Interest groups

At this stage the head of division will already invite organisations and groups which will be affected by the draft law to attend discussions for an exchange of views and information material. This is more efficient than drawing up provisions in a theoretical vacuum which, if they were adopted in that form, might later prove to be impossible to implement or ill-founded. However, this also means that interest groups can influence the bill even at this early stage. They are involved before they face the lawmakers proper, the Bundestag, for instance at committee hearings, where they express their views and place their expertise at the Bundestag’s disposal; in this way they often learn that a bill is being prepared very early on.

To be sure, the influence of interest groups is always a critical aspect of the legislative process. On the other hand, one must realise that these groups do not act arbitrarily on behalf of a few individuals, but in principle represent the justified interests of social groups. Individual citizens, whether they be tradesmen or businessmen, members of a specific occupational group, recipients of state benefits or simply supporters committed to a specific cause, are hardly in a position to assert viewpoints alone without joining forces with like-minded people. To this end, they can join a party or relevant association, organisation or citizens’ action group and help put the ideas they share into practice. Parliament too is dependent on the involvement of interested groups affected by the planned legislation. For one thing, they have considerable expertise in the field concerned, without which the Bundestag would find it difficult to draw up just and appropriate provisions. On the other hand, it is legitimate and useful for the Bundestag to learn of the misgivings and concerns of the affected groups in good time and possibly take them into consideration, because a bill cannot normally be pushed through by force but is dependent on being accepted and observed by those affected. In taking interests systematically into account, it is important to hear not just one viewpoint but also others which may reflect different and perhaps even conflicting interests in the same field. Thus, in the case of labour law provisions, not only the employers are heard but also the trade unions; in the case of provisions concerning the production of certain goods, not only the relevant branches of industry but also consumer organisations may express their views; and as regards energy policy and industrial production, environmental organisations have regularly been involved for many years now and asked to comment on the issues at stake. Moreover, there are experts in the relevant fields and in particular a considerable number of scientific advisory bodies which the Government has formed and which can provide it with additional advice in almost every specialist field. In all, several thousand experts serve on a wide variety of scientific advisory bodies, commissions and specialised committees.

In this way it is possible to tap expertise, balance interests and win the support of those affected by a legislative proposal without Parliament simply endorsing the opinion of one group or another.

Let us now return to the draft bill prepared by experts in the ministry concerned: the text, once it has been agreed on within the ministry, is also submitted to other ministries which are concerned with the subject matter or involved in political terms, because the fields covered by the bill frequently fall within the competence of several ministries. This applies in particular to bills with financial implications, which must also be submitted to the Ministry of Finance. The situation is similar as regards bills the implementation of which might affect environmental protection: for such bills, an analysis known as an “environmental impact assessment” is carried out. Investigation of a bill’s impact on business, prices and consumers must be carried out, in cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology and the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. And, finally, the National Regulatory Control Council must be involved in the drafting process early on. This Council is charged with assessing the administrative costs entailed by federal legislative projects (as well as existing statutory instruments) and making suggestions for improvement where necessary.

Once the text has been coordinated with the ministries involved, the bill is forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Justice for it to ensure that it meets all legal requirements. The ministry examines whether the bill is compatible with the law in force; it compares the bill with the constitution and laws which are affected or concern similar fields and considers the finer points of legal language, including increasingly gender-neutral phrasing and the methodology of references to other legislation. The minister who bears overall responsibility then submits the bill to the cabinet - which comprises the Federal Chancellor and all the ministers, i.e. the Federal Government - for a decision to be taken on it. The text adopted by the cabinet is passed to the Bundesrat by the Federal Chancellor.