A round up of what’s going on in the Bundestag, Bundesrat and state parliaments
The Bundestag returned after the summer break this week, while some of the state parliaments either had plenary sittings or committee hearings.
Right-extremism and hate crime
On Wednesday, the first sitting day of the plenary, the Bundestag honoured the police who had defended the Reichstag when it was stormed by right-extremists during a demonstration against the corona regulations a week ago. Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble said, “The Bundestag is the symbol of freedom and democracy and must be sacrosanct.”
MPs from one party remained sitting during the standing ovation – the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
On Thursday, the Tagesspiegel reported the reaction of the police federation spokesman: “I can’t explain what was going on in the heads of the AfD MPs, especially since this party usually sends
different signals to the police…..There seems to be an expectation that police officers will be satisfied with pithy slogans, while real commitment to the emergency services as people are missing.”
On Thursday the government coalition partners, the CDU/CSU Union and the SPD, held a debate entitled, “No tolerance for the enemies of democracy: Fighting extremism, Strengthening the police and the judiciary.” Günter Krings (CDU), Parliamentary State Secretary for the Ministry of the Interior said, “We pursue right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism, left-wing extremism and Islamism equally with the necessary severity and consistency.” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) said about the corona demonstrations that she was tired of the fact that an extremely loud extremist minority received so much attention, while the broad majority, who are not vocal, show solidarity. She thanked the police officers who resolutely stand in the way of the extremists.
For the AfD, Gottfried Curio said it was fake news when “a photo session on the Reichstag stairs with the waving of international flags” is inflated to “storming the Reichstag,” and that “this lying to the population must come to an end. This storm on the Reichstag was just a storm in a glass of water.” A Green politician accused the AfD of not separating itself from the right-wing extremists. “The documented attempt of several hundred people to force their way into this building; from a demo to which you mobilized on a massive scale, where your people from your parliamentary group were there – and you do not distance yourself.”
That the greatest danger in Germany is currently from right-wing extremists was agreed by all the parties except the AfD.
Investigative committee into right-extremsism in Mecklenburg Vorpommerania
A parliamentary investigative committee to gather information on right-wing extremist structures in Mecklenburg Vorpommerania met again on Friday. The parliamentary committee of inquiry, which began last year, is trying to trace the activities of the right-wing terrorist “National Socialist Underground” (NSU) in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and examining the investigations of the authorities. Other federal and state parliamentary committees had already brought to light significant deficiencies in the work of the security authorities.
Anti-German hate crime
In June this year, in a report on politically motivated crime statistics, the Interior Minister Horst Seehofer noted that on January 1, 2019, a new category had been introduced : “Anti-German.” This, noted the Spiegel, is politically charged, “..anti-German” is mainly used in right-wing extremist or right-wing populist milieus: For Pegida, for example, ‘all politicians who do not protect the German people are anti-German’…… A prominent representative of the Bavarian scene called for ‘enemies of Germany to be killed in self-defence’. In a 2016 manifesto of the Bavarian Reichsbürger Movement, these enemies are specifically named: Journalists, political puppets, anti-German lawyers and employees in authorities who are Jews or are controlled by Jews. Now, of all things, this term has made it into the official crime statistics.” The police in each state are responsible for assigning the crimes which are “anti-German.”
This week, written questions from Left Party politicians in the Berlin Senate, under the heading ‘Battle term of the extreme right in police statistics’, attempted to get some clarification about what is deemed anti-German.
Bundestag committee elections
The AfD put up three candidates for committees, all of whom were rejected. AfD candidates are regularly voted down by the other parties because of their extreme views.
Scholz under pressure
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who was recently nominated as the SPD’ s Chancellor candidate, had a busy day on Wednesday. Scholz is currently under pressure about two financial scandals: Cum-Ex and Wirecard. In the case of Cum-Ex, Scholz has admitted to have had more intensive contacts with the Hamburg’s Warburg Bank than he had previously said, and there have been questions about why Hamburg tax authorities waived the repayment of 47 million euros from the bank in 2016, when Scholz was Mayor of Hamburg. In the case of Wirecard, the collapse of the company exposed significant flaws in Germany’s system of financial regulation, overseen by the Finance Ministry. There have been questions about what the ministry knew about Wirecard and a committee of inquiry has been requested by the FDP, Left Party and Green Party.
Scholz took questions in the Finance Committee on Wednesday morning, then questions for the government from the floor of the Bundestag, and then participated in an hour long debate later in the afternoon.
An FDP politician asked how, in 2016 when Scholz was Mayor of Hamburg, the Hamburg tax authorities did not reclaim up to 90 million euros from “criminal cum-ex deals.” Scholz replied that he supported all activities to clear up the illegal cum-ex deals; at the same time, the Hamburg tax authority had acted independently, according to the law. “There shouldn’t be any political intervention and there wasn’t in Hamburg either.”
A Left Party politician asked whether Scholz thought that the Hamburg SPD should pay back donations it received from Warburg Bank, while a Green Party politician asked about Scholz’s possible influence on the Hamburg tax office, since he had admitted that he had met the co-owner of Warburg Bank, Christian Olearius, three times: “Can there be so much coincidence?”
Later, in the debate about Cum-X, Scholz came under severe pressure from the other parties over his contacts with Warburg bank representative Olearius, and was accused of having deceived the Bundestag. He rejected criticisms, and said that politicians have responsibility to meet with many in society. “The question is not whether we will meet, but whether we can be impressed and influenced,” said Scholz. “I want to say, I can be very stubborn.” There was no political influence on the decision of the Hamburg tax office – “neither from me nor from others. I’m very, very sure about that,” said Scholz. As a member of parliament and as mayor, he has always remained true to questions about the bank levy and taxes.
Scholz said that new paragraph 375a will be inserted into the tax code, which should enable public prosecutors to collect the Cum-X profits of banks and other parties involved after a conviction.
German media as well as opposition politicians certainly think that there are more questions to be answered: “long speeches without gaining knowledge,” wrote the Handelsblatt, and the Süddeutsche Zeitung that Scholz wants “to be perceived as a flawless politician – but this picture is currently cracking.” Although the Tagesschau praised Scholz’s calm presence under questioning, “the way to the Chancellorship will remain rocky for Scholz. Not only because the SPD is still weak. But also for the finance minister personally.”
On Friday, the government coalition partners introduced draft legislation to introduce a lobby register for those who represent interests in the Bundestag. A code of conduct that defines the principles of honest representation of interests and specifies a public complaint procedure in the event of violations will also be introduced, as well as the creation of an administrative offence in the event of violations of mandatory registration.This comes against the background of a long running debate about lack of transparency, and, in June, a fierce debate about young CDU star Philipp Amthor, who was found to have been working for a US Artificial Intelligence firm.
Following the outbreaks of corona in meat processing factories in the spring, which exposed the living and working conditions of often foreign workers, Employment Minister Hubertus Heil promised regulation in the meat industry on Thursday in a debate on the government’s draft for an Occupational Safety and Health Control Act. The draft law bans service contracts and temporary work in large meat factories, enforces stricter requirements for shared accommodation for employees and coordinates and intensifies safety controls.
Heil warned against letting the industry lobbyists water down the present draft. The AfD criticised the ‘interference in entrepreneurial freedom’ and the FDP criticised the ban on temporary work, while the Left Party said that fines of a maximum of 30,000 euros would be laughed at by billionaire company owners.
In Schleswig Holstein, the Social Committee continued a series of hearings on the industry in the state.
In further bad news for the meat industry, it was reported that a case of swine flu has been discovered in Germany, and there new fears that stopping exports outside the EU, particularly to China (where a quarter of German pork is exported to), will hit agriculture hard.
Moria refugee camp
A Left Party initiated debate on Friday on the refugees in Moria showed splits debtween the parties, and between the governing coalition partners. The leader of the Left Party’s parliamentary group, Dietmar Bartsch, demanded that 13,000 refugees from the camp be bought to Germany, unless other countries are ready to accept them, saying ” the values of the EU went up in flames in Moria.” The CSU’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer repeated that Germany will take 150 unaccompanied minors, and that a European-level solution must be found. But there is not unity within the CDU/CSU Union either – on Thursday, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag and candidate for the CDU chairmanship, Norbert Röttgen, and 15 other Union MPs wrote to Seehofer to persuade him to agree to accept 5000 migrants and refugees from Moria.
For the SPD, Ute Vogt said that all 13,000 refugees from the camp should now be quickly distributed to EU countries and accused the EU Commission of a policy of delay; that is shameful, she said.
The Greens accused the German government of failing because it did not give the asylum issue priority during the EU Council Presidency. The AfD group opposed admitting people in need from Lesbos, asking why Germany should reward economic refugees and blackmailers, while the FDP argued that that Germany should not go it alone, snd that the EU had failed.
The tax estimate is an important basis for the federal budget which Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will present to the cabinet in September. The Finance Ministry announced this week that around 30 billion less tax income than expected in May will be taken this year. At the same time, to finance the corona aid packages – such as sales tax cuts, family bonuses and support for companies – the government plans to take on up to 217.8 billion euros in new debt this year. However the Finance Ministry has said that Germany is financially well positioned despite the Corona crisis. Income shortfalls in the forecast period 2021-2024 compared to the May tax estimate are due in particular to the tax relief which is intended to secure the liquidity of citizens and companies.
Hospital investment programme
The government published a draft bill for the investment of more than four billion euros in hospitals. The federal government will provide three billion euros, and the states are to contribute 1.3 billion euros. The money is to be used for modern emergency centers and digitalisation.
Promotion of e-cars
On Wednesday the government introduced a bill to amend the Motor Vehicle Tax Act (19/20978). The draft law was then referred to the lead finance committee for further discussion. The core of the draft law is an extension of the ten-year vehicle tax exemption for all-electric vehicles registered for the first time by the end of 2025. The tax exemption is limited to December 31, 2030.
The Human Rights Committee took evidence on the situation in Belarus: a Foreign Office representative said that the situation is “dramatic” but that there are few very opportunities to influence the authorities in Belarus. The government sees the prospect of constitutional reform or new elections as a “diversionary manoeuvre” and think that the decisive question is how Russia will ultimately position itself. So far Russia has been providing “hybrid assistance” – for example by sending Russian journalists to replace striking Belarusian editors on state television or by supporting Lukashenko’s security forces:”Russia’s goal is certainly to end Belarus’ relative independence.”
German troops in Mali
Both the Left Party and the Alternative for Germany tabled motions to withdraw the Bundeswehr from Mali immediately”. The motions were sent to the Foreign Affairs Committee for further advice. German troops have been involved in two missions in Mali since 2013. Germany’s constitution states that a German army is for the purpose of defence; the definition if defence was expanded later to include crisis reaction and conflict prevention. The defence debate in Germany is moving towards greater Germany involvement in multilateral missions, particularly under Defence Secretary Annegretr Kramp-Karrenbaur; yet defence is still controversial and disputed.
Berlin’s Transport Authority joke falls flat with AfD
The BVG, Berlin’s Transport Authority, is known for its humorous advertising campaigns. A joke it made fell flat with the Alternative for Germany (AfD), however, and the party submitted a written question about it to the Berlin Senate this week.
Two weeks ago a poster had referred to schoolchildren’s return to school after the summer holidays with “Go to school, please! Attention, school cones are back on the train today.” (School cones packed with school supplies and sweets are what first graders receive when they start school.) The poster had pictures of different cones for different U-bahn lines, including a joint for the U1, which offended the AfD. In its written response, the Senate said that, “The picture refers to it in a humorous and pointed way and certainly falls under the freedom of opinion and artistic freedom of the BVG.”
Pop-up bike lanes in Berlin ruled illegal
Following a complaint by AfD MPs in the state of Berlin, the Berlin administrative court decided this week that eight pop-up bike lanes should be removed. “This is a victory for individual mobility against car hatred,” said one if the AfD politicians, while a CDU politician said that the verdict was “a fiasco” and that, “It remains a mistake to only listen to bike lobbyists and ignore the interests of residents and other road users. “
Calendar and information
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 Bundestag calendar also includes sitting dates of the sate parliaments.
The next sitting week for the Bundestag is next week, 14th – 18th September.
The politikonline political glossary can be found here.