Germany: Parliament to impose fines on unruly politicians

Germany’s parliament is set to increase fines for politicians who interrupt sessions with insults and rowdy behavior, following a rise in antisocial outbursts in the chamber.

Under the football match “yellow card, red card” principle, “provocative MPs and notorious recidivists” will receive “more effective punishments” in the future, according to Bärbel Bas, the president of the Bundestag. She emphasized that repeat offenders politicians would receive particular attention.

The petition was put forward by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-way coalition and is expected to be passed before the summer recess.

According to the new rules, fines could be automatically applied if an MP receives three calls to order within three weeks when parliament is sitting.

The current rules, reportedly last overhauled in the 1980s, state that “for anything other than a minor violation of order or the dignity of the Bundestag,” the president can impose a fine of €1,000 (£850) on a member politicians, without a summons to order being issued. This can be increased to €2,000 for a repeat offense.

Bas, a member of Scholz’s Social Democrats, has called for the sum to be doubled “so that it really hurts,” with initial fines of €2,000, rising to €4,000. Ultimately, the speaker should be allowed to banish MPs from the chamber with the agreement of a qualified majority of members, Bas said, seeking the approval of the opposition conservative CDU/CSU alliance.
The crackdown is intended to send a signal to badly behaved members of parliament that “your behavior disgusts people,” she said.

Bas has repeatedly mentioned that she frequently receives letters from the public “accusing us MPs of behaving worse than bullies in the playground.”

Since the last general overhaul of parliamentary law in 1980, “a lot has changed,” she said.
She also wants to see fines imposed on MPs who film and photograph their colleagues and publish it online with the express purpose of defaming them.

The ultimate goal should not be to punish MPs but to remind them to treat each other with respect, a habit that is increasingly being ignored, she said. “We must take greater care over our speech, we shouldn’t be attacking each other, or slandering each other. Our debating culture holds a mirror up to society.”

She also believes a rise in offensive behavior towards MPs – citing threats she herself had received – is part of a general widespread decline in civility.

While no direct reference has been made in the government proposal towards the opposition Alternative für Deutschland, parliamentary debates have become noticeably more rowdy since the far-right populists entered parliament in 2017.

The AfD is considered responsible for the highest number of unlawful disruptions and impromptu commentaries, often loudly interjecting during parliamentary debates.

Fines are rarely imposed, but last week the AfD’s Beatrix von Storch received a €1,000 penalty for remarks towards a fellow MP that the Bundestag vice-president Katrin Göring-Eckardt said were transphobic, describing her outburst as “degrading and lacking in respect.”

The English parliament began compiling the earliest known rules of order as far back as the 1560s. The rule that “personal attacks are to be avoided in debate” was adopted in 1604 and subsequently copied along with other regulations by various parliaments that adapted them for their own houses.

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