How does the mayor differ from a member of parliament?

German democracy

Horst Poetzsch

To person

Until 1992, the historian and political scientist Horst Pötzsch was head of the "Political Education in Schools" department of the Federal Agency for Political Education.

The members of the Bundestag are representatives of the whole people. In parliament they are organized in committees and political groups. They are not bound by orders and instructions from their voters or party, but only committed to their conscience.

Overview of the plenary session of the German Bundestag (& copy AP)

Article 20
(2) All state authority emanates from the people. It is exercised by the people in elections and votes and through special legislative, executive and judicial organs.

Article 20 (2) of the Basic Law lays down the principle of representative democracy for the state order of the Federal Republic of Germany. The people do not exercise state power directly, but rather transfers it to elected bodies, the parliaments, for the state as a whole to the Bundestag, for the states to the state parliaments, for districts, cities and municipalities to local self-governing bodies. Parliaments are the only constitutional bodies that are directly elected by the people. This gives them a special legitimation.

The other constitutional organs are appointed by the parliaments. The parliaments elect the heads of government, the Bundestag the Federal Chancellor and the state parliaments the Prime Minister. The Bundestag elects - together with the Bundesrat - the judges of the Federal Constitutional Court and - together with delegates from the state parliaments in the Federal Assembly - the Federal President.


Article 38
(1) The members of the German Bundestag are elected in general, direct, free, equal and secret elections. They are representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders and instructions and only subject to their conscience.

Free mandate

In the Federal Republic of Germany, as in all other representative democracies, the principle of the free mandate applies. The deputies are considered to be representatives of the whole people. They are therefore not bound by orders and instructions from their voters and their party and are only subject to their conscience.

The opposite of the free mandate is the imperative mandate, as was customary in the assemblies of estates until the 19th century. There the representatives of the estates were accountable to their voters and could be recalled if they did not follow their instructions. An imperative mandate means that MPs depend on the "grassroots" in all decisions. Every time they have to make sure that their voting behavior is approved by their voters. This makes compromises difficult or impossible.

The principle of the free mandate is in tension with the role of the parties, anchored in Article 21 of the Basic Law, as the main bearers of political decision-making. In a party state, one could argue that the constitution is also a party parliament. MPs elected as members of a party would then be bound by their party's instructions. Art. 38 GG protects against this.

The free mandate does not mean that MPs can vote at will and regardless of their voters, their party or faction. However, it prevents them from losing their mandate in the event of a conflict with their group. The "rotation principle" agreed by the Greens in 1987 but soon failed - their MPs should resign their parliamentary mandate after half of the legislative period and give way to successors - is only allowed on a voluntary basis; compulsion would be unconstitutional.

Article 46
(1) A member of parliament may at no time be prosecuted in court or on an official basis because of his vote or because of a statement he has made in the Bundestag or in one of its committees, or otherwise held accountable outside the Bundestag. This does not apply to defamatory insults. (2) A member of the Bundestag may only be held responsible or arrested for an act threatened with punishment, unless he is arrested when the act is committed or during the following day.

Article 47
The MPs are entitled to refuse to testify about persons who they have entrusted to them in their capacity as MPs or to whom they have entrusted in this capacity, as well as about these facts themselves. As far as this right to refuse to testify extends, the seizure of documents is inadmissible.


The independence of the members of parliament is protected by a number of privileges that are anchored in the Basic Law:
  • Indemnity: According to Article 46.1 of the Basic Law, MPs may not be prosecuted or prosecuted for their voting behavior or for statements in the Bundestag - except for "defamatory insults". The indemnity continues even after the mandate has ended and cannot be revoked. It guarantees that MPs can follow their conscience and exercise their freedom of speech without having to fear any disadvantages.
  • Immunity: Members of parliament are - initially - protected from criminal prosecution. According to Article 46, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law, they may only be held responsible for criminal offenses if the Bundestag agrees. The immunity only exists as long as the MPs exercise their mandate.
  • Right to refuse to testify: According to Art. 47 GG, MPs do not need to provide any information about persons who have given them confidential information.

The members of the Bundestag and mostly also of the state parliaments receive an income for their work. They are professional politicians who work full-time and are entitled to appropriate remuneration. This remuneration must "be able to provide a sufficient livelihood for them and their families. It must also do justice to the importance of the office, taking into account the responsibility and burden associated with it and the status assigned to this office in the constitutional structure" ("Diet judgment" of the BVerfG, 1975) .

Mayors of communities with 50,000 to 100,000 inhabitants and judges at a federal supreme court were seen as comparable to members of the Bundestag. The annual salaries of these groups of people have not yet been achieved. The monthly allowance for members of parliament has been € 7,339 since January 1, 2008 and € 7,668 since January 1, 2009. The compensation is subject to income tax.

In addition, the MPs receive a tax-free all-in fee. This mainly covers the costs for the office in the constituency as well as for the second home and livelihood at the parliamentary seat. The flat rate is adjusted annually on January 1st to reflect the cost of living. In 2009 it amounted to 3868 euros per month. The MPs are also entitled to 14,712 euros per month to pay employees (assistants, auxiliary staff). The MP does not receive this sum himself, but the Bundestag administration pays the employees hired by the MPs directly.

MEPs' income is repeatedly criticized in public. It is undisputed that the MPs are entitled to remuneration. However, the amount of income and the fact that the MPs decide on it themselves is controversial. The latter, however, has been stipulated in the "Diet judgment" by the Federal Constitutional Court. The remuneration is well above the average income, but does not come close to that of many freelance professions (doctors, lawyers) and members of middle management in the economy (department heads, heads of a bank branch). In 1990, an independent commission came to the conclusion that the compensation and the lump sum were 30–40 percent below the appropriate amount. The compensation was increased by 91 percent from 1977 (7,500 DM) to 2008 (7,339 euros); this increase lagged behind the general trend in incomes.