The Landtag of North Rhine-Westphalia
Every year, our state (Land) - North Rhine-Westphalia - is host to millions of visitors from abroad: people on business, tourists visiting our cities and discovering our culture, exchange students or people who are here as part of a town twinning partnership. Most of them stay just a short time - North Rhine-Westphalia is not the most obvious place for a holiday, after all. But visitors who do come here are not looking for sun, sea and sand; they want to get to know our country and our people, do some successful cross-border business or keep up personal contacts.
This short brochure aims to be an initial introduction for anyone who would like to get to know us better and would like to find out about our history and our political system. It is an introduction in words and pictures to our Land and, in particular, the place where decisions on our Land's future are made: the Landtag or State Parliament. It is an outline of who holds political responsibility here in North Rhine-Westphalia and of how this responsibility is enacted. It aims to be a kind of political guidebook especially for people who travel light and therefore want to have all the basic facts to hand in a clear and concise way.
Landtag (State Parliament) of North Rhine-Westphalia - a building for 18 million citizens
Officially opened on 2 October 1988, North Rhine-Westphalia's Landtag building is the first completely new parliament building to be built in the history of the German Federal Republic. It was the first time that a German parliament had designed its future home itself and the first time that a parliament's own view of itself had been translated into architecture.
In the competition to find a new building for the Landtag, the politicians who commissioned it had had the courage to award first prize to the design by the architects Eller, Maier, Moser, Walter and Partners. A monumental style of building was not what they had in mind; rather a building which 18 million citizens could feel was for them. Comparatively modest, at 105 meters wide, 195 meters long and 21 meters high, the Landtag building is impressive primarily because of its extravagant shape. Starting from the 'in the round' seating arrangements inside the plenary chamber, the circle was developed as the fundamental architectural principle, and right angles were consciously avoided.
The circular plenary chamber was made into the centre of the building, laid out for a maximum of 300 people; linked to it are the four rooms for the parliamentary parties, also forming a circle and with a lobby which can act as a connecting or separating element. This is also an outward way of emphasizing the special status of the political debate and of the political assessment of objective facts, and at the same time a way of underlining the nature of the parliament as a meeting place.
The basis for political decision-making is the detailed, factual debate on each topic, which takes place in the select committees. A total of 35 conference rooms are available for the individual committees and working groups. Following the logical sequence, these are located on the two floors below the plenary chamber and the parliamentary party rooms, thus also supporting the political decision-making process in architectural terms.
For the preparations which are necessary, a total of 507 offices are available to the members of parliament, the party workers and the parliament administration. The wings which house the suites of offices are arranged around the plenary chamber and the parliamentary party rooms, are sensitively designed and offset facing one another, so that you have the feeling of looking at what appear to be arms in an embrace. This is also the accommodation for all the services which are vital for any modern parliamentary operation, such as printing, archiving, the library, IT department, and for services without which a building simply cannot be used, such as the heating system, for example, and the air-conditioning.
As a parliament close to its citizens, the Landtag building does not have any physical delimitations; the building is open to the public and is therefore accessible to all. For that reason, the zone around the Landtag where demonstrations are not allowed was also kept to modest dimensions.
This remarkable Landtag building, however, came at a price: North Rhine-Westphalia's taxpayers had to make Euro 160 million available for the project. But the high degree of acceptance with which it has been received is proof that it has been money well spent.
Who does what - Federal Government (Bund) or State Government (Land)?
The task of legislating is split between the 16 Land Parliaments and the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag). For all matters which directly affect the Federal Republic as a whole - such as, for example, foreign policy and defense policy, currency issues, atomic policy, the postal and telecommunications services - the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) in Berlin has sole and exclusive authority to legislate. In these areas, the German states (Länder), are involved in legislation only through the second chamber, the Bundesrat. The regional Landtage, on the other hand, are responsible for all cultural matters, notably the education system, matters of internal security, i.e. the police, building supervision, health supervision and the media.
Such a clear delimitation of policy areas into the competence of either the Land or the Bund, however, applies to only a few areas. In point of fact, by far the majority of legislative matters are subject to what is known as 'concurrent legislation'. Concurrent legislation means that the Landtag may enact laws, but only as long as and provided that the German Bundestag does not make use of its right to legislate. If safeguarding a legal or economic entity or producing living standards of equal value in Germany means that a total federal solution is necessary, the federal legislature becomes active. The same is true of criminal law and the penal system, of commercial and employment law, and of transport and waste disposal. The German Basic Law (or constitution) lists the areas which are subject to concurrent legislation in a register. In another register, the constitution names those areas for which the Federation (Bund) provides a Rahmengesetz (a general outline of a law giving guidelines). With this, the Bundestag marks out the boundaries within which the Landtage may then pass laws autonomously, for instance, in the higher education system or in environmental protection.
Legislation in North Rhine-Westphalia
When the Landtag passes a law, it is bringing to an end a legislative procedure which usually lasts several months. It always begins with a detailed legal proposal submitted in writing, which, besides the new legal text, also contains an exhaustive justification and, if necessary, information on possible consequences for the local authority districts (Kommunen).
The Land government, the parliamentary parties and groups consisting of at least 7 members of parliament have the right to table such a legal proposal to the Landtag for deliberation. In consultation with the Council of Elders (Ältestenrat), the President of the Landtag places the draft bill on the plenary session's agenda. Firstly, the minister responsible, or one of the members who is filing the bill, introduces it to the plenary session and justifies the reasons for introducing it. During this First Reading, if the bill is politically sensitive, there is usually a fundamental debate about the law. Normally, the debate ends with the draft bill being referred to the overall control of the appropriate expert committee and, if necessary, being referred to other committees as well, which may also become involved in the advisory process.
This is the moment when the detailed work begins for the experts in the individual parliamentary parties. External expert witnesses are often brought in to evaluate the legal proposals. They provide statements during what are known as "hearings" and make their contribution to the process of arriving at a decision which is right and proper. Preparations for the expert committees also take place in the parliamentary party working groups. The weekly parliamentary party meetings are a forum for exchanging information between committee members and other Members of Parliament.
In each case, the draft bill is examined down to the last detail in a small group, before appearing for a second time on the agenda of the plenary session, when it is debated afresh on the basis of the committee report. Every Member of Parliament now has another opportunity to table amendments. In this Second Reading, once members have decided which tabled amendments to accept, it is usual for the final vote concerning the law to take place.
Constitutional changes and budgetary laws are debated in three Readings. However, even for other proposed legislation, a parliamentary party or a quarter of all members of parliament can apply for there to be a Third Reading and, if necessary, further committee consultations.
The law passed by the Landtag is delivered to the Prime Minister, the head of the state government, who, together with the ministers involved, is required to sign it and announce it in the Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt (Law and Ordinance Gazette). When the law comes into force is normally determined by the legislation itself, most usually the day after its announcement.
And what checks and balances are there?
In order for there to be checks that any legislation is being implemented properly, the Land government is obliged to submit to critical questioning from members of parliament during plenary debates and committee meetings; the government is required to keep parliament informed at all times and to declare its position.
For this purpose, parliament has special, formal control procedures: during the first session each month, the Landtag holds what is known as Question Time. At Question Time, any member of parliament may put questions to the government about administration and Land policy, which the government must answer then and there. The questioners have the option of exploring the facts of the case more deeply through further questioning.
At the request of a parliamentary party or a quarter of members of parliament, the Landtag holds an Aktuelle Stunde, a public debate on a specific question of topical interest. According to the order of business, there must be urgent public or parliamentary interest in the issue for debate.
Interpellations (Grosse Anfragen) may be put by a parliamentary party or by a minimum of seven members of parliament. They serve to provide comprehensive information on a complex specialist area of policy. Grosse Anfragen are comprehensive lists of questions each with numerous subsidiary questions, which the Land government has to answer in writing within an agreed time limit. If a quarter of members of parliament or a parliamentary party would like there to be a statement on the Land government's response, the Landtag President (i.e. the president of the state parliament) places a Grosse Anfrage on the agenda for the next plenary session. At the end of the public debate there are frequently parliamentary motions for a resolution.
Unlike the Grosse Anfragen, what are known as Kleine Anfragen (written questions) may also be submitted by individual Members of Parliament. They must be filed in writing, are answered in writing, but are not discussed in plenary session. A Kleine Anfrage must refer to the concrete facts of a case, most usually a problematic individual case from the constituency of the member who is filing the question. The Land government has four weeks to respond.
Constitutional Court of Justice Münster
Committees of investigation have the task of investigating cases where the Land government or one of its members has behaved improperly or has infringed the law. Parliament may even procure the necessary information against the will of the government by means of a committee of investigation, if it has to rely on the willingness of the Land government to cooperate in the Aktuelle Stunde, in Question Time, in the Grosse Anfragen and Kleine Anfragen. This is why the committee of investigation has special powers. It can summons and swear in witnesses; it has the right to inspect files and has access at all times to all authorities of the Land. If a fifth of the lawful members of the Landtag request it, parliament must appoint a committee of investigation.
It is the citizens of North Rhine-Westphalia who, with their requests and complaints, provide the stimulus for scrutinizing the way the administration behaves. Anyone who believes himself to have been wrongly or unjustly treated by any of the authorities which come under the jurisdiction of the Land may appeal to the Düsseldorf Landtag with an informal petition to the Committee for Petitions. The members of this committee have the right - supported by the Land constitution - to subject everyone involved in the proceedings to questioning about the matter; they must be granted the right to inspect files and to have access to all the Land's institutions. Over and above being helpful in actual, individual cases, the work of the committee is also important because of the light it sheds on fundamental difficulties in implementing legislative regulations; moreover, it is an important source of information about the social problems among the population.
So far, parliament has hardly ever made use of its most extreme means of control, the constructive vote of no confidence and ministerial prosecution. The only provision in the Land constitution for the Landtag to express its lack of confidence in the Prime Minister is for it to elect a new Prime Minister with a majority of votes cast. The Prime Minister or one of the Cabinet members may be prosecuted by the Federal Constitutional Court of Justice in Münster on account of infringement of a law or of the constitution - either grossly negligent or deliberate. A request to prosecute a minister must be made by a minimum of a quarter of all members of parliament. However, a ministerial prosecution may not proceed until two thirds of the members of parliament present make this decision.
15. Parliamentary Term
At the last Landtag election on 9 May 2010, only just over 59% of the 13 million plus people entitled to vote actually did make use of their right. 25 parties had stood for election, but only five parties managed to get past the 5% exclusion hurdle.
A total of 181 members of parliament were elected to North Rhine-Westphalia's Landtag. The seats were apportioned as follows: the CDU has 67 members in the Landtag, the SPD has exactly the same number, 67 seats, Bündnis90/Die Grünen have 23, the FDP 13 and Die Linke 11.
At the constituent assembly on 9 June 2010, the 15th Landtag of North Rhine-Westphalia began its work - without knowing who will be the Parliamentary President, the Vice Presidents and new Prime Minister.
North Rhine-Westphalia - a short retrospective
The Land of North Rhine-Westphalia came into being as part of the new restructuring in Europe after the Second World War. The political and economic conditions during the years immediately after the War led to the British occupying powers establishing Länder in their occupation zone in summer 1946.
Shiplift at Henrichenburg
Palace and Townhall of Bensberg
Industrial Monument at Duisburg
'Operation marriage' was the concept governing the formation of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia. By combining the northern part of what had been the Prussian province of the Rhine with the former Prussian province of Westphalia, the British 'matchmakers' succeeded in creating a stable piece of territory. Enclosed at North Rhine-Westphalia's centre is the Ruhr area, about whose status the victorious allied powers had differing opinions. The new combination, however, seemed to be both the best possible way of securing this industrial potential for use in reconstruction and also the most expedient in the interests of security. It was also the best way of resisting Soviet influence on Central Europe. In January 1947, North Rhine-Westphalia took on its new external form when the former duchy of Lippe-Detmold became part of the new Land.
Ruhr University at Bochum
Cathedral Window in Cologne
In the years immediately after the War, the most important task was to reorganize life from scratch and to stimulate it in terms of the economy, society, politics and the state structures. As well as projects designed to improve the population's situation in a material sense and as well as the struggle to find the best way of reconstructing the country, the political agenda was characterized by conflicts regarding education policy and a democratic economy. In 1947 - and for the first time since 1933 - the citizens once again elected a parliament, the Landtag, according to democratic principles. In 1949 North Rhine-Westphalia became a member state of the newly established Federal Republic of Germany. The constitution of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia was approved by plebiscite in 1950.
From a politico-economic point of view, the 'Ruhr area dowry' was to turn out to be a heavy burden. In the short term, the 'black gold' of the coal-mining Ruhr had made a decisive contribution to getting the reconstruction of the German Federal Republic underway. However, in the longer term, the expansion in the Ruhr of a coal and steel industry which was no longer appropriate for this day and age, began to lead the Land down an impasse - particularly once the coal crisis had set in at the end of the 1950s, and then the steel crisis from the 1970s onwards. The Land's structural crisis was intensified still further by the decline in the traditional textiles industry. This explains why, since the 1960s, the central preoccupation of North Rhine-Westphalia's Land policy has been the socially acceptable redefinition of the economic structure.
Another expression of this powerful drive to modernize was in the vigorous expansion of North Rhine-Westphalia's universities during the 1960s. Numerous newly founded universities and comprehensive universities (Gesamthochschulen), particularly in the Ruhr area, and the introduction of a new type of higher education institution, the Fachhochschule (roughly equivalent to a polytechnic in England), were ready and waiting to educate the sons and daughters of a generation of miners.
However, since the 1960s, the ecological consequences of such a high degree of industrialization combined with a high population density became increasingly noticeable. Fresh air for people to breathe in the industrial areas along the Rhine and the Ruhr had long been in short supply and the situation was not much better with the water and the earth. 10 million people alone are supplied with purified drinking water from the Rhine. Since the end of the 1970s, North Rhine-Westphalia has intensified its efforts to improve the quality of its inshore waters and, today, there are again 43 different species of fish living in the Rhine. Areas of land which have been sealed up and industrial and agricultural emissions into the soil also became the subject of conservation measures. In the context of a land registry of dangerous waste from the past, by 1997 alone, 32,000 areas with dangerous waste had been recorded, including 14,000 which have so far been cleaned up. The fact that today every household in North Rhine-Westphalia uses several different colored waste bins is just an everyday example of the Land's intensified efforts to find a solution to the waste-disposal problems in a highly industrialized, affluent society. Today, priority is given to avoiding waste in the first place and to recycling. Proof of the importance given to conservation in North Rhine-Westphalia is that it was firmly established as a state and educational goal in the Land constitution of 1985.
Windmill at Kleve
Gasometer at Oberhausen
When they began their administrative reform in the 1970s, North Rhine-Westphalia's politicians were taking on a 'job for the century', as their task was to redraw the political map of North Rhine-Westphalia. Now, after the local government reform, the map shows only 369 Gemeinden (local parishes) which belong to districts instead of 2,292; there are now only 31 instead of 57 Landkreise (administrative districts) and only 23 of the former 37 kreisfreie Städte (cities which do not belong to an administrative district, but which form a district of their own). This new structure was accompanied by functional reforms, such as the reorganization of administrative responsibilities, with the aim of being more efficient and economical, transparent and closer to the citizens.
Between the Rhine and the Weser
North Rhine-Westphalia - the Land of coal and steel? That cliché has long been out of date: just a glance at the economic geographic map shows that three quarters of this Land between the Eifel Hills and the Teutoburg Forest is used for agriculture and forestry. It is also a recreational area or 'green lung' for an industrial area which has 18 million inhabitants. Or, more precisely, for a high-tech industrial area - since, more recently, a whole string of modern branches of industry has moved in beside the basic materials industries which were predominant here until the 1960s.
The City of Freudenberg
Castle Vischering at Lüdinghausen
The chemicals industry, mechanical engineering, metals production and conversion, the food industry, vehicle manufacturing and electrical engineering are some of the most profitable branches today. Much emphasis is placed on the service industry around here and almost 60% of all jobs today are in the service sector. 45 of the 100 largest German and 19 of the 100 largest European companies have North Rhine-Westphalia as their central location. One of the world's biggest media groups is headquartered in Gütersloh.
However, the economic profile of North Rhine-Westphalia is also being decisively shaped by over 600,000 small and medium-sized companies which provide two thirds of all jobs and four fifths of all apprenticeships. The transformation in the Land's economy can be outlined as follows: state-of-the-art technology in environmental and power engineering, in transport, for the telecommunications sector and the health system, developed for the needs of the market and produced by medium-sized companies.
Solingen - Gräfrath
This structural transformation is stimulated to a large extent by science and research. In the past few decades, it is here that the highest density of higher education and research institutions has emerged in Europe. Over 500,000 students are studying at 52 higher education institutions. At 3 major research centers, Fraunhofer Institutes and 10 Max Planck Institutes pioneering research is taking place; over 150 science and 'transfer' establishments, including almost 60 technology centers, are devoted to imparting expertise and applying scientific discoveries.
But North Rhine-Westphalia is not only the first choice for many businesses; for many citizens too it is the number one choice. 18 million people live here, including almost 2 million foreigners from over 190 nations. The population density is twice the federal German average: 527 inhabitants per square km. 30 of Germany's 87 major cities are along the Rhine and the Ruhr and numerous towns sit here side by side like a string of pearls.
The Land has a well-developed transport network, with 700 km of waterways, 6,100 km of rail tracks and 30,000 km of roads for long-distance traffic. Two major airports, 1 international and 4 regional airports and also, in Duisburg, Europe's largest inland harbor are popular hubs for national and international trade. But the non-motorized are also catered for: in the Münsterland area alone, 2,000 km of cycle tracks invite you to come cycling.
North Rhine-Westphalia is a young Land with a rich past. In no time at all - whether on historic cobbles or on modern asphalt - anyone interested in culture will quickly find their way to one of our 68,000 monuments, or into one of over 550 museums or 130 theatres and opera houses.
In cultural matters, North Rhine-Westphalia deserves a leading position alongside Paris, New York, London and Tokyo. At least, that's how UNESCO sees it!
Düsseldorf - (not) a village on the Düssel?
Düsseldorf was documented for the first time in 1135 and elevated to the status of a town in 1288. Following centuries of being a place with a small-town tranquility, the "dorp an der Düssel" ("village on the Düssel"), has since cast off all its provincial aspects and has blossomed into a pulsating major city. Not, however, a city with a million inhabitants, like its considerably older neighbor, Cologne. Düsseldorf has only 571,000 inhabitants living in an area of 217 square km and the figure of 100,000 inhabitants was not reached until the end of the nineteenth century. In economic matters, however, already by the turn of the twentieth century, people in Düsseldorf were looking further afield than the limits of their own city boundaries and were taking on the administration for the flourishing heavy industrial operations in the Ruhr area.
In the meantime, an international centre for trade and services has developed out of what was the 'Ruhr area's desk'. Around 5% of Germany's wholesale trade and 15% of its foreign trade takes place in Düsseldorf. Numerous German firms with branches abroad have their headquarters here. But more than 5,000 foreign companies have also established themselves in Düsseldorf, the Dutch and the Japanese leading the way. The 6,000 Japanese who are resident in Düsseldorf have also made their mark in terms of urban architecture. Around 50 consulates, almost as many foreign organizations for promoting the economy, trade and tourism and around 60 foreign banks are an explicit indication of the international significance of this city on the Rhine.
The 1.7 million neighbors in the surrounding parishes also count towards making Düsseldorf the economic centre it is; there are over 200,000 commuters on Düsseldorf's roads every day. But the city also attracts many people who come shopping in what is a fashion metropolis. Not only at Christmas time, but the whole year round, boulevards such as the exclusive KÖ and the profitable Schadowstrasse are magnets for shoppers. Fashions on offer here to a receptive public may well have just caused a stir among the 180,000 buyers at one of the fashion trade fairs, IGEDO or CPD. The 200,000 square meters of Düsseldorf's trade fair centre are booked up all the year round - whether for DRUPA, (the print and media fair), INTERPACK (packaging technology), BOOT (yachting and water sports), Caravan Salon, MEDICA or Reha (a special needs trade fair). More than 40 international specialist trade fairs are held here, including 23 which are leaders in their particular sector.
The Rhine-Ruhr Airport provides good connections to anywhere in the world: there are 184,000 take-offs and landings here per year. Besides, Düsseldorf is Germany's number 2 stock exchange and the capital of advertising. The city also occupies one of the top spots in the information and communications technology sector.
Düsseldorf, though, is not just about earning good money, and 25% more than the federal average at that. A rich cultural program is on offer in this city with its universities and academic institutions. It has an opera-house and theatre (Schauspielhaus), numerous private theatres, concert halls, museums and collections, and more than 100 galleries. And it is not only intellectual life that is provided for extremely well: the old town, the 'longest bar in the world', with over 260 pubs and other watering holes, invites you to try a particular specialty: top-fermented German dark beer (Altbier). You will have no doubts as to why it was this city that became the Land capital!!!
- Landtag of North Rhine-Westphalia Platz des Landtags 1, phone: 0049 (0)211 884-0
- Tourist Information Konrad-Adenauer-Platz
- Filmmuseum Düsseldorf Schulstraße 4
- Hetjens-Museum Schulstraße 4
- KÖ Königsallee
- Heinrich-Heine-Institut Bilker Straße 12-14
- Stadtmuseum Berger Allee 2
- Kunstsammlung NRW Grabbeplatz 5
- Städtische Kunsthalle Grabbeplatz 4
- Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus Gustaf-Gründgens-Platz 1
- Tonhalle Ehrenhof 1
- Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Mühlenstraße 29
- Deutsche Oper am Rhein Heinrich-Heine-Allee 16a
- Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf Ehrenhof 5
- Goethe-Museum Jacobistraße 2
Cover / Parliament Square / Lobby/ Visitors' Lift / Plenary Chamber /Industrial Monument Duisburg / Gasometer / City Gate - Bernd Schälte; Constitutional Court of Justice, Münster- VerfGH/OVG NRW, Münster; Ship lift at Henrichenburg - Annette Hudemann, Westfälisches Industriemuseum (Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe); Palace and Townhall of Bensberg - Klaus Daub, Stadt Bergisch-Gladbach; Ruhr University Bochum - Presseamt Ruhruniversität Bochum; Cathedral Window, Cologne - Dombauarchiv Köln, Matz u. Schenk; Windmill, Donsbrüggen - Stadt Kleve; Freudenberg - Stadt Freudenberg; Castle Vischering, Lüdinghausen - A. Lechtape, Lüdinghausen (Kreis Coesfeld); Oberhausen-Eisenheim - Museum für Industrie- und Sozialgeschichte (Landschaftsverband Rheinland); Cologne - Decker, KölnTourismus; Solingen-Gräfrath - Stadt Solingen; Schauspielhaus/Zollhof - Jürgen Knepper