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German parliament sets up interim committee to run day-to-day affairs

Germany’s parliament has taken the unprecedented move of setting up an interim special committee. The committee is to to handle the Bundestag's day-to-day affairs until the coalition partners approve this week's deal.

The general standing committee created by the Bundestag on Thursday is to take over the work of the technical committees that are normally set up by a new parliament after a new government takes office.

Members of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are to have 23 seats on the 47-member committee, while the Social Democrats (SPD) are to get 14. The two opposition parties, the Greens and the Left are to get five each. The general parliamentary committee is to be chaired by the president of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert.

This is the first time in the 64-year-old parliament's history that a general committee has been set up. Normally, its work is done by a number of technical committees.

However, despite the deal announced on Wednesday to form a grand coalition between the chancellor's CDU/CSU bloc and the Social Democrats, there was no announcement on who would fill the various cabinet posts in the new government.

As the makeup of the technical committees is largely governed by which party holds which cabinet posts, the coalition parties agreed that it would be better to form a general committee to take over on an interim basis until a cabinet has been named.

Both the opposition parties cried foul, with the parliamentary floor leader of the Left, Petra Sitte, arguing that there is no provision for such a move either in the Bundestag's rules of procedure or the constitution – meaning this would be unconstitutional. Her counterpart from the Greens, Britta Hasselmann argued that such a committee wouldn't be capable of doing the job needed.

However, an opposition motion to appoint the usual 22 standing committees without delay was easily defeated by the overwhelming majority held by the CDU/CSU and SPD in the new parliament.

Party approval pending

The general committee is to be strictly a temporary measure until the Bundestag elects a new chancellor. The only stumbling bloc could be the general membership of the Social Democrats who must sign off on the coalition agreement.

Entering a coalition with the conservatives, with which the SPD served in a grand coalition under Chancellor Merkel from 2005 to 2009 is quite controversial among the party's membership. This is one reason the SPD's executive pledged to put any new coalition deal to a vote by its more than 400,000 members, before it could come into force.

The campaign to win their support for the coalition agreement essentially began even before it was announced on Wednesday. Later this Thursday, though, SPD leaders take their campaign on the road, with party leader Sigmar Gabriel attending a regional party conference in the town of Hofheim, near Germany's financial capital, Frankfurt. This is to be just the first in a series of such regional SPD conferences leading up to the vote, to be held on December 14.

pfd/hc (dpa, AFP, EPD)