Politics of Germany

Politics of Germany takes place in a framework of a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Federal Chancellor is the head of government, and of a plurality multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, Bundestag and Bundesrat. Since 1949, the party system has been dominated by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

The Judiciary of Germany is independent of the executive and the legislature.The political system is laid out in the 1949 constitution, the "Grundgesetz" (Basic Law), which remained in effect with minor amendments after 1990's German reunification.

The constitution emphasizes the protection of individual liberty in an extensive catalogue of human rights and also divides powers both between the federal and state levels and between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. In many ways, the 1949 "Grundgesetz" is a strong response to the perceived flaws of the failed 1919 Weimar Republic, which, in 1933, was replaced by the legal power gain of Hitler and the Third Reich.

Federal executive branch

The "Bundeskanzler" (Federal Chancellor) heads the "Bundesregierung" (Federal Government) and thus the executive branch of the federal government. He or she is elected by and responsible to the "Bundestag", Germany's parliament. Germany, like the United Kingdom, can thus be classified as a parliamentary system.

The Chancellor cannot be removed from office during a 4-year term unless the "Bundestag" has agreed on a successor. This Constructive Vote of No Confidence is intended to avoid the situation of the Weimar Republic in which the executive did not have enough support in the legislature to govern effectively, but the legislature was too divided to name a successor.

Except in the periods 1969–72 and 1976–82, when the social democratic party of Chancellor Brandt and Schmidt came in second in the elections, the Chancellor has always been the candidate of the largest party, usually supported by a coalition of two or more parties with a majority in the parliament. The Chancellor appoints a Vice-Chancellor (Vizekanzler), who is a member of his cabinet, usually the Foreign Minister. When there is a coalition government (which has, so far, always been the case, except for the period of 1957 to 1961), the Vice-Chancellor usually belongs to the smaller party of the coalition.

The heads of governments may change the structure of ministries whenever and however they see fit. For example, in the middle of January 2001, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture was renamed to Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture as a consequence of the BSE crisis. For that measure, competences from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Health were transferred to the new Ministry of Consumer Protection.

Subordinate to the cabinet is the Civil service of Germany.

By contrast, the duties of the "Bundespräsident" (Federal President) are largely representative and ceremonial; power is exercised by the Chancellor. The President is elected every 5 years on May 23 by the Federal Assembly ("Bundesversammlung"), a special body convened only for this purpose, comprising the entire "Bundestag" and an equal number of state delegates selected especially for this purpose in proportion to election results for the state diets.In May 2004, Horst Köhler of the CDU was elected. The reason that the President is not popularly elected is to prevent him from gaining enough popular legitimacy to circumvent the constitution, as occurred with the Weimar Republic.
President
Horst Köhler
--- 1)
1 July 2004
-
Chancellor
Angela Merkel
CDU
22 November 2005
-
Other government parties|
SPD, CSU|

1) Although Mr. Köhler has been a member of the CDU the German Basic Law requests in Article 55 that the Federal President does not hold another office, practice a profession or hold a membership of any corporation. Accordingly every Federal President has let his party membership rest dormant and does not belong to a political party during his term of office.

Federal parliament

Germany has on the federal level a bicameral legislature. The parliament has two chambers. The "Bundestag" (Federal Diet) , elected for a four year term, 299 members elected in single-seat constituencies according to first-past-the-post, while a further 299 members are allocated from statewide party lists to achieve a proportional distribution in the legislature, conducted according to a system of mixed member proportional representation. Voters vote once for a constituency representative, and a second time for a party, and the lists are used to make the party balances match the distribution of second votes. In the current parliament there are 16 overhang seats, giving a total of 614. This is caused by larger parties winning additional single-member districts above the totals determined by their proportional party vote. A party must receive 5% of the national vote or win at least three directly elected seats to be represented in the "Bundestag". This rule, often called the "five percent hurdle", was incorporated into Germany's election law to prevent political fragmentation and strong minor parties, which was considered a major reason for the inefficiency of the Weimar Republic's Reichstag. The first "Bundestag" elections were held in the Federal Republic of Germany ("West Germany") on August 14, 1949. Following reunification, elections for the first all-German "Bundestag" were held on December 2 1990. The last election was held on September 18 2005, the 16th Bundestag convened on October 18 2005. The number of Bundestag Deputies was reduced from 656 to 598 beginning in 2002, although under the additional member system, more deputies may be admitted if a party wins more directly elected seats than it would be entitled to under proportional representation.

The "Bundesrat" (Federal Council) is the representation of the state governments at the federal level. It consists of 69 members who are delegates of the 16 "Bundesländer" and usually, but not necessarily include the 16 Minister Presidents themselves. The "Länder" each have from three to six votes in the "Bundesrat", dependent on population. "Bundesrat" members receive voting instructions from their state governments.

The legislature has powers of exclusive jurisdiction and concurrent jurisdiction with the "Länder" in areas specifically enumerated by the Basic Law.The "Bundestag" bears the major responsibility. The necessity for the "Bundesrat" to concur on legislation is limited to bills related to revenue shared by the federal and state governments and those imposing responsibilities on the states, although in practice, this means that "Bundesrat" concurrence is very often required as federal legislation often has to be executed by state or local agencies.

Since the political orientation of the "Bundesrat" (which depends on the various state elections that occur independently of the federal ones) is quite frequently the opposite of that of the "Bundestag", it has, in recent years, become more and more of a forum for the opposition parties, as opposed to one for state interests, as the constitution intended. To mitigate this effect members of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat form the Vermittlungsauschuss which seeks to build a compromise in cases when the two chambers can not agree on a certain piece of legislation.

Political parties and elections

"More info: 16th German federal election, 2005"The Federal Council is composed by representatives of the State governments.

Judicial branch

Since the independence of the judiciary of Germany is historically older than democracy in Germany, the organization of courts is traditionally strong, and almost all state actions are subject to judicial review. Besides a so-called "ordinary" judicial branch that handles civil and criminal cases, which is in turn composed of four levels of courts up to the "Bundesgerichtshof" in a fairly complex appeals system, there are separate branches for administrative, tax, labour, and social security issues, each with their own hierarchies. Courts are generally in the hands of the states, except for the highest courts of each branch, which are federal, respectively, to maintain a certain degree of unity in jurisdiction.

In addition, Germany has a powerful Constitutional Court, the "Bundesverfassungsgericht." This is somewhat unique since the "Grundgesetz" stipulates in principle that every person may file a complaint to that court when his or her constitutional rights, especially the human rights, have been violated by the state and when he or she has exhausted all stages of appeal in the regular court system.Such actions can include laws passed by the legislative branch, court decisions, or acts of the administration. While in practice, only a small percentage of these constitutional complaints "(Verfassungsbeschwerden)" are successful, the Constitutional Court is known to frequently antagonise both the executive and the legislative branches with far-reaching decisions. This has even gone so far as judges openly stating that they are indifferent to the reactions of the government, the Bundestag, public opinion or any financial consequences arising from a decision with the only relevant point being the constitution. It should also be mentioned that the Bundesverfassungsgericht has very high approval rates throughout the general population.The Constitutional Court also handles several other procedures such as disputes between state institutions over their constitutional powers. It has also the power to outlaw political parties when their goals contravene the principles of the constitution. However so far the Constitutional court has only used this power twice, outlawing the SRP (Socialist Reichs Party, a successor to the NSDAP) in 1952, and the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) in 1956.

Recent political issues

"Red-Green" vs. Conservative-led coalitions

In the 1998 election the SPD emphasized commitment to reducing persistently high unemployment and appealed to voters' desire for new faces after 16 years of Helmut Kohl's government. Gerhard Schröder positioned himself as a centrist "Third Way" candidate in the mold of Britain's Tony Blair and America's Bill Clinton--he was critiqued as "Clintonblair" by some newspaper sources throughout his election campaign. The CDU/CSU stood on its record of economic performance and experience in foreign policy.The Kohl government was hurt at the polls by slower growth in the east in the past two years, widening the economic gap between east and west.The final margin of victory was sufficiently high to permit a "red-green" coalition of the SPD with Alliance '90/The Greens ("Bündnis '90/Die Grünen"), bringing the Greens into a national government for the first time."The first months of the new government were marked by policy disputes between the moderate and traditional left wings of the SPD, resulting in some voter disaffection. The first state election after the federal election was held in Hesse in February 1999. The CDU increased its vote by 3.5% to emerge as the largest party, and was able to replace an SPD/Green coalition with a CDU/FDP coalition. The result was interpreted in part as a referendum on the federal government's proposed new citizenship law, which would have eased requirements for long-time foreign residents to obtain citizenship, and permitted them to retain their original citizenship as well.

In March 1999, SPD chairman and Minister of Finance Oskar Lafontaine, who represented a more traditional social democratic position, resigned from all offices after losing a party-internal power struggle against Schröder.

In state elections in 2000 and 2001, the respective SPD- or CDU-led coalition governments were re-elected into power.

The next election for the "Bundestag" was September 22 2002. Gerhard Schröder led the coalition of SPD and Greens to an 11 seat victory over the conservative challengers headed by Edmund Stoiber (CSU). Two factors are generally cited that enabled Schröder to win the elections despite poor approval ratings a few months before: good handling of the 2002 European floods and firm opposition to the USA's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The coalition treaty for the second red-green coalition was signed October 16, 2002. With a significantly changed cabinet (see below), Schröder and Fischer began their second term.

Conservative comeback

In November 2003, elections took place in the states of Hesse and Lower Saxony, both leading to overwhelming victories for the conservatives. In Hesse, the CDU minister president Roland Koch was re-elected, with his party CDU gaining enough seats to govern without the former coalition partner FDP.In Lower Saxony, the former SPD minister president Sigmar Gabriel lost the elections, leading to a CDU/FDP-government headed by new minister president Christian Wulff (CDU). Both elections were seen as symptomatic for a widespread criticism against the federal red-green government.

The protest against the Iraq war changed this situation a bit, favouring SPD and Greens.

The latest election in the state of Bavaria led to a landslide victory of the conservatives, gaining not just the majority (as usual), but two thirds of parliamentary seats.

In April 2003, chancellor Schröder announced massive labor market reforms, called Agenda 2010, that among other measures include a shakeup of the system of German job offices, cuts in unemployment benefits and subsidies for unemployed persons who start their own businesses. These changes are commonly known by the name of the chairman of the commission which conceived them as Hartz I - Hartz IV. Although these reforms have sparked massive protests they are now credited with being in part responsible for the economic upswing and the fall of unemployment figures in Germany in the years 2006/7.

The European elections on June 13, 2004 brought a staggering defeat for the Social Democrats, who polled only slightly more than 21%, the lowest election result for the SPD in a nationwide election since the Second World War. Liberals, Greens, conservatives and the far left were the winners of the European election in Germany, because voters were disillusioned by high unemployment and cuts in social security, while the governing SPD party seems to be concerned with quarrels between the party wings and unable to give any clear direction. Many observers believe that this election marked the beginning of the end of the Schröder government and indicates a process in which the SPD party seems to shrink and/or fall apart.

Rise of the Right

In September 2004, elections were held in the states of Saarland, Brandenburg and Saxony. In the Saarland, the governing CDU was able to remain in power and gained one additional seat in the parliament and the SPD lost seven seats, while the Liberals and Greens were able to re-enter state parliament. The far-right National Democratic Party, which had never got more than 1 or 2% of the vote, received about 4%, although it failed to earn a seat in the state parliament (a party must obtain at least 5% of the vote to achieve state parliamentary representation).

Two weeks later, elections were held in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony: once again, overall, the ruling parties lost votes and although they remained in power, the right to far-right parties made the big leaps. In Brandenburg, the Deutsche Volksunion (DVU) re-entered the state parliament after winning 6.1% of the vote. In Saxony, the NPD entered a non-competition agreement with the DVU and obtained 9.2% of the vote, thus winning seats in the state parliament. Due to their losses at the ballots, the ruling CDU of Saxony was forced to form a coalition with the SPD. The rise of the right to far-right is a trend that worries the ruling political parties.

German federal election 2005

On May 22 2005 as predicted the SPD took a devastating defeat in its former heartland, North Rhine-Westphalia. Half an hour after the election results, the SPD chairman Franz Müntefering announced that the chancellor would clear the way for premature federal elections by the means of a purposely lost vote of confidence. This took the republic by surprise, especially because the SPD was below 25% in polls at the time. On the following Monday the CDU announced Angela Merkel as conservative candidate for chancellorship, aspiring to be the first female chancellor in German history.

Whereas in May and June 2005 victory of the conservatives seemed highly likely, with some polls giving them an absolute majority, this picture changed shortly before the election at September 18, 2005, especially after the conservatives introduced Paul Kirchhof as potential minister of the treasury, and after a TV duel between Merkel and Schröder where many considered Schröder to have performed better.

New for the 2005 election was the alliance between the newly formed Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice (WASG) and the PDS, planning to fuse into a common party (see Left Party.PDS). With the former SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine for the WASG and Gregor Gysi for the PDS as prominent figures, this alliance soon found interest in the media and in the population. Polls in July saw them as high as 12%.

After success in the state election for Saxony, the alliance between the far right parties National Democratic Party and Deutsche Volksunion (DVU), which planned to leapfrog the "five-percent hurdle" on a common party ticket, was another media issue.

The election results of September 18 2005 were surprising insofar as they differed widely from the polls of the previous weeks. The conservatives lost votes compared to 2002, reaching only 35%, and failed to get a majority for a "black-yellow" government of CDU/CSU and liberal FDP. The FDP polled a stunning 10% of the votes, one of their best results ever. But the red-green coalition also failed to get a majority, with the SPD losing votes, but polling 34% and the greens staying at 8%. The left party alliance reached 8.7% and entered the German Parliament, whereas the NPD only got 1.6%.

The most likely outcome of coalition talks was a so-called "grand coalition" between the conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the social democrats (SPD), with the three smaller parties (liberals, greens and the left) in the opposition. Other possible coalitions include a "traffic light coalition" between SPD, FDP and Greens and a "Jamaica coalition" between CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens. Coalitions involving the Left Party have been ruled out by all parties (including the Left Party itself), although the combination of one of the major parties and any two small parties would mathematically have a majority. Of these combinations, only a red-red-green coalition is politically even imaginable. Both Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel announced that they had won the election and should become next chancellor.

On October 10, talks were held between Franz Müntefering, the SPD chairman, Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber, the CSU chairman. In the afternoon it was announced that the CDU/CSU and SPD would begin formal coalition negotiations with the aim of a Grand Coalition with Angela Merkel as the next German chancellor.

Angela Merkel is the first woman, the first East German and the first scientist to be chancellor as well as the youngest German chancellor ever. On November 22 2005 Angela Merkel was sworn in by president Horst Köhler for the office of Bundeskanzlerin.

Foreign relations

ee also

*Political culture of Germany
*German emergency legislature
*German federal election, 2005
*List of political parties in Germany
*Composition of the German Regional Parliaments

External links

* [http://www.bundesregierung.de/Webs/Breg/DE/Homepage/home.html Official Site of the Bundesregierung]
* [http://www.bundeswahlleiter.de/e/index_e.htm Official source of election results]
* [http://www.germany.info Official source from the German Embassy in Washington, DC]


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