|The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces of the German Bundestag Dr. Willfried Penner visited Bulgaria on March 1-2, 2005 at the invitation of the Center for the Study of Democracy and the "Friedrich Ebert" Foundation, Sofia Regional Office.|
On March 1, 2005 Dr. Penner met at the National Assembly Mr. Venko Aleksandrov, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Policy, Defence and Security and presented the functions and activity of the institution of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces of the German Bundestag. He had as well a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Defence Ms. Sonya Iankulova.
Dr.Penner visited also the Center for the Study of Democracy where he met representatives of the staff, working in the field of introducing the ombudsman institution in Bulgaria on different levels and in different areas of public life.
Dr. Penner delivered two lectures on Commissioner for the Armed Forces of the German Bundestag: Institution for Protecting the Law, Receiving Complaints and Parliamentary Control. Achievements and Perspectives. The first lecture was held on March 1, 2005 before representatives of the General Staff of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, MPS, representatives of diplomatic missions, NGOs, etc.
On March 2, 2005 Dr. Penner delivered his second lecture at Rakovski Defence and Staff College.
Dr. Penner's visit was part of the newly launched by CSD initiative to examine the opportunities for introducing specialized ombudsman institutions in Bulgaria, including an ombudsman for the armed forces as a a new type of specialized protection of soldiers’ rights and mechanism for counteraction of abuse and corruption cases in the armed forces, etc.
Ombudsmen or similar institutions in the armed forces and security bodies exist in a number of countries. In some countries, e.g. Czech Republic, Norway, Germany the specialized ombudsman in the armed forces is elected by the Parliament, while elsewhere he/she is appointed by a royal decree as in the Netherlands or by the government (Canada, USA, Australia). Notwithstanding those differences, the institution is independent and does not belong with any hierarchical structure. The office-holder prepares an annual report on his/her activitiy and is responsible before the parliament or the body, which has appointed him/her.
The institution was established by incorporating it in the Basic Law (article 45b, adopted with regard to Germany's accession to NATO)and adopting a special federal law. The main function of the institution is to safeguard basic rights of the soldiers and to assist the Bundestag in exercising parliamentary control over the Armed Forces. The Commisssioner plays the part of a special petition body and every soldier has the right to address him directly, i.e. without abiding the armed forces hierarchy. He/she has the status of a federal minister and may hold no other paid office, or practise any other profession during his term in office.
Bio of Dr. Willfried Penner
Born 25 May 1936 in Wuppertal; married, three sons. 1956 obtained Abitur (school-leaving certificate giving right of entry to university) at Wilhelm Dörpfeld Grammar School in Wuppertal. After studying law and obtaining a doctorate, employed in the Public Prosecution Office since 1965, latterly as First Public Prosecutor in Wuppertal. Since 1983 chairman of Wuppertal Municipal Sports Association. 1966 joined the SPD, has held various party posts in Wuppertal, including that of chairman. Member of Wuppertal City Council for seven years until the end of 1979. Member of the German Bundestag from 1972 to 11 May 2000; from November 1980 to October 1982 Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Defence, from March 1985 to December 1991 deputy chairman of the SPD parliamentary group and chairman of the working group on internal affairs, education and sport, 1992-1994 legal adviser to the SPD parliamentary group; from January 1995 to 11 May 2000 chairman of the Committee on Internal Affairs. Elected as Parliamentary Commissioner by 424 votes to 77, with 42 abstentions and two invalid votes, on 14 April 2000. Sworn in and took office on 11 May 2000.
Commissioner for the Armed Forces of the German Bundestag: Institution for Protecting the Law, Receiving Complaints and Parliamentary Control. Achievements and Perspectives (in German)