Changes in procedures as a result of corona
Parliamentary business is proceeding according to the timtetable so far, with no cancellations or prorogation. However, both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, as well as state parliaments, adapted to the new restrictions. Smaller sessions in state parliaments were held, balanced to proportionally represent each party, and planning went ahead for online sessions to take place in some states.
As the Spiegel reported, parliament is in corona crisis mode. Politicians sit a safe distance from each other, the restaurant and visitors’ service are closed, and whenever a speaker spoke in the plenary, the desk surface was wiped with a cloth afterwards. The Spiegel commented that “there has been astonishing pragmatism among the six parliamentary groups in the Bundestag for days. The change in the parliamentary rules of procedure for the crisis period, for example, was supported by everyone – including the AfD – on (the day the Corona package of laws was passed).”
The comment about the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) was significant, because up to then the party had flouted the rules. They ignored social distancing in the Bundestag and in state parliaments, which had decided to hold plenary sessions with only a fifth of the members in the future. The party even forced the Saxony parliament to convene a full session in March, instead of the smaller session that was planned.
Sitting days and agenda
The next sitting week for the Bundestag is planned to be 20th – 24th April; the week that schools are supposed to return after the Easter holidays (but may not, due to the corona crisis). State parliaments will also sit again after the Easter holidays; some have had special sittings this week to deal with Corona-related measures.
Information about what is happening in the Bundestag on a daily basis (including in committees and parliamentary questions) can be found in the ‘Heute im Bundestag’ section of the Bundestag website (in German) here. The timetable can be found here and agendas and sittings under ‘Tagesordnungen und Sitzungsverlauf’ here.
The next sitting week for the Bundesrat is 27th – 30th April, when the committees will be sitting. A plenary session is planned for 15th May.
What’s going on in the Bundestag
Politically motivated crime increasing
A written question from the Green party elicited information about the level of politically motivated crime, which has increased. 41,175 politically motivated crimes were recorded last year, an increase from 36,062 in 2018 and 39,505 in 2017.
As far as right wing crime in concerned, a total of 22,337 offences were reported in 2019, compared to 20,431 in 2018 and 20,520 in 2017. Anti-semitic crimes also increased, with 2032 recorded in 2019 compared to 1,799 in 2018.
However, right- extremist violent crimes declined, from 1156 in 2018 to 986 in 2019.
Attacks on refugees
In answer to a question from the Left Party, the government said that there had been 280 politically motivated attacks on refugees and asylum seekers in the fourth quarter of 2019, as well as 23 on refugee accommodation, and a further 23 on aid organisations and volunteers.
In an answer to a Left Party question, the government said that the first harvest of cannabis grown in Germany for medicinal purposes is expected this year: 2,600 kilograms of medicinal cannabis flowers per year will be grown and delivery is expected to start in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Temporary adjustment to working hours law
The Handelsblatt reported that a government regulation suspending the Working Hours Law until June for certain professions was being drawn up by the Ministries for Labour and Health: “In order to cope with this exceptional emergency, which has nationwide effects, longer working hours, shorter rest periods and the employment of employees on Sundays and public holidays may be necessary for certain activities for a limited time.” The Covid 19 Working Time Ordinance will cover employees in the manufacturing, packaging and storage of everyday goods, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, as well as agriculture, energy and water supply, pharmacies and medical supply stores, money and value transports or data and network management.
Amendment to marriage and birth name law
Under current law, only the birth name or the name of a spouse can be registered as a married name – double names are not allowed. when a child is born, double names are also not allowed – the parents much choose their marriage name or one of the parents’s names as the surname of their child.
The FDP group has proposed a draft amendment to the Civil Code making it possible possible to set a double name as a married name, and enable a double name for a child.
Decrease in plastic bag use
Government figures given in answer to an FDP question showed that while 2.07 billion lightweight plastic carrier bags were bought in 2016, this number had fallen to 1.25 billion in 2017.
What’s going on in state parliaments
In Berlin, a question from a Left Party politician elicited interesting information about rising homelessness in the capital. According to figures provided by the Berlin Senat, 36,271 homeless people had been provided with temporary accommodation in 2018 compared to 16,696 in 2015. 59% of these people were non-EU citizens.
The North Rhine Westphalian parliament was still sitting this week. Last week, a bill relating to the management of the Covid-19 pandemic passed its first reading; on Thursday, committees met to discuss detail and a plenary session of parliament debated the law, which creates “a set of rules for determining special powers to act in the context of an epidemic situation of national or national scope.”
Likewise, a special plenary session was called in Saxony on Thursday to debate the emergency situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and approve an exception to the prohibition of new debt stipulated in the state constitution. A two-third majority was needed for this.
The Rheinland-Pfalz government announced that committees can now be held via video conferencing, due to the corona crisis.
In Brandenburg, two emergency sessions of committees met via video. The Committee on Social Affairs, Health, Integration and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Home Affairs and Municipalities met on Thursday in connection with the corona pandemic.
In Baden-Württemberg, a special meeting of the Committee on Economic Affairs, Labor and Housing approved a 6 million euro grant for the development of a rapid Corona test by a company in the region.