The picture itself is not spectacular. In a committee room of the Bundestag, Green Party politician Anton Hofreiter speaks into his microphone, in front of him the bell with which he, as chairman, can ring the Europe Committee if necessary to moderate the situation. So far, so normal. But next to the bell are a small toy car and a drinking bottle, and his 15-month-old son is sitting on Hofreiter’s lap.
The photo from the live stream of the Bundestag, which an employee of the Bundestag posted on Twitter on Monday, went viral. For many, the picture seems to be a symbol of a more modern Bundestag that combines the compatibility of politics and family.
But the reality for many parents in politics is not quite as positive. During the weeks in session, members of parliament are often away from their children, the working day often begins early, and Bundestag sessions often last into the night. Although there is a daycare center in the Bundestag, the traffic light parties apparently see a need to catch up on the children’s rules in the Bundestag.
“We should see whether the Bundestag’s rules are modern enough,” says the parliamentary director of the FDP, Johannes Vogel, in response to the Hofreiter photo. This includes the regulation for parental leave as a member of parliament, but above all the ban on children in the plenary session of the German Bundestag.
MPs are only allowed to bring their children to meetings in absolutely exceptional cases. For roll-call votes and then only if this has been agreed with the Bundestag Presidium present. “I think that’s an anachronism,” says Vogel.
In other countries, this has long been a matter of course. In New Zealand, for example, MP Tamati Coffey brought his one-month-old baby to the session in 2019. While Coffey chimed in the debate, the Speaker of Parliament took over the job of babysitting and bottle-feeding the child.
If Johannes Vogel has his way, this should also be possible in the German Parliament. “What works in the committee rooms must also work in the plenum,” says the 40-year-old. But so far there has only been a playroom right next to the Bundestag plenum, which also has a breastfeeding corner for mothers. For a new regulation, the rules of procedure of the Bundestag would have to be changed.
But Vogel’s party friend Wolfgang Kubicki, of all people, strictly rejects this: “I think it’s wrong to grant members of the German Bundestag, who are already privileged, further special rights,” said the Vice President of the Bundestag to the Tagesspiegel. It is also not possible for the employees in the Bundestag to take their children to the plenary sessions. With an “income well above average”, it should also be possible for MPs to organize childcare.
On the other hand, Vogel received support for his proposal from the Greens. “Balancing children and work will still be a major challenge in 2022,” said the parliamentary group’s financial policy spokeswoman, Katharina Beck, to the Tagesspiegel. She has a little daughter herself, who she takes to events from time to time.
As a member of the Bundestag, you have the option of your own day care center, a breastfeeding and playroom and appropriate care rooms for the parliamentary group. “Nevertheless, there are some attendance requirements at very late times, often spontaneously, where care cannot always be organized immediately,” says Beck. She points out that society still has “a lot of catching up to do when it comes to reconciling child and work”.
Anton Hofreiter himself does not want to comment on the picture and the circumstances. However, it does not appear to have been a PR campaign. The 51-year-old has often been seen with the stroller in Parliament, and as parliamentary group leader he also took a break after the birth. Hofreiter’s office only says about the picture: “It’s everyday life for us that he takes his son to meetings from time to time when he’s not in daycare.”