading mainly involves addressing amendments, the final vote is generally taken during the third reading.
Second reading in the Bundesrat
All bills adopted in the Bundestag are forwarded to the Bundesrat. Scope for Bundesrat intervention in this second round depends on whether the bill adopted by the Bundestag requires Bundesrat consent.
If the bill is a consent bill, three options are available to the Bundesrat: it may consent to the bill, it may refuse consent or it may convene the Mediation Committee.
If the Bundesrat wishes to object to a bill that is not a consent bill, it must first take a decision as to whether it will convene the Mediation Committee. A mediation procedure must be concluded before the Bundesrat can submit an objection to a bill.
Whilst the Bundesrat may request that the Mediation Committee convene to address any bill adopted by the Bundestag, it is only possible for the Bundestag and the Federal Government to convene the Mediation Committee if the Bundesrat has refused to consent to a bill that requires Bundesrat consent.
In its meetings the Mediation Committee strives to reach a consensus and overcome differences of opinion between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. The committee may put forward proposals to amend the bill adopted by the Bundestag or may propose that the bill be repealed in its entirety.
If a consensus proposal has not been adopted after two Mediation Committee meetings addressing the same bill, any member of the committee may submit a motion to conclude the procedure. Should a consensus not be achieved in the subsequent meeting either, the procedure is concluded – without an agreement having been attained.
A further possible outcome of the mediation procedure is that the Mediation Committee confirms the bill adopted by the Bundestag.
The Mediation Committee may only submit proposals to resolve conflicts between the Bundesrat and the Bundestag, but is not empowered to adopt amendments to legislation. Consensus proposals from the Mediation Committee must be confirmed by the German Bundestag and the Bundesrat.
If the Mediation Committee proposes that the bill be amended, the Bundestag must take a further vote on the amendments. The Bundesrat then takes a decision on the amended bill.
If the Mediation Committee confirms the bill adopted by the Bundestag or if the procedure is concluded without a consensus, only the Bundesrat must re-examine the – unamended –legislation.
At this stage, the Bundesrat may respond to either of these two scenarios by consenting to the bill or by entering an objection.
Objection by the Bundesrat
If the Bundesrat wishes to submit an objection, it must do so within two weeks. This two-week period begins when the Bundesrat receives a new bill adopted by the Bundestag or when the chair of the Mediation Committee announces the outcome of a mediation procedure. There is no fixed deadline in the case of consent bills; the Bundesrat is simply required to adopt a decision within a reasonable period of time on this category of legislation.
Objections raised by the Bundesrat may be overturned by the German Bundestag.
Counter-signature, assent and promulgation
The parliamentary legislative procedure draws to a successful conclusion if the Bundesrat has consented to a bill or has refrained from submitting an objection, or if a Bundesrat objection has been overturned by the Bundestag.
The bill must subsequently be counter-signed by the relevant minister and the Federal Chancellor, duly authorized by the Federal President and promulgated in the Bundesgesetzblatt (Federal Law Gazette).