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Close the parliament!

April 16, 2012

This one doesn’t come from me. Everything has already been said by Heribert Prantl, journalist at Süddeutsche Zeitung*. I’ll just be making a translation and summary, and hope I’m being fair to his work and opinions.

The piece of news first: A committee called “Geschäftsordnungsausschuss” (which means approximately “committe of internal procedure”) has suggested some rather heavy bureaucracy to be implemented in the future, for the case that the Speaker of Parliament would like to give the word to parliamentarians who haven’t been pre-approved by their respective political parties. Anybody not on the pre-approved list should only be allowed to talk for three minutes, instead of the standard five. And the Speaker should only be allowed to add people to the speaking list in consultation with the parties. Note the plural. Parties. Not only the party the parlamentarian belongs to, but every party represented in Parliament would have to be consulted.

And the Speaker would have to give the party leaders a list of the complete speaking order before the debate, rather than just a list of the people who will be debating, as is currently the case.

And parliamentarians voting against their party lines should no longer be allowed to explain their differing opinion in a five-minute talk before the vote. Only short explanations in writing should be allowed.

Prantl writes that the aim of all these new regulations is obvious. The three big parties (conservatives CDU/CSU, social democrats SDP, and liberals FDP) wants to prevent another occurence lie what happened in the last debate on saving the Euro. Speaker of Parliament Norbert Lammert allowed MP:s Klaus-Peter Willsch (conservative) and Frank Schäffler (liberal) to take part in the debate, even though they represented opinions different from their parties’s. This was not very much to the party leader’s liking, and now they want to make such a stunt associated with so much bureaucracy that it won’t be worth the Speaker’s efforts.

Prantl comments** that if the parties should so totally dominate speaking time, then there’s no point in having a parliament any more. The word “parliament” is, after all, derived from the French “parlement” (“discussion”) which in turn is derived from the French word for “speaking”: “parler”. If the members of parliament are no longer allowed their primary purpose – to speak and discuss – why have a parliament at all? Why pay salaries to 600 representatives, why keep a giant meeting hall, why employ armies of secretaries and caterers and cleaning personnel? If only party lines matter, we could equally well form a committee of the six party leaders, and give them votes according to how many seats their parties won in the election. Close the parliament – we don’t need to discuss anything any more!

Funnily enough (and this is my own comment, not Prantl’s), in the old article about the save-the-Euro-debate, lots of parliamentarians are expressing annoyance that Willsch and Schäffler got speaking time. In the article with reactions to the proposed new house rules, an equally big lot (though not the same people) express their outrage that such a thing should become forbidden. Both articles are quite suggestive, but suggesting the opposite thing. Interesting.

* South German Newspaper. One of the biggest serious newspapers in Germany.

** Let me as an aside praise the differentiation between news and commentary! It’s how good journalism should be done, alas, it isn’t always respected.

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3 Comments
  1. hey, but isn’t the german parliament necessary cause they built that huge dome of glass on the reichstag? and isn’t it open for visits by tourists? you can’t just close that down can you, and you could hardly explain to the taxpayers why they’d have to pay for the heating of such a huge mass of air, if there were only 6 politicians sitting under it. and of course, the 594 other politicians also contribute with bodyheating during the cold months of the year.

  2. Dr. rer. nat. Evil permalink

    Bodyheat is not the only way our politicians can generate hot air …

    Also, on a side note, back in 1995 artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the entire Reichstag in opaque plastic foil (because, you know, art). Some German tax payers still hold the opinion that it should never have been unwrapped it again.

  3. Hey, that’s a great idea! Let’s wrap the whole thing up in plastic foil and preserve it for the future like that! Then in two hundred years our descendants can unwrap it and find a somewhat functional parliament inside, so they can see with their own eyes how it used to work!

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