Plenum

Standing microphone in the plenary chamberStanding microphone in the plenary chamber

Duties

In parliamentary language the word plenum (from the Latin for “full space”) is taken to mean an assembly of all members. The plenum formed from the entirety of all Landtag Members is the focus and the symbol of parliamentary democracy. This is where the majority situation and the balance of interests are reflected and where it is important to develop perspectives for the future of the Land and its citizens. All the activities of the parliamentarians come together here. The plenum is where the decisions on the matters up for discussion, most notably draft bills and motions, are made and elections are held. Speeches are made and objections are voiced here to express the political opinions and demands of the groups represented in the Land parliament.

As a rule, the Landtag President invites the 88 Members of the Brandenburg Landtag to the plenary sessions every four weeks. These are held in the plenary chamber of the Landtag building on Wednesdays and Thursdays (the Landtag also meets on Fridays for budget debates) and are open to the public as a matter of principle (Art. 64 para. 2 of the Constitution of the Land of Brandenburg). Schoolchildren, political groups and other citizens with an interest in politics often fill the viewing area to follow events in the plenary chamber and to learn about the finer points of the work done by the members and the Land parliament. Various media (television, radio, newspapers) also report on the work of the Landtag on a regular basis. The public may only be excluded by a majority vote of two thirds of the Landtag Members present if an explanatory statement is given. The decision on this is taken in a session not open to the public, but the reason must be duly stated in public.

Rules of procedure

At the start of each legislative period the Members must establish parliamentary rules of procedure in accordance with Article 68 of the Constitution of the Land of Brandenburg. These rules are set down in writing in the Rules of Procedure of the parliament and thus become binding. They comprise all the rules according to which parliament conducts its business and to which it must adhere. They also include rules for the President and the Presiding Committee, meeting procedures, the order of speeches, provisions for orderliness and legislative procedure.

Since all of this concerns the Members first and foremost, each respective Landtag is exclusively responsible for establishing the rules of procedure – so-called parliamentary autonomy (Art. 68 of the Land Constitution). They are decided by a simple majority vote of the Landtag and can be amended by a simple majority at any time.

The so-called principle of discontinuity (“break in sequence of time”) states that all motions, bills and draft bills that have not been dealt with by the end of the legislative period are deemed to have been concluded. The exceptions to this are petitions, popular initiatives, petitions to initiate legislation and referenda. This also means that the rules of procedure of the Landtag become invalid at the end of every legislative term and must be debated and decided once again by the newly elected parliament.

Preparations for the plenary meeting

The plenum itself decides which draft bills and other subjects for debate are dealt with during the plenary session and how much time is allocated to each item on the agenda. To do this, the draft agenda must be finalised by the Presiding Committee no later than seven days before the plenary meeting.

Party chairpersons and the members of the political parties represented in the Land parliament meet up a few days before the session in order to discuss the provisional agenda, the individual matters for debate and the procedure for the plenary meeting and, at the same time, to make decisions on the final details – on which party members should speak on individual items on the agenda during the plenary session, for example.

Procedure in a plenary meeting

The Rules of Procedure of the Landtag contain binding regulations on procedure for a plenary meeting. The President of the Landtag opens and leads the plenary meeting. The Landtag recording clerks sit to the right and left of him and help him to conduct the meeting.

The President starts the meeting by having the provisional agenda, which is distributed to all members a week in advance, formally adopted. If no objections are raised, the plenary meeting follows the order of the agenda specified by the Presiding Committee. The rules of procedure established by the Landtag Brandenburg provide for the plenary meeting to proceed as follows (§ 18 Rules of Procedure [GO]):

Debate on matters of topical interest (“Aktuelle Stunde”)
Question Time
Reading of draft bills
Answering of Major Interpellations
Debates on reports by the Land Government
Debates on motions and independent motions for a resolution

During debates on individual matters the Parliamentary Groups are allocated times to speak, which are commensurate with their size and governed by the Rules of Procedure. Draft bills, motions, recommended resolutions, written reports and nominations are dealt with by the Landtag in the plenary meeting, having been distributed in advance in the form of Landtag printed matter to all Members of the Land parliament, to the Land Government, the Land Court of Audit, the Land Commissioners and the Council for Sorb (Wend) Affairs.

Once the agenda has been agreed, the so-called “Aktuelle Stunde” takes place, during which matters of topical interest in Land politics are discussed. This generally lasts for 60 minutes. This allows controversial political subjects to be debated in parliament without any significant delay. The Parliamentary Group that put the topic on the agenda has the right to speak first. The right of petition for the “Aktuelle Stunde” alternates between the Parliamentary Groups in line with their sizes. It is precisely the topicality of the matters discussed and the strictly limited speech times that make the “Aktuelle Stunde” such an interesting spectacle for the general public and the representatives of the press in attendance. The “Aktuelle Stunde” can be requested by a Parliamentary Group or by at least one fifth of the Members of the Landtag (§ 62 Rules of Procedure [GO]).

The “Aktuelle Stunde” is followed by Question Time, during which members can ask the Land Government individual questions pertaining to current Land policy and administration. Question Time should not exceed 60 minutes.
Draft bills are then debated in first, second and occasionally even third readings.

If there are several draft bills, these are usually dealt with in the order in which they appear on the agenda, usually the date on which they were received. Third debates generally take precedence over second and first debates. Draft bills take precedence over Major Interpellations and motions.

The reading of draft bills is followed by the Major Interpellations. Major Interpellations may be introduced by a parliamentary group or at least one fifth of the members and must first be answered in writing by the Land Government. The question and answer are then discussed in the Landtag. These are primarily concerned with state problems or subject-specific matters of national importance.

The Major Interpellations are followed by debates on reports, information and ideas from the Land Government.

The last item on the agenda is the debating of motions and independent motions for a resolution. The aim of a motion for a resolution is to prompt the Land Government to act in a specific way with regard to a specific matter – including vis-à-vis the Bundesrat. This is simply a political undertaking by the Land Government, however, as opposed to a legal one. It cannot be used to force the Land Government to behave in a certain way.

Provisions for orderliness

Apart from the organisational directives, the Rules of Procedure of the Landtag also contain regulations designed to ensure that plenary meetings run smoothly.

The President announces the topics to be debated and asks Members of the Landtag and of the Land Government to take the floor or withdraws that right under certain circumstances. He determines the order in which people speak. Members of the Landtag may not speak until given permission to take the floor by the President. When it comes to speaking in debates on individual items on the agenda, Parliamentary Groups are allocated time slots commensurate with their size; the President ensures that these are duly complied with. Should a member of the Landtag speak for longer than permitted, the President may issue one warning before withdrawing his right to take the floor. If speakers digress from the item on the agenda, the President may bring them back to the point and – if they have been brought back to the point three times in the same speech and made aware of the consequences – withdraw the right to take the floor.

When the debate is over, he gives the wording of the subject of the vote and opens the ballot. The Landtag is quorate if more than half of the members of the Land parliament are present, unless stated otherwise by the Constitution – as with amendments to the Land Constitution for example. As long as a member of the Land parliament does not query whether it is quorate before a ballot or an election, the Landtag is also deemed to be quorate if less than half of the members are present. The ballot is carried out by a show of hands. The votes are counted if the result is in doubt. Voting must be done by roll call if a Parliamentary Group or one fifth of the Members of the Landtag request this by the time voting begins. The ballot is then carried out by roll call. The names of Members of the Landtag are called out in alphabetical order and they must then cast their vote by acclamation (yes/no/abstain).

The President may interrupt the meeting and state when it is to be continued. He must conduct debates in an impartial manner. If he wishes to take part in the plenary debate, he must leave his seat and take his place among the Members.

The Landtag President exercises authority over its Members, the members of the Land Government and its officers, the President of the Land Court of Audit, the Land Commissioners and visitors.

Any Member of the Landtag who breaches the rules is called to order by the President. If the Member has been called to order three times during the meeting then he or she may be excluded from the session in question; the same applies to a Member who is in gross violation of the rules in a meeting. In such a case the excluded Member of the Landtag must leave the chamber immediately. If the excluded Member refuses to leave the chamber, then the President will discontinue or close the meeting or have the Member removed from the Landtag. If the conduct of a Member of the Landtag is so disorderly as to cause significant disruption to the work of the Landtag, then the President can actually ban him or her from attending any further meetings.
The person concerned may write to the President by no later than the start of the next meeting to appeal against exclusion from the meeting or any other such calls to order and reprimands.  The Presiding Committee will rule on this appeal.

It is not uncommon for visitors to be dismayed at the conduct of Members during the plenary meeting. The progress of the meeting can be affected by unrest in the plenary chamber, empty Members’ seats and vociferous political arguments that are at times fiercely fought and unrelenting. Political conflict is an expression of democracy, however, and it serves to pass on information to citizens and to clarify individual positions on specific issues and problems vis-à-vis the public. 

Contact

Landtag Brandenburg
Department P1
Klaus Tschoep, Head
Alter Markt 1
14467 Potsdam
Phone: (0331) 966-1130
Fax: (0331) 966-991130