Parliamentarians fail to reveal arms lobby ties | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.08.2009
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Parliamentarians fail to reveal arms lobby ties

Several German parliamentarians have come under pressure after reports said they concealed their memberships in military associations close to the country's arms lobby.

A session of the Bundestag

Bundestag rules say politicians must reveal memberships

Five members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, have held senior positions at the German Society for Military Technology (DWT) and the Association of the German Army (FKH) without making public their membership in the bodies, according to German news agency dpa.

Parliamentary regulations require lawmakers to declare any membership in organizations.

The four Social Democrats (SPD) and one Free Democrat (FDP) are all members of the Bundestag's defense committee. Elke Hoff (FDP), Rainer Arnold and Joern Thiessen held seats on the steering committee of the DWT. Gerd Hoefer and Johannes Kahrs were members of the FKH steering committee.

Lower House of Federal German Parliament

Parliamentarians can get heavy fines for concealing facts

"Membership in the steering committee is voluntary. Because no money is paid, I forgot to disclose it," said Thiessen.

Parliamentarians claim honorary roles don't count

Hoefer and Kahrs also said they believed the status of their FKH membership meant they were not obliged to declare them to the Bundestag.

"The activity is voluntary, so it does not need to be revealed," said Hoefer.

Kahrs justified his silence over his FKH role by stating that treasurers or chairmen of associations did not have to reveal their membership to the Bundestag.

Both Hoefer and Kahrs have since officially declared their memberships according to the Bundestag policy.

The Bundestag regulations state that parliamentarians are obligated "to disclose functions in associations of trade and industry and prohibited from accepting any remuneration for the exercise of [that] office other than that provided for by law."

Failure to reveal memberships can lead to disciplinary action being taken against the parliamentarian and can include fines as high as half of his or her annual salary. Members of the Bundestag currently receive 7,668 euros ($11,014) per month in parliamentary allowance.

Other parliamentarians who belong in the two military associations had declared their membership in line with the Bundestag regulations. They include Deputy Defense Minister Thomas Kossendey (CDU), who is vice president of the DWT, and Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner, who is on the FKH steering committee.

German Bundeswehr soldiers follow the debate on the one-year extension to the German military's participation in the U.S.- led Operation Enduring Freedom against terrorism in the Bundestag in Berlin

Lobbyists are concerned about military influence in the Bundestag

The SPD politician Ulrike Merten, who could become Germany's next defense minister should the Social Democrats win the coming general election, is a declared member of the board of the DWT.

Anti-lobby groups warn against leniency

Critics of lobby groups said that the alleged forgetfulness or misunderstandings of those who failed to reveal their connections to military associations should not be used to cover up the seriousness of the oversight.

"In the associations and companies named, there is influence on behalf of the Federal Armed Forces," said Ulrich Mueller of the Organization for Lobby Control. "To that extent, the membership in committees of such lobby platforms must be made public to all."

Mueller added that some of the responsibility must lie with the Bundestag administration which he considers to be too lenient in imposing sanctions on parliamentarians.

Editor: Nancy Isenson

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