Instruments of scrutiny
Opportunities to question and deliberate
Information is an essential prerequisite for oversight of the government. This is why the Bundestag has established various instruments that enable all its Members, including the opposition, to question the government and deliberate on issues in Parliament.
- Minor and major interpellations
- Written questions and question times
- Debates on matters of topical interest
- Questions addressed to the Federal Government
Minor and major interpellations
Frequent use is made of both minor and major interpellations as instruments for the scrutiny of the government.
At least five percent of the Members or a parliamentary group are required in order to put questions to the government on a particular topic in written form. The questions are transmitted to the President of the German Bundestag, who forwards them to the Federal Government, requesting that they be answered.
Minor interpellations are answered by the government exclusively in written form. By contrast, major interpellations are also debated in the Bundestag. Since major interpellations usually raise important political issues, they give opposition parties the chance to put critical questions in public sittings and articulate their own points of view.
In the 16th electoral term, for example, 63 major interpellations and 3.299 minor interpellations were tabled.
Written questions and question times
Individual Members also have rights of scrutiny. For instance, each Member of the German Bundestag may address up to four questions for written reply to the government each month. These questions should be answered within a week after their receipt by the Federal Chancellery. Questions and answers are published in a weekly printed paper.
In addition to this, each Member has the right to address up to two questions per sitting week to the government for what are known as question times. Each question may be subdivided into two subsidiary questions.
The questions are answered orally by the government at question time. When the government gives its response, the questioner and other Members are allowed to put additional questions. The amount of time spent on question times may amount to a total of three hours per sitting week. If the Member who submitted a particular question is not present at question time, his or her questions are answered in writing if he or she requests this.
Debates on matters of topical interest
When Members are not satisfied with the information given by the government at question time, five percent of the Members of the German Bundestag or a parliamentary group may move that there be a debate on matters of topical interest. This takes place immediately following question time.
However, debates on matters of topical interest may also be held without a preceding question time as debates on matters of general topical interest. This requires the agreement of the Council of Elders or a motion supported by five percent of the Members.
Members may not speak for longer than five minutes, and the number of speakers is limited. In the 16th electoral term, it has been agreed that there should be four speakers for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, four for the SPD parliamentary group, one for the FDP parliamentary group, one for The Left Party parliamentary group and one for the Alliance 90/The Greens parliamentary group. The parliamentary group that has tabled the motion for a debate on matters of topical interest may put forward an additional speaker.
Questions addressed to the Federal Government
The Members of the German Bundestag have another opportunity to put questions on matters of topical interest to the members of the government immediately after the Federal Government’s weekly cabinet meeting, which takes place on Wednesdays.
This session of questions addressed to the Federal Government is held in the plenary of the Bundestag at about 13:00 hrs on Wednesdays during sitting weeks and lasts for roughly 30 minutes. This session allows the results of deliberations within the government to be presented in a particularly compact form, providing initial information to the Members.