Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Political German for Dummies: Omnibusgesetz

How do you say "earmark" in German?

They do have pigs and cows with such tags, but somehow the Germans missed the opportunity to extend use of the word to legislation. Maybe this occurred because farmers don't really go into national politics here.

The German legislatures at the state and the national level do the same thing as their American counterparts, they sneak an unrelated piece of law into a bill and then sit back and enjoy the pork.

But how do the Germans call this nefarious activity?

We figured that the term would be fairly bland, easy to overlook, because of the fact that the majority of German parlamentarians are lawyers or civil servants by trade.

Today, we can proudly say we found the German word for political "earmarks", and as predicted it has nothing of the down home git 'er done feel of "earmark" about it.

Wikipedia has an entry: Artikelgesetz. Artikel is "article", "gesetz" is bill or law. The meaning is straightforward: a bill generally has several articles, and the German term describes the "how" instead of the "what or where". A completely separate provision is inserted as one or more "articles", hence we have an earmark.

Another equally valid German term for this is "Mantelgesetz", where "Mantel" is a "shell" or a wrapper. Think legal tortellini or ravioli, what you see is not what you get, or the meat is inside...

Both of these terms are as bland as the one infamous German bureaucratic term we won't quote.  

However, we eventually found a fun term that is actually more widely used in the media: Omnibusgesetz.

Of course, this may elicit the image of a transit bus but derives from the other meaning of omnibus.

Sadly, the English Wikipedia also has an entry "omnibus bill" which matches the German definition.

So, can you really say "Omnibusgesetz" for a bill with earmarks?

Maybe someone out there can submit a bill to clarify use of the terms.

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