Parliamentary track record of the Federal Republic of Germany
View of the plenary chamber of the German Bundestag in the Reichstag Building during Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel's government policy statement on 30 November 2005
© German Bundestag/Melde
In terms of political stability, professionalisation of the activity of Parliament and its Members and the existence of effective political parties, the German Bundestag boasts an impressive track record.
In the early years, it took decisions that paved the way for economic growth and reconstruction. It succeeded, by means of legislative measures such as the Equalisation of Burdens Act, in alleviating the effects of war and displacement. On the one hand, key choices in the field of foreign policy required a public debate in Parliament; on the other hand, the numerous treaties and agreements concluded by Germany depended on the consent of the Bundestag. These included the Compensation Agreement with the State of Israel (1952), the Treaties of Rome (1957) and the establishment of the Bundeswehr and accession to NATO (1955). The Franco-German Friendship Treaty of 1963 was also ratified by the Bundestag. In connection with that ratification process, the Bundestag provided a telling illustration of its independence by inserting in the preamble a reference to Germany’s obligations to its other Western allies.
A Grand Coalition
The year 1966 saw the formation of the first grand coalition in the German Bundestag. Until the alliance between the CDU and CSU and the SPD ended in 1969, the FDP constituted the only parliamentary opposition. Among the achievements of the Grand Coalition were the revision of the constitutional rules governing the public finances of the Federal Republic and its constituent states, the liberalisation of criminal law, the resolution of employment crises and the decision in favour of continued payment of wages or salaries to sick employees.
The period of the first Social Democratic-Liberal cabinet (1969 - 1972) saw the great reconciliation debates and the conclusion of the Treaty on the Basis of Relations with the German Democratic Republic. In 1973, during the second term of the SPD-FDP coalition, the Bundestag ratified the accession of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United Nations. In 1982, a coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP took over the reins of government and faced an earth-shattering sequence of events when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. This had a decisive influence on the work of the Bundestag. In a speech to the Bundestag, Helmut Kohl presented his ten-point programme for German unification. The Unification Treaty had to be ratified by the Bundestag, and on 20 December 1990 a freely elected Parliament representing the whole of Germany met for the first time since 1932 to take up its duties. In 1991, the same Parliament decided that the Government and Parliament were to move from Bonn to Berlin by 1999.
Europe and globalisation
In 1991 the German Bundestag ratified the Maastricht Treaty establishing the European Union. As a result of the European integration process, important policy areas, such as agriculture, customs and trade policy, are now in the hands of the Community. In many of these areas, the only power still exercised by the German Bundestag is the transposition of EU directives into national law. Parliament is, however, involved in the drafting of directives through members of the Government, who sit in Parliament as legitimate representatives of the people. Since 1995, the German Bundestag, rather than the Federal Government, decides whether Bundeswehr forces can be deployed outside NATO territory, hence the concept of ‘parliamentary armed forces’. Since the mid-1990s, the preservation of Germany’s status as a competitive business location has been a key aspect of the work of Parliament. At the same time, efforts have focused on preserving as much as possible of the welfare state in a world that is increasingly subject to the pressures of globalisation.
Globalisation has also increased the complexity of information and communication structures linking political parties, parliamentary groups and government and also of links with associations, trade unions and the media and, ultimately, between the public and Members of the Bundestag. Parliament is no longer perceived as the sole decision-making forum. Talk shows and the Internet, TV democracy and opportunities for self-marketing are some of the features of a changing landscape.
The German Bundestag has shown itself to be an efficient and adaptable institution in close contact with the people. Its track record speaks for itself. The system of checks and balances, which includes the dependence of the Federal Government on the formation of majorities in the Bundestag, has proved its worth. Achievements of the Federal Government are parliamentary achievements too. Nevertheless, imprinting this track record on the minds of the population is a challenge that still confronts Parliament, the political parties, the media and providers of political education.