Information in English
How is Parliament elected?
Every five years at least 181 members are elected in a general, equal, direct, secret and free election to North Rhine-Westphalia's State Parliament, also named "Landtag Nordrhein-Westfalen". Any German citizen who has reached the age of majority and has lived in North Rhine-Westphalia for at least 16 days is entitled to vote. Anyone who is entitled to vote is also eligible for public office and is entitled to stand as a candidate for Landtag elections. Exception: He or she must have been resident in NRW for at least 3 months.
"Personalized proportional representation" is the term political scientists use to describe the election system in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is a combination of proportional representation and majority voting. It is their proportion of the total number of votes cast (system of proportional voting) which determines the size of the parties' representation in the parliament, i.e. the seats they are entitled to. On the other hand, anyone who takes a seat in the party-entitlement is elected predominantly by the majority voting system.
This is how it's done: each citizen who is entitled to vote has two votes which he gives to a candidate in his constituency and to a political party. The person who wins the most votes in the constituency is elected. This is the way 128 members are elected to the parliament. But at the same time, the second vote is also a vote for a political party and therefore allows a calculation to be done of the number of seats won by the parties according to their proportion of the total number of votes cast. If a party receives more seats than it has successful direct candidates, it fills these leftover seats with candidates from the reserve list. Naturally, parties which have no successful direct candidates fall back on this list straight away. If, however, a party wins more direct seats than it is entitled to seats according to the proportional distribution, the Landtag is enlarged - and by just as many seats as is necessary to restore the relative weighting between the parties. However, only parties who win at least 5% of the votes cast may be represented in parliament.
How does legislation work?
When the State Parliament (Landtag) passes a law, a legislative procedure which usually lasts several monthsends. It always begins with a detailed legislative proposal being submitted in writing, which, besides the new legal text, also contains an exhaustive justification and, if necessary, information on possible consequences for the municipalities (Kommunen).
The State government (Land), the parliamentary groups and groups consisting of at least seven Members of Parliament have the right to table such a legislative proposal to the Landtag for deliberation. In coordination 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 explains the reasons for introducing it. During this First Reading, if the bill is politically sensitive, there is usually a fundamental debate about the law.In general, the debate ends with the draft bill being referred to the appropriate parliamentary committee and further committees, which may also become involved in the advisory process.
At that moment detailed work for the experts in the individual parliamentary groups begins. External experts are often brought in to evaluate the legislative proposals. They provide statements during so-called "hearings" and contribute to a decision-making process which is right and proper. Preparations for the expert committees also take place at the level of working groups of the respective parliamentary groups. Weekly meetings of the parliamentary groups 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 and being debated afresh on the basis of the committee report. Then every Member of Parliament has another opportunity to table amendments. This Second Reading, once members have decided which tabled amendments to accept, usually finishes with a final vote on the draft law.
Constitutional changes and budgetary laws are passed in three Readings. However, even for other proposed legislation, a parliamentary group or a quarter of all Members of Parliament can apply for a Third Reading and, if necessary, further committee consultations.
A 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 and publish the final text in the Official Journal (Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt). The date the law comes into force is usually determined by the legislation itself. In most cases this is the day after its publication in the Official Journal.
What is the difference between State and Federal Government in Germany?
The competence of legislation is split between the 16 State Parliaments (Landtage) and the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag). For all matters which directly affect the Federal Republic (Bund) as a whole - such as foreign and defense policy, currency issues, atomic policy, the postal and telecommunications services - the Bundestag in Berlin has sole and exclusive power to legislate. In these areas, the German states (Länder), are involved in legislation only through a second chamber, the Bundesrat. The 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 Länder or the Bund, however, applies to only a few areas. The vast majority of legislative matters are subject to what is known as 'concurrent legislation': The Landtag may enact laws, but only as long as it is provided that the 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 require a federal approach, the national legislature takes action. The same applies for criminal law and the penal system, commercial and employment law, and transport and waste disposal. The German constitution (Grundgesetz) lists the areas of concurrent legislation. At the same time, the constitution names those areas for which the Bund provides a framework law (Rahmengesetz). With this, the Bundestag marks out the boundaries within which the Landtage may then pass laws autonomously, for instance, regarding the higher education system or environmental protection.
Which 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 in the town of 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.