Preparation by the parliamentary groups
Once copies of the bill have been distributed, the bill is considered by the parliamentary groups. The parliamentary groups are also divided into working groups or working parties for specific subject areas, although these differ slightly from the areas of competence of the federal ministries. The above-mentioned bill was therefore first considered by the Members specialising in financial and family affairs in each parliamentary group. Members need to specialise in a particular subject because the parliamentary groups are required to deal not only with bills of this kind but also with numerous other bills on a wide range of different subjects. It would therefore be completely impracticable for each of them to be considered by all the Members at the same time. The Bundestag has no other option but to divide its work according to subject matter into different areas which largely reflect the specific areas of competence of the federal ministries. This applies both to the Bundestag’s specialised committees and to the parliamentary groups’ working groups or working parties.
Each parliamentary group first has to decide what position it plans to take on a particular bill - whether or not the bill is urgent, when it should be given its first reading in the plenary, which member of the parliamentary group should speak on it, which member might act as rapporteur at the committee stage, and so on. Once the parliamentary groups have given the bill their initial consideration, the Council of Elders of the German Bundestag decides the date on which the bill will be given its first reading in the plenary. The Council of Elders fulfils an important function as a steering body in the Bundestag (see also p. 20ff.). Since its membership has to reflect the relative strengths of the parliamentary groups, the Council of Elders comprises more members from the large parliamentary groups than from the smaller ones. Thus, the relative strengths of the political parties represented in the Bundestag are reflected on a smaller scale in the Council of Elders, just as in the other committees, commissions and bodies of the Bundestag. However, this does not mean, for example, that the Council of Elders can take a majority decision to put a Government bill on the agenda immediately, whilst delaying or completely preventing deliberation on an opposition bill. In fact, the Rules of Procedure of the German Bundestag specifically state that the Council of Elders is not a decision-making body on matters of this sort. Hence it does not take majority decisions but has to find solutions which are acceptable to all the parliamentary groups. Although the proposals made by the Council of Elders can be rejected in the plenary of the Bundestag and replaced by other decisions, agreements reached in the Council of Elders are usually accepted by the Bundestag because all the political parties are represented on the Council of Elders and can thus be confident that their interests are safeguarded. The Rules of Procedure also protect the interests of minority parties, in particular by stipulating that each parliamentary group is entitled to have a bill it presents placed on the agenda and discussed within three weeks.