Opposition Gains Majority in Federal Council Following Narrow Election Win in Lower-Saxony

The Social Democrats (SPD) and Alliance ’90/The Greens secured a narrow election win by one seat in Lower-Saxony over Angela Merkel’s Conservative Party (CDU) and their Liberal allies (FDP). The opposition parties now hold the majority of seats (36 out of 69) in the Federal Council (Bundesrat).

The Bundesrat represents the interests of the federal states. A majority for the opposition in the Bundesrat means that the opposition can block parliamentary bills that expressly require consent by the Federal Council under the German Basic Code (Constitution). Even in case of so-called “objection laws”, an opposition majority makes it harder for the government to pass bills. Such objections by the Bundesrat can be overruled by the Bundestag (Parliament) and thus ultimately be passed. However if a Bundesrat objection is raised by the majority of the Bundesrat members or a two-thirds majority, the Bundestag has to overrule the objection with a vote in favour of the bill by the majority of its members or – in case-of a two-thirds objection- with a two-thirds majority or at least the majority of the members of parliament (Art. 77 para. 4 GG – Basic Code).

Although the CDU/CSU and FDP coalition in the Bundestag has a majority of 330 out of 620 seats, it may be difficult to get the necessary majority. A two-thirds objection by the Bundesrat regarding a bill amending the Renewable Energy Sources Law (EEG) aimed at cutting solar-feed in tariffs lead to some delay and certain compromises last year. At the time even some “neutral” states with coalitions that include the CDU had objected against the bill in the Bundesrat.

The Green Party frontrunner in Lower-Saxony, Stefan Wenzel, already announced to “step on the brakes” with regard to a law on a permanent nuclear waste disposal site, in particular the site of Gorleben in Lower-Saxony, the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported (regarding an SPD position paper on a Permanent Disposal Procedure Act, please see the link below).

With the absolute majority of votes in the Bundesrat the opposition can also draft bills and introduce them to the Bundestag. There however they can be turned down by the ruling coalition parties.

The Lower Saxony elections have again changed the legislative landscape ahead of the Federal elections later in the year. It remains to be seen how this will effect the current discussion about changes to the EEG and other potential energy related legislation, in particular whether and to what extent the government will be able to get changes through the Bundestag and the Bundesrat.

Sources: State of Lower-Saxony; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 22 January 2013, page 1

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