Ple­nary ses­sion

Blick von oben auf den Plenarsaal

© Bundesrat | Frank Bräuer

The Bundesrat: that means the meeting of all its members, the plenary. Article 51 of the Basic Law stipulates the composition of the plenary: The Bundesrat shall consist composed of members of the Land governments, which appoint and recall them.

Having a seat and a say in state government is thus the prerequisite for membership in the Bundesrat. The state governments themselves decide who is to be sent to the Bundesrat. However, each state can appoint only as many full members as the number of votes it has in the Bundesrat. The remaining members of the state cabinets are usually appointed to the Bundesrat as alternate members, which means that in practice all members of the state governments belong to the Bundesrat.

As the Bundesrat's rules of procedure grant the alternate members the same rights as the full members, all of the roughly 170 members appointed de facto enjoy the same rights. The Bundesrat is a "parliament of state governments" The opposition in the federal states thus cannot make its voice heard directly in the Bundesrat.

Since the members of the Bundesrat are not elected, the Bundesrat does not have legislative terms as such. In constitutional parlance it is a "permanent body" that changes from time to time as state elections take place. This means that state elections always have nationwide political significance too. Even in the Fifties there was a saying "Your election in the state of Hesse counts in the Bundesrat in Bonn". Voters decide first and foremost on how the state parliament or Landtag will be composed and who will govern in their federal state. However, at the same time voters also determine who will have a seat and a say in the Bundesrat, as the majority in the state parliament determines the state government, which in turn appoints the Bundesrat members from its ranks. This is also the source of the Bundesrat's democratic legitimacy, as its composition is determined through elections expressing the will of the people. The political power exercised by the Bundesrat derives from the people.

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