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Funding of parliamentary groups: patchwork regulations, lack of sanctions

Jan 12, 2021

Foto - Gebäude Deutscher Bundestag

The federal government pays out €120 million per year to parliamentary groups. The funds are designed for parliamentary work only. Clear rules are not in place. Applicable control and sanction mechanisms are ineffective.

Public funds may only be used for parliamentary work. It is against the law to use these funds for partisan work. However, it is not easy to make a clear distinction between the two. No rules are in place that clearly define the purposes for which parliamentary groups may use the funds received. Therefore, each group sets its own limits. This is particularly concerning when it comes to communicating with citizens – who are also constituents. Beyond providing information, the groups have a keen interest in advancing the cause of their party. The dynamic development of new social media formats adds to this problem and makes the need for clear-cut rules more urgent.

What is more, there is no legal basis for reclaiming funds that have not been used for their originally appropriated purposes.  Nor is there a framework for measures other than financial sanctions. Parliamentary groups cannot be forced to delete inadmissible social media posts. They need not fear any sanctions for non-compliance with the rules.

“As to the use of public funds by parliamentary groups, the legislator failed to adopt clear provisions that are fit for practice, including effective sanctions. This practice is questionable and bears the risk that parliamentary groups use public funds for party work or even election campaigns,” says Kay Scheller, President of the German SAI. “This shortcoming which has been tolerated for too long, is compounded by a decision of the Federal Constitutional Court: Without oversight and sanction mechanisms in place, the system of funding parliamentary groups lacks its legitimacy.”

In our special purpose report, we urge parliament and the government to

  • address the shortcomings we stated by developing clear and easily applicable rules;
  • set rules governing the nature and scope of permissible communication between parliamentary groups and the public, particularly in a social media environment and
  • create the legal basis for reclaiming funds in case of non-compliance and impose other sanctions.
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© 2021 Bundesrechnungshof