Two Faces of German Bicameralism

Writing for a symposium in comparative constitutional law I wish to address three aspects of constitutional and political context upfront:

First, discussing „bicameralism“ with regard to German constitutional law means to conceive of the German federal parliament (Bundestag) as the “first chamber” and the representative organ of the 16 German states (Bundesrat) as the “second chamber”.

Second, there are significant differences in the institutional design of both chambers. The Bundestag is elected in general elections through a mixed electoral system. The 598 plus seats are finally allocated through proportional representation of the political parties that capture 5% or more of the federal vote. Along the general model of parliamentary democracy the Bundestag elects the federal prime minister (Bundeskanzler) who nominates the cabinet members. The Bundesrat, however, does not originate from a direct popular vote. Rather, it is comprised of delegations of the 16 state governments, the size of which varies according to the size of state populations: Small states such as Bremen or Saarland have the minimum number of 3 seats, large states such as Bavaria or North-Rhine Westfalia the maximum number of 6 seats in the Bundesrat. The preeminent political players in these delegations are the state prime ministers. Thus, in its institutional composition the Bundesrat is an executive organ, although with important legislative functions. The German federal constitution (Grundgesetz) grants the right to sponsor federal legislation, but differentiates powers when it comes to enactment. At present, the Bundesrat has the right to veto about 40% and to simply reject about 60% of federal statutes, with override powers of the Bundestag being limited to the latter option ...

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