The Budget Committee

Only a few of the key aspects of the budget process can be dealt with here. As regards the general legislative process, it has already been pointed out that the bulk of the work concerning the content of bills is done by the committees and the parliamentary groups. This applies even more to the budget procedure. The Budget Committee, whose special legal status with regard to legislation in general was dealt with in the section on finance bills, plays a leading role in the drafting of the budget. Although the Rules of Procedure of the German Bundestag do not contain a provision to this effect, the chairpersonship of the Budget Committee is traditionally given to a member of the opposition. This not only reflects the Budget Committee's important status but also serves to underline the significance of Parliament's scrutiny of the Government.

At the beginning of each electoral term the Budget Committee appoints rapporteurs for each departmental budget. The rapporteurs are responsible for their own particular budget area for the whole of an electoral term and not just for the period covered by one particular Budget Act. As a result, they work continuously with their own budget area and become thoroughly familiar with the aims, financial plans and programmes of the corresponding ministry. The rapporteurs thus acquire an in-depth knowledge of their subject which can rarely be achieved by other Members of the German Bundestag. They not only become very competent in their subject but also bear a considerable degree of responsibility, as they are the principal source of information for other members of their parliamentary groups. The advice which they give their colleagues generally forms the basis of the parliamentary group's evaluation of the departmental budget in question. The Members of the German Bundestag who sit on the Budget Committee have access to exclusive information and share responsibility for the budget. Through being members of this committee and sharing the same heavy workload, they develop a kind of solidarity which extends across party-political boundaries. In the Budget Committee in particular, deliberations are therefore businesslike and characterised by a spirit of cooperation and compromise.

The special status enjoyed by the Budget Committee is further enhanced by the important role played by its subcommittee, the Auditing Committee, which is responsible for the parliamentary scrutiny of budgetary and financial management and in this context cooperates closely with the Federal Audit Office. The purpose of this cooperative structure is to ensure that the relevant findings are continuously introduced into the budgetary process. The Federal Audit Office is not only responsible for examining, on the basis of earlier budgets, whether the administration has managed its finances competently and efficiently, but also monitors and assesses the execution and progress of particular projects, quite often at the instigation of the Budget Committee. The budget procedure as a whole can thus be seen as a circular process involving review, ongoing scrutiny and planning by Parliament, with the findings in one field benefiting all the others.

Through the Budget Committee, the Bundestag is constantly involved in the conduct of the Federation's financial affairs and, of course, also exerts a certain degree of political influence on the decisions involved. This is one of the reasons why budget debates are among the highlights of the parliamentary year. They are not only an occasion for arguments about individual budget items; the entire Government programme in terms of the expenditure involved is generally hotly debated by the Government and the opposition. The Federal Chancellor's budget is particularly likely to trigger a general debate on his or her policy principles, while budgets for important departments - e.g. economics and labour, defence, foreign affairs - prompt public scrutiny of Government policy.