Final remarks

The legislative process in the Federal Republic of Germany is relatively complex. It was not, however, deliberately intended to be difficult to understand. Its complexity is simply the price which has to be paid for involving so many different bodies in the passage of legislation, for ensuring that often difficult subject matter is examined several times over, and for making available a wide range of information to all those interested in a particular subject. The complexity of the process ultimately reflects the demands of democracy and the rule of law. In places where such principles are disregarded, in totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships, the passage of legislation is a quick and easy affair - and by no means accidentally, laws tend to be unjust and ineffective.

A final look at the passage of legislation in Germany clearly reveals the reasons behind each stage in the legislative process:

  • Bills are drawn up by the specialised divisions in the relevant ministries, the subject matter of each bill being examined carefully, with information from the federal administration as well as from affected groups and other interested parties being taken into account.
  • Coordination between the individual ministries and in the cabinet helps ensure that bills conform to Government policy and are also compatible with the scope and limits of the federal budget.
  • In the course of the initial deliberations in the Bundesrat, the Länder can draw on their experience of executing legislation when discussing the bill and can make their interests known.
  • The first reading in the Bundestag serves to inform the Members of the German Bundestag and the public that a legislative process is underway with regard to a particular subject matter and is to be debated in Parliament.
  • The detailed examination of the bill during the committee stage makes it possible for additional expert opinions and political viewpoints to be taken into account; moreover, it allows the views of the parliamentary groups to be incorporated in the bill and is often an opportunity for Members from different parliamentary groups to compromise and reach agreement on the content of the bill.
  • The hearings held by the committees are an opportunity to gather additional information from experts in the subject area covered by the bill; they increase public awareness of the issues at stake and give members of the public and interested organisations another chance to participate in the discussions.
  • During the second and third readings in the plenary of the Bundestag, arguments for and against the bill are debated and the opinions and arguments of the various parliamentary groups are put forward. Media coverage of the debate by newspapers, radio and television allows the public to form their own opinions on the bill on the basis of the arguments presented in the Bundestag. Finally, the bill is adopted.
  • The Bundesrat's renewed involvement after the adoption of the bill by the Bundestag serves to underline the federal structure of the Federal Republic and the important role played by the Länder in terms of the execution of legislation and the consideration given to regional disparities.
  • Under certain circumstances, the Mediation Committee may be requested to convene. This serves to ensure that the conflicts between the Federal Government and the Länder, which are an inherent aspect of the federalist structure, are resolved by way of compromise and that legislation which is binding throughout the Federal Republic can be passed.
  • Finally, it is possible for a law to be referred to the Federal Constitutional Court for judicial review, although this is not a common or compulsory step. This review ensures that each of the previous stages has been carried out in keeping with the law, as otherwise the item of legislation in question might be declared invalid. There are thus legal safeguards in place to ensure that the legislative procedure is conducted in keeping with the rule of law and in accordance with the Basic Law.

All this makes for a complex procedure, both for those who make the laws and for those who have to comply with them. Of course, everyone wishes from time to time that there were fewer laws, that they were less complicated and that the legislative process were quicker and more flexible. But the society for which these laws are made is not simple; it is complex, multifaceted, technically advanced and pluralist in terms of its goals, values and interests. Parliament, as the law-making body, has to reflect this. The demand for legislation - to eliminate unequal treatment, to meet justified demands, to avert possible dangers and to promote matters of importance - comes from society itself and not from the Bundestag. Parliament cannot refuse to adopt laws for which there is a demand and it cannot speed up the legislative process if a bill happens to be particularly controversial or concerns a complex subject.

The passage of legislation in Germany is ultimately a condition and integral element of the rule of law, democracy and freedom. Anyone who wishes to put the legislative process into practice, to participate in it or understand how it functions must be prepared for the substantial effort this involves.