Distribution of votes Com­po­si­tion of the Bun­desrat

Foto: Blick in den Plenarsaal des Bundesrates während einer Sitzung

© Bundesrat | Peter Wilke

The Bundesrat is a "parliament of the federal states’ governments". It is only possible to become a member of the Bundesrat if you have a seat and a vote in one of the federal state governments (Article 51, Sub-section 1, Basic Law). There is no scope for the opposition in the various federal states to make its voice heard directly in the Bundesrat.

Article 51, Sub-section 2 of the Basic Law stipulates that each federal state has at least three votes; federal states with more than two million inhabitants have four votes, those with a population of more than six million have five votes, and federal states with more than seven million inhabitants have six votes.

The Bundesrat has a total of 69 votes and consequently has 69 full members, for each federal state can appoint as many full members to the Bundesrat as the number of votes that state holds (Article 51, Sub-section 3, Basic Law).

35 votes are therefore needed to achieve an absolute majority, which is generally required to adopt a decision, and 46 votes constitute the two-thirds majority that is required in some cases.

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Compromise solution

This graduated weighting of votes held by the federal states strikes a compromise between the "federative" requirement that all the federal states must be treated equally and the democratic ideal of voting rights precisely reflecting the population numbers in each federal state. This solution also aims to ensure that the larger federal states cannot outmanoeuvre the others, whilst at the same time making sure the smaller federal states would not be able to outvote the other states.

No Bundesrat elections

"Elections to the Bundesrat" simply do not exist, which means that the Bundesrat does not have electoral terms. In constitutional parlance the Bundesrat is a permanent body, whose membership is renewed from time to time as a consequence of elections at federal state level. Elections to the parliaments in the federal states are therefore also always significant for national politics.

Foto: Hand mit Wahlzetteln

Whilst voters first and foremost determine the composition of the parliament in their federal state and thus which party or parties will govern their federal state, at the same time this indirectly determines who will have a seat and a say in the Bundesrat, for the majority in each Land parliament makes up the government of that federal state, which in turn appoints members from its ranks to the Bundesrat (Article 51, Sub-section 1, Basic Law).

This procedure provides the underpinning for the Bundesrat’s democratic legitimacy, for its composition is determined by elections that express the will of the people. The political power exercised by the Bundesrat stems from the electorate.

Effective 2018.11.12

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