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Summary

Germany does not have any laws similar to the US Lobbying Disclosure Act or the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  The German parliament keeps a voluntary register for associations that lobby the German parliament and the federal government.  The state of Saxony-Anhalt has a mandatory lobby register for associations that lobby the state parliament.  There are several ongoing initiatives to set up a mandatory lobby register.

Lobbyists can also apply to the parliamentary groups of the political parties to receive access passes to the nonpublic areas of the parliament that are valid for a year.  The names of the access pass holders and the parties that granted them are subject to publication if requested under the German Freedom of Information Act, following a successful lawsuit by a German newspaper.

Political parties may generally accept donations without a limit.  They must be declared in the annual general statement of accounts, separately listing any single-source donation exceeding €10,000 (about US$10,866) in a calendar year to include the name and address of the donor.  Donations exceeding €50,000 (about US$53,633) must be reported immediately to the President of the German Bundestag, who will publish the amount as well as the name and address of the donor in parliamentary report.  Donations from foreign sources or persons who clearly donate in expectation of or in return for a certain commercial or legal advantage are generally prohibited.  A recent lawsuit from a nonprofit organization obligated the German parliament to also release internal documents in connection with donations listed in the annual statement of accounts.

I.     Lobby Register

A.    Federal Level

Germany does not have any laws similar to the US Lobbying Disclosure Act or the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  The German Bundestag (parliament) keeps a voluntary register for associations that lobby the German parliament and the federal government.[1]  This register is published yearly in the Federal Gazette.[2]  The official version (amtliche Fassung) as well as a more current version (aktuelle Fassung), which is updated more regularly, can also be accessed on the website of the German parliament.[3]

B.    State Level

In 2014, the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt amended the rules of procedure to require all lobbyists from associations that lobby the state parliament to register.[4]  Representatives from associations that are not included in the mandatory lobby register will not be heard in parliament.  However, representatives of associations on the register do not have an enforceable legal right to be heard.[5]  The list is published online on the state parliament website.[6]

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II.  Access to Parliamentary Premises for Lobbyists

A.    Access for Associations on the Voluntary Register

Associations that are on the German parliament’s voluntary public list may also apply for a pass (Hausausweis) that allows them to access the nonpublic parts of the parliamentary premises at any time.[7]  The pass is valid for a year.[8]  However, being on the register is no guarantee that a pass will be issued.[9]

B.    Access Pass from Political Parties

All lobbyists, including those not part of associations, may obtain an access pass by applying directly to the parliamentary groups of the individual political parties represented in the German parliament.[10]  The law does  not require the parties to publish the names of lobbyists that receive a pass that way.  However, the German nonpartisan group Parliament Watch (Abgeordnetenwatch) that operates an independent Internet platform to promote parliamentary transparency,[11] submitted a Freedom of Information Act[12] request to the individual parties to publish their lists.  While the Green Party and the Left Party complied with the request,[13] followed eventually by the Social Democratic Party,[14] the Christian Democratic Union party refused.  In June 2015, Parliament Watch therefore filed an action for performance in the Administrative Court in Berlin to compel the German parliament to make public the names of all lobbyists with access passes.[15]  In addition, in September 2015, German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel requested a preliminary injunction from the Administrative Court in Berlin to compel the release of information about the number of access passes and the parties that issued them.[16]  Both the action for performance and the preliminary injunction were granted and the court obligated the German parliament to make the names public.

The German parliament appealed the preliminary injunction in the newspaper case.  The Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg confirmed the order of the lower court and held that neither the “right to informational self-determination”[17] of the lobbyists nor the constitutionally guaranteed “free mandate”[18] of the parliamentarians precluded the applicant’s right to information.[19]  Der Tagesspiegel subsequently published the list on their website.[20]

As a consequence of the court cases, the parliament’s Council of Elders[21] decided that the parliamentary groups of the political parties would no longer be allowed to give out access passes to lobbyists other than to associations listed on the voluntary register.  In addition, the number of access passes granted per association would be limited to two instead of five.  Other lobbyists may only apply for day access passes.[22]

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III.    Initiatives to Set Up a Mandatory Lobby Register

The nonprofit Parliament Watch has started two initiatives to set up a mandatory lobby register.  On March 8, 2017, the group submitted a petition with about 180,000 signatures to the petition committee of the German parliament for discussion.[23]  Parliamentary procedure generally dictates that petitions for the adoption of legislation submitted by any person to the petition committee require only 50,000 or more valid signatures when submitted, or must collect that amount of signatures within four weeks of their submission, in order to be debated in the committee and for the requester to be heard.[24]  After the debate, the petition committee will submit its recommendation to the German parliament, which will then debate the issue and forward its recommendation to the federal government.[25]

Furthermore, Parliament Watch, in collaboration with the group Lobby Control and a German law firm, drafted a federal lobbying law that would require registration of all lobbyists.[26]  A revised draft act was published online in February 2017 after public comments had been incorporated and was submitted to the political parties in parliament for consideration.[27]

In addition, the Social Democratic Party has submitted its own draft law that, if enacted, would set up a mandatory lobby register, require that future draft laws list the experts and lobbyists that participated in the drafting process (“executive footprint”), and mandate political parties to identify lobbyist sponsoring in excess of €10,000 (about US$10,866) in the annual statement of accounts.[28]

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IV.   Donations to Political Parties

A.    General Information

Section 25, paragraph 1 of the Political Parties Act[29] provides that a political party may generally accept donations without a limit.  A donation is defined as any revenue that the political party receives in excess of recurring membership fees and additional recurring payments by party members beyond their membership fees.[30]

Paragraph 3 lists accounting requirements for donations.  Donations must be declared in the annual general statement of accounts, which the political party must submit to the President of the Bundestag.[31]  Furthermore, donations from one source exceeding €10,000 in a single calendar year must be listed separately with the name and address of the donor.[32]  Donations exceeding €50,000 (about US$53,633) must be reported immediately to the President of the Bundestag, who will publish the amount of the donation and the name and address of the donor in a parliamentary report.[33]

Paragraph 2 contains a list of sources outside of Germany from which a political party may not accept donations.  Circumstances excepted from that list, among others, include:

  • if the donor is a German citizen, is from an EU member state, or is a company headquartered in the EU or at least 50 percent owned by a German or EU citizen;
  • if the donor belongs to a national minority from a country that borders Germany and the donation goes to a political party representing that minority; or
  • if the donation from a foreigner does not exceed €1,000 (about US$1,076)[34]

Furthermore, the Political Parties Act prohibits accepting donations from natural or legal persons who clearly donate in expectation of or in return for a certain commercial or legal advantage.[35]

B.    Lawsuit to Obligate Parliament to Release Internal Information on Donations

Recently, Parliament Watch filed another Freedom of Information Act request asking the German parliament to release internal information and documents in connection with donations declared in the 2013 and 2014 annual statement of accounts submitted by the political parties.  The goal of the request was to review how diligently the parliamentary administration checks the statements or is able to check the statements and whether they follow up on questionable donations.  After the German parliament refused to comply with the request, Parliament Watch filed suit.[36]  

On January 27, 2017, the Administrative Court of Berlin ruled in favor of Parliament Watch and obligated the German parliament to release the requested information and documents.  It held that the Political Parties Act only regulates mandatory disclosures in the annual statement of accounts but does not block releases of information on the basis of the general Freedom of Information Act.  The Political Parties Act is not lex specialis to the Freedom of Information Act, because they do not regulate the same subject matter.[37]

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Prepared by Jenny Gesley
Foreign Law Specialist
March 2017


[1] Registrierung von Verbänden und deren Vertreter (Anlage 2 der Geschäftsordnung des Deutschen Bundestages) [BTGO1980Anl2] [Registration of Associations and their Representatives (Annex 2 to the Rules of Procedure of the German Parliament)], June 25, 1980, Bundesgesetzblatt [BGBl.] [Federal Law Gazette] I at 1237, 1256, as amended, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/btgo1980anl_2/gesamt.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/VC94-JXL4.

[2] Id. at para. 5. The latest official version of the register dates from May 2, 2016. Deutscher Bundestag [German Parliament], Bekanntmachung der öffentlichen Liste über die Registrierung von Verbänden und deren Vertretern [Publication of the Public List of Registered Associations and their Representatives], May 2, 2016, Bundesanzeiger Amtlicher Teil [BAnz AT] [Federal Gazette Official Part], May 19, 2016, B1, https://www.bundestag.de/blob/189456/00aab1db13ea7fda086a19ad3641d4fa/lobbylisteamtlich-data.pdf, archived athttp://perma.cc/M4WF-67VE.

[3] Deutscher Bundestag [German Parliament], Öffentliche Liste über die beim Bundestag registrierten Verbände [Public List of Associations that are Registered with the Parliament], https://www.bundestag.de/ parlament/lobbyliste, archived athttp://perma.cc/V3WK-L52Y.

[4] Geschäftsordnung des Landtages von Sachsen-Anhalt [Rules of Procedure of the State Parliament of Saxony-Anhalt], Apr. 12, 2016, Drucksache 7/36 [Parliamentary Documentation 7/36], as amended, § 86b, in conjunction with the annex, http://www.landtag.sachsen-anhalt.de/fileadmin/files/drs/wp7/drs/d0036vun.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/H85W-VCMJ.

[5] Id. annex, § 2.

[6] Id. annex, § 3. Landtag Sachsen-Anhalt [State Parliament of Saxony-Anhalt], Lobbyregister Gemäß § 86b GO.LT [Lobby Register according to § 86b of the Rules of Procedure of the State Parliament], Stand: 21. März 2017 [Current as of Mar. 21, 2017], http://www.landtag.sachsen-anhalt.de/fileadmin/Downloads/Lobbyregister/ Lobbyregister_Landtag_von_Sachsen-Anhalt_2017_03_21.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/2ZJX-JRHS.

[7] Annex 2 to the Rules of Procedure of the German Parliament, para. 3; Hausordnung des Deutschen Bundestages [BTHausO 2002] [House Rules of the German Parliament], Aug. 7, 2002, BGBl. I at 3483, as amended, § 2, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/bthauso_2002/gesamt.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/2AJP-TEGH.

[8] House Rules of the German Parliament, § 2, para. 7, no. 1.

[9] Annex 2 to the Rules of Procedure of the German Parliament, para. 4.

[10] House Rules of the German Parliament, § 2, para. 4.

[11] Their website can be accessed at http://www.abgeordnetenwatch.de/ (last visited Mar. 23, 2017).

[12] Gesetz zur Regelung des Zugangs zu Informationen des Bundes (Informationsfreiheitsgesetz - IFG)

[Federal Act Governing Access to Information held by the Federal Government (Freedom of Information Act)], Sept. 5, 2005, BGBl. I at 2722, as amended, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/ifg/gesamt.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/AE48-RK9U, unofficial English translation available at http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_ifg/englisch_ifg.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/2NBL-F7VZ.

[13] Michael Grosse-Brömer et al., GroKo schweigt zu Lobbykontakten (Update) [Grand Coalition Remains Silent with Regards to Lobbyists (Update)] (June 19, 2014), https://www.abgeordnetenwatch.de/blog/2014-06-19/fraktionen-schweigen-zu-lobbykontakten#lobbykontakte, archived at http://perma.cc/23YU-4FQK.

[14] SPD, Befürwortete Hausausweise 2014 [Approved Access Passes 2014], available at https://www. abgeordnetenwatch.de/sites/abgeordnetenwatch.de/files/spd_2014.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/TL5K-WTML; SPD, Befürwortete Hausausweise 2015 [Approved Access Passes 2015], available at https://www. abgeordnetenwatch.de/sites/abgeordnetenwatch.de/files/spd_2015.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/33ZV-6HBL.

[17] Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland [Grundgesetz] [GG] [Basic Law], May 23, 1949, Bundesgesetzblatt [BGBl.] I at 1, art. 2, para. 1 in conjunction with art. 1, para. 1, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/gg/gesamt.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/298A-G79X, unofficial English translation at http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/basic_law_for_the_federal_republic_of_germany.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/9JE7-RP4D. The “right to informational self-determination” has been defined by the German Federal Constitutional Court as the right of a person to decide whether to reveal personal data and how it will be used.  See Bundesverfassungsgericht [BVerfG] [Federal Constitutional Court], 65 Entscheidungen des Bundesverfassungsgerichts [BVerfGE] [Decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court] at 1, 43.

[18] Basic Law, art. 38, para. 1, sentence 1.

[20] Gesamtliste der Interessenvertreter, die pro Kalenderjahr Zugang per befürwortetem Bundestagsausweis hatten/haben [Complete List of Lobbyists that Had/Have an Parliamentary Access Pass in a Calendar Year], Beginn 18. WP bis 20. November 2015 [Start of the 18th Parliamentary Term until November 20, 2015], http://www.tagesspiegel.de/downloads/12651316/3/gesamtliste-pgf_18-wp-20-11-15.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/7KN3-KWBX.

[21] The Council of Elders is composed of the President of the German parliament, the Vice Presidents, and twenty-three other members from the political parties according to the number of seats they have in parliament. The Council of Elders assists the President of the German Bundestag in his or her work.  See Geschäftsordnung des Deutschen Bundestages [BTGO] [Rules of Procedure of the German Parliament], June 25, 1980, BGBl. I at 1237, as amended, § 6, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/btgo_1980/gesamt.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/2A73-LP93.

[22] Jost Müller-Neuhof & Antje Sirleschtov, Ab heute keine Hausausweise für Firmenlobbyisten mehr [Starting Today, No More Access Passes for Lobbyists] (Feb. 29, 2016), http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestag-ab-heute-keine-hausausweise-fuer-firmenlobbyisten-mehr/13033656.html, archived at http://perma.cc/ZN5X-ZK52;  Deutscher Bundestag, Zentrale Ausweisstelle [German parliament. Central ID Office], Merkblatt zum geänderten Antragsverfahren auf Erteilung von Bundestagsausweisen an Mitarbeiter von Verbänden und deren Interessenvertreter [Explanatory Leaflet on the Amended Prcodedure for Granting Parliamentary Access Passes to Employees from Associations and their Representatives] (Feb. 18, 2017), https://www.bundestag.de/blob/ 409838/b1b7767b2ec708e4f26b55870329a71c/merkblatt-data.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/2XMN-9BKC.

[23] 180.000 Unterschriften für ein Lobbyregister übergeben! [180,000 Signatures for a Lobby Register Handed Over!], Abgeordnetenwatch.de (Mar. 8, 2017), https://www.abgeordnetenwatch.de/blog/2017-03-08/180000-unterschriften-fur-ein-lobbyregister-ubergeben, archived at http://perma.cc/L7M7-CB97.

[24] Basic Law, arts. 17, 45c; Gesetz über die Befugnisse des Petitionsausschusses des Deutschen Bundestages (Gesetz nach Artikel 45c des Grundgesetzes) [GGArt45cG] [Act on the Powers of the Petition Committee of the German Parliament (Act According to article 45c of the Basic Law)], July 19, 1975, BGBl. I at 1921, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/ggart45cg/gesamt.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/Y5KZ-D3XP; Rules of Procedure of the German Parliament, § 110; Grundsätze des Petitionsausschusses über die Behandlung von Bitten und Beschwerden (Verfahrensgrundsätze) [Rules of the Petition Committee on Handling Requests and Complaints (Procedural Rules)], Mar. 8, 1989 (current as of Jan. 15, 2014), paras. 8.2.1., 8.4(4), http://www.bundestag.de/verfahrensgrundsaetze#url=L2F1c3NjaHVlc3NlMTgvYTAyL2dydW5kc2FldHplL3ZlcmZhaHJlbnNncn
VuZHNhZXR6ZS8yNjA1NjQ=&mod=mod472954
, archived at http://perma.cc/JFE7-N64S.

[25] Rules of Procedure of the German Parliament, §112, para. 1; Rules of the Petition Committee on Handling Requests and Complaints (Procedural Rules), paras. 8.6(1), 9.2.

[27] 180.000 Unterschriften für ein Lobbyregister übergeben!, supra note 23.

[28] Id.; Gesetzentwurf der Abgeordneten Thomas Oppermann, Dr. Eva Högl und der Fraktion der SPD. Entwurf eines Gesetzes über die Vertretung von Interessen gegenüber dem Deutschen Bundestag und den Bundesbehörden (IntVertG) und zur Änderung des Parteiengesetzes und anderer Gesetze [Draft Act of the Parliamentarians Thomas Oppermann, Dr. Eva Högl, and the Parliamentary Group of the SPD Party. Draft Act on Interest Lobbying at the German Parliament and in Federal Agencies and to Amend the Act on Political Parties and Other Acts], Feb. 20, 2017, https://www.zdf.de/assets/spd-gesetzentwurf-schaerfere-regeln-fuer-lobbyisten-100~original?cb =1490627949479, archived at http://perma.cc/QA9B-XKSR.

[29] Gesetz über die politischen Parteien (Parteiengesetz) [PartG] [Political Parties Act], in the version promulgated on Jan. 31, 1994, BGBl. I at 149, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/partg/gesamt.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/5TTB-KXU2.

[30] Id. § 27, para. 1, sentence 3.

[31] Id. §§ 23, 24.

[32] Id. § 25, para. 3, sentence 1.

[33] Id. § 25, para. 3, sentences 2, 3.

[34] Id. § 25, para. 2, no. 3.

[35] Id. § 25, para. 2, no. 7.

[36] Martin Reyher, Urteil: Bundestag muss abgeordnetenwatch.de interne Dokumente zu Parteispenden herausgeben [Court Decision: Parliament has to Release Internal Information on Party Donations to abgeordenetenwatch.de] (Feb. 8, 2017), https://www.abgeordnetenwatch.de/blog/2017-02-08/urteil-bundestag-muss-abgeordnetenwatchde-interne-dokumente-zu-parteispenden, archived at http://perma.cc/MUE7-WUFM.

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Last Updated: 04/17/2017