Plenary Sittings of the National Council
During parliamentary sessions the National Council meets in plenary on two or three days every month. Decisions of the Plenary are as a rule based on reports or recommendations of the competent committees, which are entrusted with preliminary deliberations on the individual items of business, for instance, bills or state treaties.
Deliberations in Plenary
The Plenary of the National Council holds final deliberations on the bills before it, possibly or even usually with final amendments made before voting. These final deliberations are called Second and Third Readings of the bill, with the Third Reading following immediately after the Second.
A First Reading only takes place in exceptional cases. Its purpose is to have a fundamental debate on important matters, i.e. before the competent committee starts its deliberations on the concrete wording of the bill. Private Members’ bills are given a First Reading when so requested by the mover.
The Structure of Plenary Sittings
Plenary sittings normally start with a discussion of Matters of Topical Interest or Question Time. During question time Members address short oral questions to a Government Member, who will respond immediately.
Other ways in which topical issues can be dealt with are Urgent Questions, Urgent Motions and motions calling for a short debate on a written answer by a Government Member. The latter may make statements on topical issues at any time.
The Plenary of the National Council also decides whether it consents to the public prosecution of a Member of the National Council. It can set deadlines to the competent committees for the preliminary deliberation of a given issue. When presented with a motion to establish an investigating committee, the National Council has to decide on it. If, however, a quarter of the Members demand that such committee be established, there will be no vote on it in the plenary.
The Plenary deals with reports of the Court of Audit and the Ombudsman Board and elects a number of officials such as the President of the Court of Audit and some of the members of the Constitutional Court. It may address the Government on political issues in the form of resolutions.
Discussion of EU Matters in the National Council
The Rules of Procedure of the National Council also contain special provisions regarding deliberations on EU matters. Thus, special Debates on EU Matters of Topical Interest are held four times a year, and EU statements by Members of the Federal Government followed by a debate are made twice a year in temporal proximity to EU Summits.
These sittings serve the purpose of discussing the programme of work of the current EU Presidency and other EU matters of topical interest. In this way the National Council not only wants to underline the importance of EU policies but also give the general public more insights into the plans of the European Union.
While the National Council’s right of participation in EU matters is first and foremost exercised through its two EU committees (the Main Committee and Sub-Committee), the instrument of “Subsidiarity Actions“ is reserved to the Plenary. It provides an opportunity for Members to bring action against the EU for a legislative act passed by it before the European Court of Justice if they feel that the EU has interfered with their competences and adopted too far-reaching regulations.
Convening Special Sittings
The President of the National Council is under the obligation to convene a sitting of the National Council, during the course of a parliamentary session, on a day other than the dates set in the agreed working programme, if so requested by twenty Members who have to state the subject matter they wish to be discussed. In this case, the National Council must be in a position to meet within eight working days after receipt of the demand. If a parliamentary group is composed of fewer than twenty Members, such a demand may be granted once a year if it is supported by all members of the parliamentary group in question.
At times other than the ordinary session the National Council can be convened by the Federal President if so requested by the Federal Government, at least one third of the Members of the National Council, or by the Federal Council. This has to be done in such a way that the National Council can meet within two weeks after receipt of the demand by the Federal President.
Chairing the National Council
The sittings of the National Council are as a rule open to the public. They are chaired in rotation – usually every two hours – by the Presidents of the National Council, who enforce compliance with the Rules of Procedure, keep order in the house and, when necessary, admonish speakers by a call to order or requiring him/her to speak to the point.