Deadlines for deliberations
The Basic Law stipulates a tight timeframe for the work of the Bundesrat and its committees. The deadlines set for deliberations on legislation are six weeks for the first reading, three weeks for the second reading and two weeks for objections.
A nine-week deadline applies for reactions to bills addressing amendments to the Basic Law or transfer of sovereignty to the European Union and other international organisations. Furthermore the Bundesrat may request an extension from six to nine weeks for "good cause", particularly if a bill is especially voluminous.
Deliberations in the committees
The Federal Government forwards its draft bills to the Bundesrat six weeks before the plenary session (three or nine weeks beforehand in specific exceptional cases, which are stipulated in the Basic Law). Drafts from the Bundestag are forwarded three weeks before the plenary session.
All the draft bills are immediately allocated to the relevant committees. As far as possible, copies are printed and distributed to members on the day that the draft bills are received.
The committees must have completed their deliberations two weeks before the plenary session. As a general rule the Bundesrat therefore has only three weeks to prepare a position on draft bills from the Federal Government, and less than a week in the case of draft legislation drawn up by the Bundestag.
These extremely short deadlines are only viable because Bundesrat members and the relevant experts from the Länder ministries can draw on other sources to read up on the topic in question before deliberations begin.
However the requisite groundwork for the actual decisions is only possible once a draft is received. Before the Bundesrat committee meets, the various ministries in each federal state must reach an agreement about the position to be adopted by their state.
If political issues are on the agenda, each Land cabinet must also address the general thrust of the bill at this juncture.
Subsequently, recommendations for the plenary session are drawn up in the Bundesrat committee meetings after intensive deliberations.
The secretary of the lead committee compiles these recommendations in an official document, which forms the basis for the further decisions to be taken in the capitals of the federal states.
Voting in the cabinets in the federal states
In formal terms, the Länder cabinets must now address all the draft legislation and recommendations that figure on the Bundesrat’s agenda.
In practice however other bodies at civil-servant level are involved prior to this, so that each cabinet need only take decisions on particularly significant or controversial issues.
The cabinet in each Land decides whether Bundesrat members from that federal state will be bound by voting instructions on particular topics, determines, where applicable, how votes should be cast and considers whether additional motions should be introduced.
In the light of decisions by the Länder cabinets, discussions on the plenary session are organised two days before the plenary, bringing together senior officials from the Bundesrat Secretariat and the Permanent Advisory Council and the officials responsible for Bundesrat matters in the federal states’ representation offices.
There are of course also many contacts between the federal states during this preparatory phase as they seek to win allies for their own positions.
A brief confidential meeting of Bundesrat members, the "preliminary discussion", is held on a regular basis immediately before the start of the plenary session.