The Bundestag is the elected representation of the German people. Technically speaking half the 598 seats in the Bundestag are allocated by means of the parties’ state lists (the second vote) and the other half by the direct election of candidates in the 299 constituencies (the first vote). This division changes nothing with regard to the key role of the parties in the Electoral system. Only those candidates who belong to a party have any chance of success. The party to whom members of the Bundestag belong is meant to reflect the distribution of votes. In order to prevent complications in the formation of majorities by the presence of small and very small parties a Five-percent threshold is designed to stop their being represented in the Bundestag.
The Bundestag is the German parliament. Its elected representatives are organized in parliamentary parties and select a President from among them. It is the function of the Bundestag to elect the Federal Chancellor and keep him in office through support for his policies. The Members of parliament can relieve the Chancellor of his duties by denying him their confidence, as do other parliaments. Nor does it make any great difference that in Germany the Chancellor is elected, whereas in Great Britain and other parliamentary democracies he is appointed by the head of state. In other parliamentary democracies, a party leader who can rely on a parliamentary majority is always appointed head of government.
The second major function of the elected representatives in the Bundestag is to pass legislation. Since 1949 some 8,400 bills have been introduced to Parliament and more than 6000 laws enacted. These were predominantly amendments to existing acts. Most drafts are tabled by the Federal Government. A small number are introduced by Parliament or the Bundesrat. Here, again, the Bundestag is similar to parliaments in other parliamentary democracies in that it for the most part enacts bills proposed by the Federal Government. The Bundestag, however, is less like the debating parliament typified by British parliamentary culture and corresponds more closely to a working parliament. The Bundestag’s expert Parliamentary Committees discuss the bills introduced to Parliament in great detail. Here, the activities of the Bundestag resemble to some extent Congress in the USA, the prototype of a working parliament.
The third major function of the Bundestag is to keep a check on the government’s work. It is the opposition that fulfils the function of monitoring the work of government in a manner visible to the general public. A less evident, but no less effective form of control is carried out by the elected representatives of the governing parties, who behind closed doors ask the government representatives critical questions.
(Copyright: Tatsachen über Deutschland, 2005)