Bundesrat of Germany


The German Bundesrat (literally ‘Federal Council’; ) is a legislative body that represents the sixteen ''
'' (federated states) of
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at the federal level (German: ''Bundesebene''). The Bundesrat meets at the former
Prussian House of Lords The Prussian House of Lords (german: Preußisches Herrenhaus) in Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inhabitants, as ...
Berlin Berlin ( , ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3.7 million inhabitants make it the European Union's List of cities in the European Union by populat ...

. Its second seat is located in the former West German capital of
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. The Bundesrat participates in legislation, alongside the
Bundestag The Bundestag (, "Federal Diet Diet may refer to: Food * Diet (nutrition), the sum of the food consumed by an organism or group * Dieting, the deliberate selection of food to control body weight or nutrient intake ** Diet food, foods that aid ...

, the directly elected representation of the people of Germany, with laws affecting state competences and all constitutional changes requiring the consent of the body. For its similar function, it is sometimes described as an upper house of parliament along the lines of the
United States Senate The United States Senate is the Upper house, upper chamber of the United States Congress, with the United States House of Representatives, House of Representatives being the Lower house, lower chamber. Together they compose the national Bica ...
, the
Canadian Senate The Senate of Canada (french: region=CA, Sénat du Canada) is the upper house of the Parliament of Canada. The Senate is modelled after the British House of Lords and consists of 105 members appointed by the Governor General of Canada, governor ...

Canadian Senate
or the
British House of Lords The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by appointment, heredity or official function. Like the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster ...

British House of Lords
. ''Bundesrath'' (from 1901 on: Bundesrat, according to a general spelling reform) was the name of similar bodies in the
North German Confederation The North German Confederation (german: Norddeutscher Bund) was the Germans, German federal state which existed from July 1867 to December 1870. The Confederation came into existence after the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 over the lordship of tw ...
(1867) and the
German Empire The German Empire or the Imperial State of Germany,, officially '.Herbert Tuttle Herbert Tuttle (1846–1894) was an American historian. Biography Herbert Tuttle was born in Bennington, Vermont Bennington is a New England town, town ...
(1871). Its predecessor in the
Weimar Republic The Weimar Republic (german: Weimarer Republik ) was the German state from 1918 to 1933 when it functioned as a federal constitutional republic. The state was officially named the German Reich (german: Deutsches Reich, link=no, label=none), a ...
(1919–1933) was the Reichsrat. The political makeup of the Bundesrat is affected by changes in power in the states of Germany, and thus by elections in each state. Each state delegation in the Bundesrat is essentially a representation of the state government and reflects the political makeup of the ruling majority or plurality of each state legislature (including coalitions). Thus, the Bundesrat is a continuous body and has no legislative periods. For organizational reasons, the Bundesrat structures its legislative calendar in years of business (''Geschäftsjahre''), beginning each year on 1 November. Each year of business is congruous with the one-year-term of the
presidium A presidium or praesidium is a council of executive officers in some political assemblies that collectively administers its business, either alongside an individual president or in place of one. Communist states In Communist states the presidiu ...
. The sessions have been counted continuously since the first session on 7 September 1949; on 12 February 2021, the Bundesrat held its 1000th session.


German Confederation

The historical predecessor of the Bundesrat was the Federal Convention (Confederate Diet) of the German Confederation (1815–1848, 1850/1851–1866). That Federal Convention consisted of the representatives of the member states. The first basic law (Bundesakte) of the German Confederation listed how many votes a member state had, for two different formations of the diet. The diet was the only organ, there was no division of powers. The diet was chaired by the Austrian representative. In the revolution year of 1848, the Bundestag transferred its powers to the Imperial Regent and was reactivated only in 1850/1851. In several other attempts to reform the Confederation, it was the idea to keep the Bundestag but install also a parliament and a court. One of these attempts, the (proposed) reform act of 1863, already introduced the term ''Bundesrath''. With the dissolution of the Confederation in August 1866, the diet and the federal law ended.

Bundesrat 1867–1918

On July 1, 1867, the North German Confederation was established as a
confederal state A confederation (also known as a confederacy or league) is a union of sovereign groups or states united for purposes of common action. Usually created by a treaty, confederations of states tend to be established for dealing with critical issu ...
. The Reichstag, elected by the North German men, was one legislative body. The other one was the Bundesrath (old spelling). This organ was expressly modelled after the old diet. When the Confederation was transformed and renamed ''Deutsches Reich'' (German Empire) in 1871, the Bundesrat kept its name. Whilst appointed by state governments just as today, the delegates of the original Bundesrat—as those of the Reichsrat—were usually high-ranking civil servants, not cabinet members. The original Bundesrat was very powerful; every bill needed its consent, equaling it to the popularly elected
Reichstag is a German word generally meaning parliament, more directly translated as ''Diet (assembly), Diet of the Realm'' or ''National diet'', or more loosely as ''Imperial Diet''. It may refer to: Buildings and places is the god specific German word ...
. It could also, with the Emperor's agreement, dissolve the Reichstag.

Weimar Republic

In the revolution of 1918, the revolutionary organ ''Rat der Volksbeauftragten'' limited the power of the Bundesrat to its administrative functions. A ''Staatenausschuss'' (committee of states) accompanied the reform of Germany but had no official role in installing the new constitution. Under that
Weimar Constitution The Constitution of the German Reich (german: Die Verfassung des Deutschen Reichs), usually known as the Weimar Constitution (''Weimarer Verfassung''), was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic era (1919–1933). The c ...

Weimar Constitution
, August 1, 1919, it was replaced by the Reichsrat (1919–1934). The Reichsrat of the Weimar Republic (1919–1934) had considerably less influence, since it could only veto bills—and even then be overruled by the Reichstag. However, overruling the Reichsrat needed a majority of two-thirds in the Reichstag, which consisted of many parties differing in opinion. So, in most cases, bills vetoed by the Reichsrat failed due to the lack of unity among the Reichstag's constituent parties. The Reichsrat was abolished by a national socialist law in 1934, roughly a year after Hitler had come to power.


From 1894 to 1933, the Bundesrat/Reichsrat met in the same building as the Reichstag, today known as ''
''. After 1949, the Bundesrat gathered in the '' Bundeshaus'' in Bonn, along with the Bundestag, at least most of the time. A wing of the Bundeshaus was specially built for the Bundesrat. In 2000, the Bundesrat moved to Berlin, as the Bundestag had done the year before. The Berlin seat of the Bundesrat is the former
Prussian House of Lords The Prussian House of Lords (german: Preußisches Herrenhaus) in Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inhabitants, as ...
building. The Bundesrat wing in Bonn is still used as a second seat.



For the Federal Diet of 1815, the basic law (Bundesakte) established two different formations. In the Plenary, for the most important decisions, every state had at least one vote. The larger states Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Hannover and Württemberg had each four votes, and the lesser states three or two. Of the 39 states, 25 had only one vote. The North German Confederation was a different entity than the German Confederation. But it can also be regarded as the brain child of a long lasting reform debate within the German Confederation. The new Bundesrat even referred to the old diet in art. 6, when it newly distributed the votes for the single states. Prussia with its original four votes received additionally the votes of the states it had annexed in 1866, i.e. Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Holstein, Nassau and Frankfurt, adding up to 17 votes. The total number of votes in 1867 was 43 votes. When the South German states joined in 1870/71, the revised federal constitutions allocated new votes for them. Bavaria had 6 votes, Württemberg 4, Baden 3 and (the whole of) Hesse-Darmstadt 3. The total number went up to 58 votes, and in 1911 with the three votes for Alsace-Lorraine to 61 votes. The Prussian votes remained 17. To put the Prussian votes in context: 80% of the North Germans lived in Prussia and roughly two thirds of the Germans. Prussia was always underrepresented in the Bundesrat.

Weimar Republic

The Reichsrat, as a first, had no fixed numbers of votes for the member states. Instead, it introduced the principle that the number depended on the actual number of inhabitants. Originally, for every 1 million of inhabitants the state had one vote. In 1921, this was reduced to 700,000. No state was allowed to have more than 40 percent of the votes. This was regarded as a ''clausula antiborussica'', counterbalancing the dominant position of Prussia which still provided roughly two thirds of the German population. Also since 1921, half of the Prussian votes were not cast by the Prussian state government but by the administrations of the Prussian provinces. For example, of the 63 votes in 1919, Prussia had 25 votes, Bavaria seven and Saxony five. 12 states had only 1 vote each.


The composition of the Bundesrat is different from other similar legislative bodies representing states (such as the Russian Federation Council or the
U.S. Senate The United States Senate is the Upper house, upper chamber of the United States Congress, with the United States House of Representatives, House of Representatives being the Lower house, lower chamber. Together they compose the national Bica ...
). Bundesrat members are not elected—either by popular vote or by the state parliaments—but are delegated by the respective state government. They do not enjoy a free mandate and serve only as long as they are representing their state, not for a fixed period of time. Normally, a state delegation consists of the Minister President (called Governing Mayor in Berlin, President of the Senate in Bremen and First Mayor in Hamburg) and other cabinet ministers (called senators in Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg). The state cabinet may appoint as many delegates as the state has votes (all other ministers/senators are usually appointed as deputy delegates), but may also send just a single delegate to exercise all of the state's votes. In any case, the state has to cast its votes ''en bloc'', i.e., without vote splitting. As state elections are not coordinated across Germany and can occur at any time, the majority distributions in the Bundesrat can change after any such election. The number of votes a state is allocated is based on a form of
degressive proportionality Degressive proportionality is an approach to the allocation (between regions, states or other subdivisions) of seats in a legislature or other decision-making body. Degressive proportionality means that while the subdivisions do not each elect an eq ...
according to its population. This way, smaller states have more votes than a distribution proportional to the population would grant. The allocation of votes is regulated by the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, German constitution (''Grundgesetz''). All of a state's votes are cast ''en bloc''—either for or against or in abstention of a proposal. Each state is allocated at least three votes, and a maximum of six. States with more than * 2 million inhabitants have 4 votes, * 6 million inhabitants have 5 votes, * 7 million inhabitants have 6 votes. By convention, SPD-led ''Länder'' are summarized as ''A-Länder'', while those with governments led by CDU or CSU are called ''B-Länder''.


In contrast to many other legislative bodies, the delegates to the Bundesrat from any one state are required to cast the votes of the state as a single bloc (since the votes are not those of the respective delegate). The delegates are not independent members of the Bundesrat but instructed representatives of the federated states' governments. If the members of a delegation cast different votes then the entire vote of the respective state is invalid. This tradition stems from the 1867 Bundesrat. The delegates of a state are equal to each other in the Bundesrat, hence the minister-president has no special rights compared to his ministers. But it is possible (and even customary) that one of the delegates (the ''Stimmführer'', "leader of the votes"—normally the minister-president) casts all votes of the respective state, even if the other members of the delegation are present. Because coalition governments are common, states frequently choose to Abstention, abstain if their coalition cannot agree on a position. As every decision of the Bundesrat requires a majority of the fixed allocated votes (i.e., majority of 69 = 35 votes in favour), not just a majority of votes cast or a majority of delegates present, abstaining has the same effect as voting against a proposal. Between 1949 and 1990, West Berlin was represented by four members, elected by its Senate of Berlin, Senate, but owing to the city's ambiguous West Berlin#Legal status, legal status, they did not have voting rights.


Originally from 1867 to 1918, the Bundesrat was chaired by the chancellor, although he was not a member and had no vote. This tradition was kept to a degree when since 1919 the Reichsrat still had to be chaired by a member of the imperial government (often the minister of the interior). Since 1949, the presidency rotates annually among the Minister president (Germany), Ministers President of each of the States of Germany, states. This is fixed by the Königsteiner Abkommen, starting with the federated state with the largest population going down. On the other hand, the office of the vice-president started with the federated state with the smallest population going up. The President of the Bundesrat convenes and chairs plenary sessions of the body and is formally responsible for representing Germany in matters of the Bundesrat. He or she is aided by two Vice Presidents who play an advisory role and deputise in the president's absence; the predecessor of the current President is first, his successor second Vice President. The three together make up the Bundesrat's executive committee. The President of the Bundesrat ("Bundesratspräsident"), is fourth in the order of precedence after the Federal President, the President of the Bundestag (No 2 just for ceremonies of interior character – otherwise No 3)., the Chancellor (No. 2 for ceremonies of exterior character) and before the President of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, Federal Constitutional Court. The President of the Bundesrat becomes acting Federal President of Germany, in case that the office of the Federal President should be vacant.

Organizational structure

Because the Bundesrat is so much smaller than the Bundestag, it does not require the extensive organizational structure of the Bundestag. The Bundesrat typically schedules plenary sessions once a month for the purpose of voting on legislation prepared in committee. In comparison, the Bundestag conducts about fifty plenary sessions a year. The voting Bundesrat delegates themselves rarely attend committee sessions; instead, they delegate that responsibility to civil servants from their ministries, as allowed for in the Basic Law (art. 52,2). The delegates themselves tend to spend most of their time in their state capitals, rather than in the federal capital. The delegations are supported by the ''Landesvertretungen'', which function basically as embassy, embassies of the states in the federal capital.


The legislative authority of the Bundesrat is subordinate to that of the Bundestag, but it nonetheless plays a vital legislative role. The federal government must present all its legislative initiatives first to the Bundesrat; only thereafter can a proposal be passed to the Bundestag. Further, the Bundesrat must approve all legislation affecting policy areas for which the Basic Law grants the Länder concurrent powers and for which the Länder must administer federal regulations. This approval (''Zustimmung'') requires a majority of actively used "yes" votes, so that a state coalition with a divided opinion on a bill votes—by its abstention—effectively against the bill. The Bundesrat has increased its legislative responsibilities over time by successfully arguing for a broad, rather than a narrow, interpretation of what constitutes the range of legislation affecting Land interests. In 1949, only 10 percent of all federal laws, namely, those directly affecting the Länder, required Bundesrat approval. In 1993 close to 60 percent of federal legislation required the Bundesrat's assent. The Basic Law also provides the Bundesrat with an absolute veto of such legislation. Constitutional changes require an approval with majority of two thirds of all votes in Bundestag and Bundesrat, thus giving the Bundesrat an absolute veto against constitutional change. Against all other legislation the Bundesrat has a suspensive veto (''Einspruch''), which can be overridden by passing the law again, but this time with 50% plus one vote of all Bundestag members, not just by majority of votes cast, which is frequent in daily parliamentary business. Because most legislation is passed by a coalition that has such an absolute majority in the Bundestag, this kind of suspensive veto rarely stops legislation. As an added provision, however, a law vetoed with a majority of two thirds must be passed again with a majority of two thirds in the Bundestag. The ''Einspruch'' has to be passed with active "no" votes, so that abstentions count as votes against the veto, i.e. to let the law pass. If the absolute veto is used, the Bundesrat, the Bundestag, or the government can convene a joint committee to negotiate a compromise. That compromise cannot be amended and both chambers (Bundesrat and Bundestag) are required to hold a final vote on the compromise as is. The political power of the absolute veto is particularly evident when the opposition party or parties in the Bundestag have a majority in the Bundesrat, which was the case almost constantly between 1991 and 2005. Whenever this happens, the opposition can threaten the government's legislative program. Such a division of authority can complicate the process of governing when the major parties disagree, and, unlike the Bundestag, the Bundesrat cannot be dissolved under any circumstances. Such stalemates are not unlike those that may be experienced under cohabitation (government), cohabitation in other countries.


Some observers claim that the opposing majorities lead to an increase in backroom politics, where small groups of high-tier leaders make all the important decisions and the Bundestag representatives have a choice only between agreeing with them or not getting anything done at all. The German "Federalism commission (Germany), Federalism Commission" was looking into this issue, among others. There have been frequent suggestions of replacing the ''Bundesrat'' with a US-style elected Senate,''Zur Reform des Bundesrates - Lehren eines internationalen Vergleiches der Zweiten Kammern - II. Reform des Bundesrates - welches Vorbild?''
Roland Sturm, Federal Agency for Civic Education which would be elected at the same date as the ''Bundestag''. This is hoped to increase the institution's popularity, reduce Land bureaucracy influence on legislation, make opposing majorities less likely, make the legislative process more transparent, and generally set a new standard of democratic, rather than bureaucratic leadership. Other observers emphasize that different majorities in the two legislative bodies ensure that all legislation, when approved, has the support of a broad political spectrum, a particularly valuable attribute in the aftermath of unification, when consensus on critical policy decisions is vital. The formal representation of the states in the federal government, through the ''Bundesrat'', provides an obvious forum for the coordination of policy between the states and the federal government. The need for such coordination, particularly given the specific, crucial needs of the eastern states, has become only more important. Supporters of the Bundesrat claim that the ''Bundesrat'' serves as a control mechanism on the Bundestag in the sense of a system of Separation of powers#Checks and balances, checks and balances. Since the executive and legislative functions are closely intertwined in any parliamentary system, the ''Bundesrat''s ability to revisit and slow down legislative processes is often seen as making up for that loss of separation.

See also

* Presidium of the Bundesrat * Federalism in Germany * Politics of Germany * Composition of the German State Parliaments



External links

* *:de:Liste der Mitglieder des deutschen Bundesrates, Members of the Bundesrat (German Wikipedia) *:de:A- und B-Länder, A- und B-Länder (German Wikipedia) {{DEFAULTSORT:Bundesrat Of Germany 1949 establishments in West Germany Legislative branch of the Government of Germany,