Pyschny, Anastasia: How resilient is the German Bundestag? Reactions of parliament to the financial crisis and the Corona crisis.
How can the German Bundestag ensure its ability to act in times of crisis? In principle, two instruments are available: The legislative process can either be accelerated or the government can be given powers to issue ordinances. In both the financial and the Corona crises, the parliament made use of those options, albeit earned (sometimes severe) criticism for doing so. The comparative analysis shows how the Bundestag exercised its legislative and control functions at the beginning of the two crises and reveals clear differences between them with regard to design and effect. They indicate an increased functional resilience of the Bundestag at the beginning of the Corona pandemic as compared to the financial crisis. It also becomes apparent that respective learning processes occurred not only by parliament but also by the governmental actors. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 725 – 741]
Hölscheidt, Sven and Maria-Luisa Leonhardt: Being there is everything: On the need of physical presence in parliament.
German parliamentary law is currently based on MPs being physically present in parliament. This presence is especially indispensable for elections and votes. It cannot be replaced, even during the pandemic, by MPs participating remotely. To create the possibility for parliamentary sessions to take place in whole or in part without a physical presence, the German constitution would have to be amended. Even creative interpretations of “presence” do not make a constitutional amendment unnecessary. Parliaments should create the legal means to ensure functionality in times of crisis and such provisions for emergencies should be made in reasonably calm times. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 742 – 757]
Settles, Kevin W., Sahand Shahgholi and Sven T. Siefken: District work during the pandemic: More adaptation than transformation.
The Covid-19 pandemic is causing massive restrictions on public life worldwide, affecting the work of parliamentarians in their districts as well. Based on interviews with 33 members of the German Bundestag, activities “back home” during the early phase of the pandemic are analyzed and compared to information from an earlier study. After a brief phase of adaptation, new digital ways of work were used by MPs and their district offices, sometimes leading to closer networking with party and constituency and giving them new spatial flexibility. A strong use of new social media also became apparent but that is only partly caused by Covid-19. The focus of representation has changed towards a clearer regional orientation and more pronunciation of the leadership function. But all in all, district work of MPs in Germany has continued with only minor changes. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 758 – 775]
Prior, Alex and Maya Kornberg: Global challenges and opportunities for parliamen- tary public engagement during the Covid-19 crisis.
During the Covid-19 crisis, parliamentarians and parliamentary staff faced a novel combination of challenges to their existing functions. In responding to the Covid-19 crisis, parliaments were forced to re-examine their political and democratic roles, and in many cases restricted themselves to a small number of ‘core functions’. Drawing on interviews and focus group undertaken for the third Global Parliamentary Report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the United Nations Development Programme, different approaches to public engagement by parliaments are assembled and their challenges and opportunities discussed. It shows that public engagement was side-lined in many parliaments while it was maintained or even received renewed attention in a few. This is especially true when it comes to procedural digital innovation and to outreach activities in remote areas and diaspora communities. Thus the pandemic did accelerate changes that were already underway in some parliaments. It also showed the need for a renewed focus on parliamentary engagement not only in the crisis but also beyond. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 776 – 791]
Jennewein, Julia and Philipp Mutzbauer: State parliaments during the pandemic: Reporting on the practice in Rhineland-Palatinate.
The German state parliaments (Landtage) followed different strategies to maintain parliamentary influence during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the early phase of the pandemic in 2020, crucial groundwork was laid for successfully ensuring the parliaments’ ability to function. Technical and organisational measures secured continuity in all state parliaments of Germany. A closer investigation of the Landtag of Rhineland-Palatinate shows changes in internal processes and outside communication. The Council of Elders in particular gained importance at the beginning of the pandemic in its dual function as a parliamentary steering committee and as an instrument of transparent pluralistic public relations of the parliament. A higher need for information was met by an equally increased demand for knowledge from the citizens and the media. The Landtag attempted to fulfill it through the digitalization of committees and an increase in communication activities. All in all, it succeeded to counteract a loss of importance in relation to the executive. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 792 – 804]
Niedermayer, Oskar: Corona as “hour of the governing parties”? The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic for the German party system.
Within weeks after its occurrence in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic led to major changes in the structure of the German party system. The pandemic was an external shock that changed the relations of the parties to each other and their strength in the polls. Until the end of 2020, there was broad support for the governing parties, in particular for the CDU/CSU. Following mismanagement of the crisis response, high expectations were disappointed in early 2021 and a general loss of trust and support in the political decisions makers could be registered. However, a third phase was characterized by a lightening of infections and more dominated by the party campaigns in the run-up to the federal election in September 2021. All in all, the different campaign strategies and individual gaffes of leading candidates were most important for the outcome as was a general, yet diffuse wish for change. All in all, the pandemic did have a strong influence on the German party system, but it was not decisive for the results of the 2021 Bundestag elections. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 805 – 823]
Donovan, Barbara: The political exploitation of Covid-19: The AfD as challenger par- ty and the impact on parliament.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been an issue ready for political exploitation, and it has contributed to political polarization in western democracies. In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) adapted its policy positions and performative style and took advantage of the changing circumstances in the pandemic. The pandemic situation thus provided a political opportunity for the AfD to grow its own political repertoire, acting as a challenger party. An overview of evolving party strategy and a content analysis of select legislative debates held in the Bundestag between the outbreak of the pandemic in February 2020 and August 2021 shows that the AfD behaved as an “issue entrepreneur” in the months after the onset of the public health crisis and that it used its populist critique of the government- managed response to the public health crisis to inform a parliamentary strategy of disruption. The party’s behavior led to more adversarial and polarized parliamentary politics. This is relevant to the broader study of pressures imparted by the pandemic crisis on parliamentary governance as well as of today’s populist far-right parties and their impact on parliamentary democracy. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 824 – 843]
Brack, Nathalie, Olivier Costa and Awenig Marié: The European Parliament and Cov- id-19: Organisational adaptations and their implications on parliamentary activity. As early as March 2020, the President of the European Parliament decided to shut down the assembly’s facilities in Brussels and to cancel the plenary sessions in Strasbourg. Important decisions were made to abandon in-person meetings, introduce teleworking for all staff, and implement remote deliberation and voting both in committees and in the plenary . The Rules of Procedure were adapted to formalize these organisational changes and make them ready for future crises. All in all, the European Parliament proved to be resilient and adaptive: it continued to discuss and adopt many legislative, budgetary, and non-legislative texts in the plenary. However, remote-work did have an impact on the political dynamics within Parliament. It was characterised by a very high level of consensus, as the result of a higher level of agreement between the two main party groups, the European People’s Party and the Socialists & Democrats. Those main groups also became much more cohesive. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 844 – 859]
Jágr, David: The Czech Parliament in the pandemic: On crisis management of a minority government.
The pandemic crisis occurred while illiberal populist leaders governed in Central and Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic was faced with a simultaneous crisis of political parties and the transformation of its party system. The onset of these trends was triggered by the global financial crisis during which the established parties were weakened and the way to parliaments and governments was opened for populist parties. The fight against the pandemic brought changes to the functioning of parliaments and the need for parliamentary adaptations. The Czech case is the least likely of government dominance in a pandemic. Due to the weakness of the minority cabinet and the unprecedented fragmented Chamber of Deputies, the cabinet had to opt for temporary ad hoc alliances with different parties. Over the course of the pandemic, the political actors changed their political approach from cooperation to conflict, leading to government instability and the failure to effectively control the spread of the pandemic, with the Czech Republic becoming one of the worst affected countries in the world. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 860 – 877]
Siefken, Sven T., Petra Guasti, Werner J. Patzelt, Osnat Akirav, Ken Coghill and Pauline Haupt: Parliaments in the pandemic: First findings from an international comparison.
During the pandemic, parliaments around the globe suffered a “double shock”: They had to adjust to the challenges of the infectious disease and uphold or (re-)establish their roles with regard to the executive. A closer investigation of 27 parliaments in different political systems gives a first in-depth comparative account for their initial reactions to the crisis. It is based on information from an ongoing collaboration of experts on parliaments and builds on a model of historical institutionalism. In some countries, significant measures were taken, including restricting participation in parliamentary proceedings and moving some of them online. Committees served as a field of experimentation for digitalizing parliaments. While only in a few countries legislative activities were strongly dominated by the pandemic, in most countries continuity across policy areas prevailed. More variety can be seen in institutional changes for parliamentary oversight. Communication activities intensified with the pandemic, particularly from parliamentary leadership. These first results indicate that parliaments and established parliamentary democracies, in particular, were able to perform their functions despite unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 878 – 894]
Kersten, Jens and Stephan Rixen: Parliament in the pandemic: A reason for constitutional pessimism?
The pandemic has not led to a crisis of the parliamentary system of government. The Bundestag in particular has upheld its governmental functions during the Corona crisis. But it could be more open to practice “virtual parliamentarism”. Parliamentary government via the interplay of the Infection Protection Act and statutory ordinances has also shown to be suitable for solving the pandemic; and with regard to the constitutional separation of powers: Especially in a crisis, the executive is only as independent as parliament allows it to be. [ZParl, vol. 52 (2021), no. 4, pp. 895 – 912]