Parliament controls the government. This is one of the basic rules of parliamentary democracy. In addition, representatives of the people have a specially protected, almost unlimited right to ask questions. It is intended to create transparency where the government leaves or wants to leave something in the dark.
This fundamental right – which also applies to the press to a similar extent – must not be restricted. However, how well this control is organized depends on how effective it really is.
One can ask oneself why Berlin MPs made five times as many inquiries as members of the Bundestag in the past legislative period. Or why the number of parliamentary questions to the Senate has more than tripled since 2011. Why, due to the prescribed three-week period, inquiries are answered quickly but often incompletely by the Senate and are hardly usable.
So how sensibly are resources used in parliament and government? Administrative staff up to state secretary level complain that parliamentarians’ questions keep them from doing their actual work.
The deputies reply that they would hardly be informed without the inquiries. The fact that the inquiries are sometimes, not only in Berlin, intentionally used by the opposition to paralyze departments is as wrong as some of the condescending answers. The administrations have to answer the parliamentarians as best they can – and not as they please.
The system is inefficient, all sides see it that way. It is therefore good that the President of the House of Representatives, Dennis Buchner (SPD), wants to make the processes leaner and more digital. And that he also appeals to MPs to avoid double and triple questions. It shows that the problem is also being taken seriously in Parliament.
Three reasons for the strong growth are the change to a full-time parliament, the abolition of so-called large inquiries from the parliamentary groups in 2014 and, to put it plainly, the rather reserved handling of data by some Senate administrations. But it is not a solution to send out more and more requests.
It could be changed that the administration would have more than three weeks in the future for – then also – high-quality answers. The administrations would also be taken away from the common excuse “cannot be done”.
The abolition of the big questions eight years ago should make Parliament more exciting. This has deprived the parliamentary groups of the opportunity to set strategic priorities, which is the case in other countries with large inquiries.
There is only one thing more unpleasant for a government than control: well-organized control.