EIt’s getting heated when the members of the Hessian state parliament are once again arguing about the energy transition. Andreas Lichtert from the right wing of the AfD parliamentary group believes that “international high finance” is behind the immense spending on “so-called climate protection”. Whereupon Kaya Kinkel from the Greens states that this term is “clearly an anti-Semitic allusion”. She asks the conference president to reprimand the speaker. Lichtert calls the accusation “infamous” and a “mess”. Economy Minister Tarek Al-Wazir (The Greens) declares that the term “international high finance” is anti-Semitic code. “They are trying to keep us silent,” says Robert Lambrou, leader of the AfD parliamentary group, and requests that the Council of Elders be convened.
The body, in which all parliamentary groups are represented, basically has the task of supporting the President of the Landtag in conducting parliamentary business. Among other things, it meets at short notice for confidential consultations when plenary debates get out of hand. In this case, the session must be suspended for half an hour. In the end, the council of elders did not come to a unanimous conclusion on the matter, but at least the subsequent debate was less heated.
In the year that is drawing to a close, there were eleven meetings of the Council of Elders, one more than in 2021. Because the body does not only meet when conflicts suddenly arise, but also deals with other matters, the total number of all meetings is a suitable indicator for the climate in the Parliament, however, only to a limited extent. The number of complaints is more meaningful: this year six were issued, in 2021 there were only three.
“The state parliament is as always”
They are due when a member of parliament “interrupts in a way that hurts him personally or violates the dignity or order of the house”, as stated in the rules of procedure of the state parliament. From the point of view of the session president, this was the case, for example, when Frank Grobe (AfD) accused the left in a socio-political debate that it was not about workers, but about “milk cattle capable of work”.
MPs who have already been reprimanded and misbehave again in the same session are called to order. Depending on the severity of the violation, this can also happen immediately after the first statement. This is what happened to Jan Schalauske, the parliamentary group leader of the Left Party, when he called AfD MPs “brown agitators”. “That’s not possible,” admonished the President of the session, Frank Lortz (CDU). After not a single call to order was necessary in 2021, two were registered in the year that was drawing to a close.
In 31 plenary sessions, which often lasted a day, the MPs held a total of more than 2,200 speeches, which are recorded verbatim on around 2,600 closely printed pages. “The state parliament is the same as always,” said today’s Prime Minister Boris Rhein in an interview with the FAZ when he took over the office of President of the state parliament at the beginning of 2019. From the point of view of the Union politician, who has known the operation in Wiesbaden for more than two decades, the reputation of being “the toughest parliament in the republic” is not deserved. In some other federal states it is actually more violent, said Rhein.
Astrid Wallmann, Rhein’s successor at the head of parliament since the summer, sees things similarly. The forty-three-year-old notes that in the past there were significantly more meetings interrupted with discussions by the Council of Elders than today. “In any case, I wouldn’t say that the tone has generally become rougher.” Democracy thrives on the hard struggle for the best arguments, but there are of course limits. “And I realize that a rough tone tends to put people off,” reports the Speaker of Parliament. That is why she is relieved that the culture of debate in the plenary debates in Wiesbaden is developing positively.
This is not due to her personally, but to the discipline of the MPs. However: “What cannot be tolerated at all are personally hurtful statements.” Wallmann says she will continue to take decisive action against such transgressions. The principle also applies in a democracy: “The sound makes the music.”