Control of State Government


Important characteristic of a parliamentary form of government is the parliamentary responsibility of the government. A wide variety of practical instruments has evolved on behalf of the parliament for checking the government.

The following examples deserve special mention:
According to Article 73 of the Landesverfassung, the Landtag may pass a vote of no-confidence with regard to the minister-president by appointing a successor with a majority vote of its members (so-called constructive vote of no-confidence).

The Landtag and its committees can request the presence of every member of the state government, who is accountable to the parliament members, on the basis of Article 66 Para. 1 of the Landesverfassung (Zitierrecht or Citation Law). Every parliament member has the right to take the floor in the Landtag, to make inquiries and motions as well as to participate in elections and votes (Article 53 Para. 2 of the Landesverfassung).

The minister of finance must render account of allrevenues and expenditure for formal approval of the state government and to provide an overview of the state's funds and debts. The Landtag may also influence political developments through simple resolutions (so-called simple resolutions adopted by the Landtag) by requesting, for instance, the state government to take particular measures, to table bills or develop possible plans. Such resolutions are, however, not legally binding for the state government, which must check on its own responsibility whether it is taking into account the desire expressed by the Landtag or just accepts a possible political conflict with the Landtag. Incidentally, motions that are aimed at such resolutions can only be made by a group or by no less than 10 parliament members.

The state government must also inform the Landtag in good time about specific matters, plans and conferences, in which the state government takes part. This allows the responsible committees of the Landtag to express their opinion to the state government before it finalizes, for instance, treaties or other agreements of politicalsignificance. By doing so, the committees can also address, in good time, certain matters which are being handled in the Bundesrat (Germany's Federal Assembly) or the European Union.

After all, the fact that the Landtag is involved and takes part in intended applications of the state government with regard to general plans in accordance with Article 91 a of the Basic Law and in intended agreements according to Article 91 b of the Basic Law (community tasks) shows that the Landtag is effectively exercising its constitutional duty to check and control. These briefings, which are in part envisaged by law, are to prevent that the Landtag is prejudiced by decisions of the executive branch. Thus, the Landtag should be given the opportunity to have a say in the decision-making process of the state government, before the course for a specific plan is already set prior to negotiating with the federal government or other federal states.

The parliament's right to ask questions plays a significant role in the Landtag's duties to keep a check on the state government. The state government must answer parliamentary inquiries immediately (Article 67 Para. 1 of the Landesverfassung). The Landtag may also request information from the state government by way of major interpellations (Große Anfragen), minor interpellations (Kleine Anfragen) and verbal inquiries (Mündliche Anfragen) with regard to issues for which it is responsible vis-à-vis the Landtag.

Major interpellations are essentially used to control the general direction of policies and thus deal with problems of particular political importance. They can be tabled by a parliamentary group or by no less than 10 parliament members (Article 85 of GO). The state government answers major interpellations in writing. Upon request, a discussion may take place during a session of the Landtag or during a public session of a committee. The minor interpellations are used to control instances of the executive branch; that's why they relate to individual cases, straightforward case groups or individual measures of the state government or its subordinate administration. Minor interpellations can be made by every parliament member in writing (Article 90 of GO). By posing verbal inquiries, parliament members are able to request clarification and comments on part of the state government to specific issues on short notice during a plenary session, i.e. open session. Every parliament member is authorized to pose verbal inquiries to the state government (Article 91 of GO). The public debate (Aktuelle Stunde) is held to discuss political issues that are of general interest during a plenary session of the Landtag. It was introduced in order to vitalize the parliament's work and to ensure that the latest aspects of specific issues are addressed as much as possible. The public debate can be requested by a group or by no less than 10 parliament members (Article 93 of GO). The most powerful "instrument" the Landtag has at its disposal is the right to convene an inquiry commission.

The purpose of this commission is to evaluate facts and circumstances in cases, where there is a public interest in their clarification. The necessary hearings of evidence are usually carried out during a public session. The inquiry commission also has the right to utilize means of coercion based on criminal proceedings, if witnesses fail to appear or depose. An inquiry commission must be convened at the request of one-fifth of the parliament members. This minimum percentage clause ensures that even minority opposition groups or any other minority of parliament members can demand that an inquiry commission be set-up (Article 64 of the Landesverfassung).

According to the constitution, every citizen has the right to turn to the parliament in writing or verbally with petitions. This right guarantees every citizen that the Landtag will not only accept his or her petition but will also check the facts and provide information in writing about the form of execution at least. More extensive rights as to if the issue has been resolved substantively or in accordance with relevant concerns do not exist (Article 14 of the Landesverfassung).

According to Article 10 of the Basic Law, the commission, which consists of 3 parliament members who are independent in their conduct of official functions and are not bound by any directives, is responsible forprotecting the constitutional rights to secrecy of letters, mail and telecommunications. This commission isnotified by the minister of the interior with regard toactions he has ordered that may limit the secrecy of letters, mail and telecommunications. It then decides (usually before implementation of such actions) whether they are permissible and necessary. The commission is also informed as to whether the relevant citizens are notified about the restrictive measures after theirsuspension. If the commission considers such information essential, the minister of the interior must make sure this occurs immediately.

The Landtag exercises its right to check the activities of the State Office for Protection of the Constitution by setting up a Parliamentary Control Commission, consisting of 5 parliament members, at the beginning of the legislative period. This commission is briefed comprehensively about the general task of protecting the constitution and about activities of particular importance by the minister of interior at least four times a year. Its duties and authority are stipulated in detail in Thuringia's Verfassungsschutzgesetz (Law on Protection of the Constitution.