Europe in the committees

A committee meeting in the Europa Room

Many committee discussions of European policy take place in the Europa Room (German Bundestag/Unger)

Deliberations on EU items in the Bundestag’s committees

The German Bundestag’s committees are at the centre of the legislative process. This is also true of the German Parliament’s involvement in shaping European legislative acts. Each EU item transmitted to the Bundestag by the Federal Government is dealt with primarily by the lead parliamentary committee for the subject in question, while other committees can be asked for their opinions. The Committee on the Affairs of the European Union is the lead committee for fundamental EU issues, changes to institutions and primary law, enlargement policy and cross-cutting EU initiatives.

Given that the documents which are the subject of negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament, such as directives and regulations, constantly change in the course of the complex and often protracted legislative process, the Bundestag must adapt to these procedures if it wants to influence new developments. It is not unusual for the Bundestag and its committees to discuss and scrutinise a matter several times, beginning with the first transmission of the initial document and ending with the adoption of the legal act in its final form by the Council and the European Parliament.

Taking note or recommending a decision

The deliberations on EU items vary in intensity. Important items are discussed in depth by Members of the German Bundestag in its committees. These discussions are sometimes attended by representatives of the Federal Government competent to speak on the matter in question and occasionally by representatives of the European Commission or Members of the European Parliament. The committees merely take note of the majority of EU items. More rarely, they will submit a substantive recommendation for a decision to the plenary. The plenary of the German Bundestag then adopts a decision (known as an “opinion”) – with or without debate – on the basis of the recommendation for a decision delivered by the lead committee. The Federal Government must take this opinion into account when it participates in negotiations in the Council.

In certain circumstances, an opinion can be delivered by the Committee on the Affairs of the European Union rather than the plenary; in this case it is transmitted directly to the government for its consideration. The Committee can only do this if it is empowered or asked to do so by the plenary. Recommendations for decisions are published with the committees’ written reports as Bundestag printed papers. The fact that note has been taken of an EU item is recorded in a note in the annex of the minutes of plenary proceedings (stenographic record), which is limited to the name of the committee and the number of the EU item.

The committees sometimes decide not to deliver a formal opinion under Article 23 (2) of the Basic Law and instead merely submit a “summary view” of their discussions to the relevant federal minister. A summary view gives a brief account of the course of the debate in the committee without a formal vote having taken place on the item. It does not possess the political validity of a formal opinion, but may offer the Federal Government guidance in its deliberations with European negotiating partners.