Parliamentary Digest 24th April

Timetable

The Bundestag was sitting this week. 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 Bundestag is 4th – 7th May.

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. Information about the plenary sessions of the Bundesrat can be found here and information about its responsibilities here.

A short guide in English about how legislation is passed in Germany can be found here and the Rules of Procedure in Parliament here.

What’s going on in the Bundestag

On Thursday, Angela Merkel gave a speech in which she revisited ideas she had expressed on Monday criticising some states for ‘opening debate orgies’ – intense discussions about loosening of the corona restrictions.

She said the situation was still critical and warned some states not to proceed too fast with loosening restrictions; the Tagesschau commented that, “She kept to herself which federal states she had in mind. But there is little doubt that she was thinking not least of North Rhine-Westphalia and thus of her party friend Armin Laschet. The SPD-governed Rhineland-Palatinate has also recently been criticised.”

A Spiegel Journalist tweeted a gif of Merkel listening to FDP leader Lindner in the Bundestag

The Taggespiegel reported that the government is preparing a second package of ‘Corona Laws’, which will be passed in Cabinet next week and be debated in the Bundestag on 7th May. The draft law includes provisions for people to be tested for the virus at the expense of their health insurers even if they have no symptoms; an increase in tests to 4 and a half million a week; stricter reporting requirements; and more preventative testing in care homes.

In questions to the government on Wednesday, the government announced that the first load of protective equipment from China was on the way. In answer to a question about lack of clarity about whether people are required to wear face masks, the Minister of Transport replied that the federal states have made their own decisions (all states have now announced a requirement to wear masks on public transport; and some in shops).

The first reading of a draft government law for the measures relating to child allowance due to the Covid 19 pandemic (for example, where people are earning less money) took place on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the government agreed to increase the amount of short work money (money paid to employees who are temporarily laid off). Both the Left Part and Green Party wanted to go further and initiated a debate to increase the amount of short work money. The Left Party wanted the short work money to be retrospectively increased to 90 percent of net wages retrospectively as of March 1 and for employees who receive the statutory minimum wage to be paid 100 percent of their net wages as short-time work benefits. These requests were referred by the Bundestag to the Labour and Social Affairs Committee.

A Green Party motion on “a solidary and human rights-based new start in European refugee policy”, which would abolish the Dublin Agreement (asylum procedures would be carried out entirely after distribution in each EU member state; all asylum seekers would be distributed and admitted in a fair asylum procedure) was referred to the Home Affairs Committee.

The Green Party submitted a draft bill to mitigate the consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic (Covid 19 bankruptcy consequences mitigation law). It states that regulations should now be swiftly put in place to make it easier for debtors to rationally weigh up the chances and risks of the insolvency proceedings to deal with the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic.

The Greens and the Left Party both submitted motions calling on the federal government to extend the Corona rescue package to students and young researchers, through emergency aid support. Students have so far not been included in the government’s extensive financial aid programme.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) submitted a motion asking for a lessening of the corona restrictions: “A continuation of the strict ‘shutdowns’ jeopardizes the future prospects of millions of the working population, including those of the low earners, in the short term.”

It called for catering facilities, hotels and shops regardless of size to be opened. as well as religious services and theatres and museums. The party was criticised for its stance in the Bundestag debate on the restrictions and the motion was denied.

Committees

The Committee on Legal Affairs announced that a hearing on the coalition government’s draft law to combat right-wing extremism and hate crime will take place on May 6th.

The Tourism Committee heard that the government is also working on a voucher model for companies in the travel industry in order to save providers from reimbursing the costs of cancelled bookings. As far as events are concerned, the Bundestag will decide whether tickets that have already been paid for cancelled events can be converted into vouchers.

In a sign of a new ways of doing things in corona times, a meeting of the commission into “Vocational Training in the Digital Working World” was held online on Monday. The committee is investigating modernisation options for an examination system of the future and the changing requirements of a changing world of work due to digitalisation.

Questions

In answer to a ‘Große Anfrage‘ from the AfD (a ‘Major Question’ is a question which can be asked by a party or group of more than 5% of MPs, and is an important instrument since the government’s response can be discussed in a plenary session of the Bundestag), the government stated that the number of foreigners in Germany has increased by almost 2.91 million since 2014 (from more than 8.15 million in late 2014 to more than 11.06 million in mid-2019). There are almost 4.84 million EU citizens and around 6.22 million third-country nationals. The five main countries people come from are Turkey, Poland, Syria, Romania and Italy. Around 1.77 million people who subsequently applied for asylum came to Germany between January 2014 and the first half of 2019.

In answer to a ‘Kleine Anfrage‘ from the FDP (a Minor Questions is a written question which can be submitted by an MP or parliamentary party), the government wrote that the government spent a total of around 12 billion euros on research and development in the health sector between 2015 and 2019. One of the research priorities has been pathogens with pandemic potential.

What’s going on in state parliaments

State parliaments met this week to legally enact the loosening of the restrictions that was agreed nationally last week. While each parliament are implementing the laws differently, the overall objectives remain the same.

In Hamburg, two months after the election which the SPD won with 39.2%, coalition negotiations between the SPD and the Greens (who won 24.2%) have only just begun, reported the Welt. The start to the negotiations, which should have begun on March 16th, was delayed because of the corona virus.

The taz reported that Amrin Laschet is pushing through speedy school openings in North-Rhine Westphalia, against massive protest in the state. While schools can open from 4th May, not all states will open all classes on that day. WDR also reported that NRW will allow religious services to take place from 1st May.

The (AfD) asked the Berlin government about ‘spying’ and use of mobile phone data to combat the corona virus. In an answer to a written question, the Berlin Senat stated that it has no information on the central storage of mobile phone movement data and referred the party to the legal framework.

In an answer from the FDP about the spread of the virus in refugee accommodation (which has been reported in the media), the Berlin Senat stated that, “According to media reports, at least 74 people out of the 20,576 refugees in the 74 community accommodations and 9 reception facilities in Berlin – as of March 23, 2020 – have been shown to be infected with the corona virus.” It said that as for all Berliners, the measures adopted to contain the Corona virus also apply to refugees. It added that it had implemented additional measures such as meals being eaten individually in rooms instead of in the central dining room and a reduction in the staff so that additional staff are available if necessary to ensure operation at all times with a minimum staffing.

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