Germany

   

Executive Accountability

#6
Key Findings
Despite a few recent oversight challenges, Germany falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 6) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have sufficient resources and strong executive-oversight powers, with the latter recently reconfirmed by the courts. The Federal Court of Audit is well-funded and powerful. A parliamentary committee serving an ombuds function has limited importance.

Citizens demonstrate a low to average level of political knowledge, reflecting declining interest in political and parliamentary debates. Young people have particularly low levels of political knowledge. However, public broadcasters do offer in-depth political reporting, and their market share has stabilized in recent years. Trust in the media is relatively high by international standards.

Decisions within the main political parties are made largely by top party elites. Employers’ organizations and unions are powerful and sophisticated. Other interest groups are increasingly influential, particularly at the local level.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#16

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
6
Empirical analyses of German citizens’ level of political knowledge point to inconsistencies. On the one hand, the supply of independent political information is high. Germany has a diversified media-ownership structure and comparatively pluralistic and decentralized television and radio markets. The internet has become an increasingly important medium for citizens to gather information. Broadcasters, radio stations and newspapers have adapted to the new circumstances by providing a great deal of their services online. Nevertheless, television news programs are the main source of information for most citizens. According to one survey, around half of the population watches a news program every day.

However, a 2014 survey by the Bertelsmann Stiftung indicates a dramatic decline in public interest in politics and in parliamentary debates in particular. Only 25% of the respondents expressed interest in politics and regularly followed debates (compared to about 50% 30 years ago). Furthermore, only about 50% of respondents knew that the grand coalition consists of the CDU/CSU and SPD. In addition, decreasing confidence in parties and politicians is undermining the motivation to stay informed.

Younger people in particular were unable to mention any parliamentary debate they followed with interest. In addition, policy knowledge depends strongly on the social status of a person’s family and their socioeconomic environment. Schools are not able to compensate for socioeconomic deficiencies (Bundestag 2017).

Compared to other European countries such as the United Kingdom, German citizens’ knowledge of politics is substantially lower.

Citations:
Bundestag (2017): Politisches Bewusstsein von Kindern und Jugendlichen sowie ihre politische Beteiligung. Online: https://www.bundestag.de/blob/531098/1b8f7a13a4e384584fefcbcb07e6c28d/wd-9-035-17–pdf-data.pdf

https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/153820/umfrage/allgemeines-vertrauen-in-die-parteien/

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundestag-nur-wenige-buerger-interessieren-sich-fuers-parlament-a-1006678.html

http://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/de/themen/aktuelle-meldungen/2014/dezember/bundestagsdebatten-mehr-schlagabtausch-unterm-bundesadler

http://www.infratest-dimap.de/umfragen-analysen/bundesweit/umfragen/aktuell/ wenig-ver¬trauen-in-medien¬¬berichterstattung/

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#7

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
9
The German Bundestag has adequate personnel and structural resources to effectively monitor government activity. Members of parliament can conduct their own research or obtain information from independent experts. The parliamentary library and the parliamentary research unit respectively have staffs of 175 and 450 individuals. Every member of parliament receives a monetary allowance (about €16,000 per month) allowing him or her to maintain two offices and employ, on average, two experts. The German Bundestag has a staff of around 2,600, while roughly the same number work at the constituency level. Parliamentary groups also have resources to commission independent research studies. Compared to the United States, German MPs’ structural and personnel resources are modest.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
9
The German Bundestag is a “working parliament” – that is, parliamentary committees are of great importance in preparing and discussing legislative initiatives. Outside their law preparation activities, they also serve in an oversight role with respect to government ministries. Nonetheless, the government sometimes tries to withhold information. But most documents are made public and can be accessed. In an important ruling on 12 September 2012, the Federal Constitutional Court’s (FCC) Second Senate strengthened the information rights of German parliamentary representatives regarding the European Stability Mechanism Treaty (ESM). Government officials had previously been reluctant to keep the Bundestag informed on this issue, claiming executive secrecy.

The parliamentary control committee and the secret service committee of inquiry had to fight hard to get access to documents and the “Selektorenliste” (list of selectors) to examine whether the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND) had illegally spied on citizens, politicians and organizations. In mid-September, the Green party and the Left party attempted to sue the government through the Constitutional Court for its lack of accountability regarding the Selektorenliste. On 15 November 2016, the FCC dismissed the appeal.

In a 7 November 2017 ruling, the FCC again strengthened the information rights of the Bundestag vis-á-vis government.

Citations:
http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/nsa-selektorenliste-101.html

https://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2016/bvg16-084.html

http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/auskunftsrecht-verfassungsgericht-staerkt-kontrollrechte-des-bundestags-1.3738737

http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2017/bvg17-094.html

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
10
Parliamentary committees’ right to summon ministers is established by the Basic Law. The Basic Law also gives members of the federal government or the Bundesrat the right to be heard in front of the plenum or any committee.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Parliamentary committees are able to hold public hearings at any time, and can summon experts to attend them. This mechanism is regularly used. Rule 70 Section 1 of the Rules of Procedure of the German Bundestag states that “for the purpose of obtaining information on a subject under debate, a committee may hold public hearings of experts, representatives of interest groups and other persons who can furnish information.” Experts are often able to influence parliamentary discussions or ministerial drafts and bring about changes in the draft laws.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
In general, the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries coincide. However, this is not always the case since the Basic Law provides for the establishment of several committees that do not have a ministerial counterpart (including the Committee on the European Union; the Petitions Committee; the Parliamentary Control Panel). Furthermore, several committees sometimes deal with matters that are within the responsibility of a single ministry (e.g., the Committee on Internal Affairs and the Sports Committee both monitor activities performed by the Federal Ministry of the Interior), and a single committee sometimes deals with matters that are not clearly assigned to a single ministry. Nonetheless, parliamentary committees’ most important policy areas fully coincide with those of the ministries, enabling effective monitoring.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
10
The Federal Court of Audit (FCA) is a supreme federal authority and an independent public body. FCA members enjoy the same degree of independence as the members of the judiciary. Its task is to monitor the budget and the efficiency of state’s financial practices. The FCA submits its annual report directly to the Bundestag, the government and the Bundesrat. The Bundestag and Bundesrat jointly elect the FCA’s president and vice-president, with candidates nominated by the federal government. According to the FCA’s website, around 1,300 court employees “audit the (state) account and determine whether public finances have been properly and efficiently administered,” while the FCA’s “authorized officers shall have access to any information they require” (Federal Budget Act Section 95 Para. 2). The reports receive considerable media attention. Equally, the German states have their own independent state courts of audit.

Citations:
https://www.bundesrechnungshof.de/de/veroeffentlichungen/bemerkungen-jahresberichte/jahresberichte/2016-band-ii/statement-pressemitteilung/2017-pressemitteilung-01-bemerkungen-2016-band-ii

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
7
The standing parliamentary petitions committee is provided for by the Basic Law. As the “seismograph of sentiment” (annotation 2 Blickpunkt Bundestag 2010: 19; own translation), the committee deals with requests and complaints addressed to the Bundestag based on every person’s “right to address written requests or complaints to competent authorities and to the legislature” (Basic Law Art. 17). It is able to make recommendations as to whether the Bundestag should take action on particular matters. Nonetheless, its importance is limited and largely symbolic. However, the committee at least offers a parliamentary point of contact with citizens. Two additional parliamentary ombudsmen are concerned with the special requests and complaints made by patients and soldiers.

Citations:
https://www.bundestag.de/dokumente/textarchiv/2017/kw20-de-petitionsbericht-2016/505030

Media

#9

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
7
Public TV and radio broadcasters generally offer in-depth reports on political processes. Competition between the two main public television broadcasters, ARD and ZDF, has forced them to copy the private channels’ successful infotainment and politainment formats. Nevertheless, by international standards, ARD and ZDF, in particular, offer citizens the opportunity to obtain a relatively deep knowledge of political decision-making and their market share has stabilized in recent years. Recently, criticism of the allegedly biased reporting by these channels has increased (e.g., Kepplinger 2018; faz.net 2018a and 2018b). The plurality of the country’s television broadcast market is enhanced by the availability of programming from international broadcasters such as CNN, BBC World, CNBC Europe and Al-Jazeera. Trust in media is high in Germany by international standards according to some surveys (Handelsblatt 2017).

Citations:
faz.net (2018a)Wo zeigt der Kompass denn hin?, faz.net 03.01.2018 http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/nachrichtenredaktion-von-ard-aktuell-feiert-jubilaeum-15370727.html

faz.net (2018b): Stimmungsmache, faz.net 29.01.2018 http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/bei-der-ard-gibt-es-buhs-fuer-trump-und-jubel-fuer-die-gruenen-15423125.html

Handelsblatt (2017): Yougov survey, In Media We Trust, Say Germans, Handelsblatt global, January 4, 2017
https://global.handelsblatt.com/politics/in-media-we-trust-say-germans-672316

Kepplinger, Hans-Matthias (2018): Die Mediatisierung der Migrationspolitik und Angela Merkels Entscheidungspraxis, in: Thomas Saalfeld/Reimut Zohlnhöfer (eds.): Bilanz der Regierung Merkel, 2013-2017 (forthcoming).

Parties and Interest Associations

#8

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
6
During the period under review, party leaders of the coalition government were re-elected without facing major opposition for party leadership. No direct participation of party members regarding important policy decisions took place. The parties retain traditional hierarchical decision-making processes and candidate-election procedures. Particularly important policy challenges have led to fierce debates within the SPD (e.g., TTIP negotiations) and the CDU/CSU (e.g., refugee policy). However, party members have had little direct influence in these debates. Decision-making is limited to representatives at the party congresses and firmly controlled by party elites.

On 19 March 2017, the SPD elected Martin Schulz as its new chairman in a federal party convention in Berlin. The former chairman, Sigmar Gabriel, withdrew as the party’s front-runner and recommended Schulz who was elected as the new chairman and top candidate of the SPD for the upcoming elections (with 100% approval). However, the decision was made in the top ranks of the party and then approved by the party’s membership.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
8
Economic interest associations like trade unions or employers’ associations in Germany are well-functioning organizations endowed with rich analytical and lobbying resources. They are definitely able to develop policy strategies and proposals and to present alternatives to current politics. Both trade unions and employers’ association have their own economic think tanks supporting their policy proposals through substantive research on costs and benefits of different options. Furthermore, these organizations also invest substantial resources in lobbying for their positions among the general public and do so successfully. For example, the decision to introduce a general statutory minimum wage had been preceded by trade unions’ extensive public lobbying.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
8
As of May 2017, the government’s official list contained 2,325 registered associations (Bundestag 2017), which marked another increase. One-third of those can be considered non-economic interest associations. Within the process of policy formulation, interest-group expertise plays a key role in providing ministerial officials with in-depth information necessary to make decisions. Citizen groups, social movements and grassroots lobbying organizations are increasingly influential actors, particularly at the local level. Policy proposals produced by non-economic interest groups can be described as reasonable, but their suggestions often appear.

Citations:
https://www.bundestag.de/blob/189456/130ebb7895b22f6a58da1dc805ceaadb/lobbylisteamtlich-data.pdf
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