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Yesterday, the AfD candidate for chairperson of the interior standing committee of the German Bundestag was almost unanimously rejected with only one non-AfD member voting in favour (link in German; could not find an English source). It has also been widely reported in German, that the AfD was set to nominate the chairperson of this committee as well as a couple of others to the other parties' dismay. German sources reported, that the other parties chose to chair other standing committees which left the AfD in a position where it was able to select chairing the interior one.

It seems that these chairperson positions are usually distributed in a way that allows all parliamentary groups to chair according to their strength. Then, once a party or parliamentary group is chosen to chair a committee, they are permitted to nominate a chairperson who is typically elected with limited to no opposition.

What method is used 'behind the scenes' to determine which party gets to nominate which standing committee's chair(s)?

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According to this article (German source) it's a round-robin process.

There is a list of all committees, and then the factions take turns calling dibs on chairmanship of one committee at a time, starting with the largest faction and going down to the smallest. Then they start back with the largest until all committees are distributed. This happens in the Council of Elders, the council where the heads of all factions meet to negotiate matters of Bundestag procedure with each other.

This process is not actually codified anywhere. It's simply a kind of "we always did it that way" thing. The rules of procedure of the Bundestag §58 states that the committees "decide their chairpeople themselves following the agreements in the Council of Elders". Which is kind of self-contradicting: How can they decide themselves when their decision has to follow that of another organ?

The decisions by several committees to reject the council of elder nominations for their sharepeople is unprecedented in the history of the Bundesrepublik. The AfD will certainly want to challenge these decisions. They have nothing to lose, after all. Even when they lose the challenge, they still gain the attention. Disputes about the rules of procedure of the Bundestag are described in §127 of the rules of procedure. This clause gives them the right to ask the committee for election scrutiny, parliamentary immunity and parliamentary procedure to pass a judgment, and if they don't like that judgment to demand that the Bundestag votes on how the rules are to be interpreted.

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  • Do you mean round robin tournament or some other type of round robin? Dec 16, 2021 at 16:48
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    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica More like round robin DNS.
    – Philipp
    Dec 16, 2021 at 17:28
  • I've glanced at the Wikipedia article, but I don't understand how round robin DNS would be used to decide who can nominate candidates for committee chair? Dec 16, 2021 at 17:30
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    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica It's really not that difficult. Imagine there are three factions A, B and C. A is the largest and C is the smallest. First A picks a committee. Then B picks a committee. Then C picks a committee. Then A again, then B again, then C again. This goes on until all the committees are taken.
    – Philipp
    Dec 16, 2021 at 17:32
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Usually, by 'Gentlemen's Agreement'

The representatives of the Bundestag are legally free in the exercise of their mandate, yet there are niceties to be observed and failing to do so is a political slap in the face. This happened to the AfD in this (and other) instances.

Normally, the largest faction gets to nominate the President of the Bundestag, each faction gets to nominate a Vice President, and (as explained by Philipp in his answer) there is a kind of rota to determine committee chainpersons. Then there is an election (in the whole Bundestag or in the committee, respectively) and the representatives usually ratify the nomination of the faction which 'was supposed to get' the position.

It is customary that the largest opposition party gets the finance committee. (The exception is the state legislature of Berlin, where the Hauptausschuss would have acted as a rump parliament in case of another Berlin Crisis and was hence led by the largest government party). The slots are also picked by order of faction size, so it is customary that the largest party skips this important position unless it is in opposition.

The decision 'behind the scenes,' as you put it, depends on the dynamics within one faction. People want to become committee chairs, they want to become chairs of specific committees rather than any one, and so they are bargaining with their fellow faction members and the party leadership in general how their party should exercise the pick. Sometimes that depends on where a party wants to make a point, but also on who doesn't get a cabinet post. For instance, the Greens picked Europe for Hofreiter, both because Europe is important and probably also because Hofreiter represents an important block of party members. I don't know why the FDP picked Defense.

In many cases, the other parties acknowledge the right of the AfD to nominate a candidate for a postion in principle, yet refuse to elect the specific individual put forward by the AfD. And the AfD tries time and again to have their chosen candidate elected. (It would be an interesting question if there is any member in the AfD faction who would satisfy the other parties, but trying that would let the others effective pick how the AfD assigns their posts, so we will probably never see it.)

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