Germany/Politics

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The Federal Republic (Bundesrepublik) consists of 16 federal states (Bundesländer). The federal government (Bundesregierung) has the final say on most matters but state-specific legislation; the police and cultural affairs are handled by the states' governments. The government is parliamentary and based on a democratic constitution that emphasizes the protection of individual liberty and division of powers in a federal structure.

The chancellor (prime minister) heads the executive branch of the federal government. The duties of the president (chief of state, "Bundespräsident") are largely ceremonial--though the president may dismiss parliament, this has never happened so far; power is exercised by the chancellor, or Bundeskanzler. Elected by and responsible to the Bundestag (lower and principal chamber of the Parliament), the chancellor cannot be removed from office during a 4-year term unless the Bundestag has agreed on a successor. The President is elected every 5 years on May 23 by the Federal Assembly, a body convoked only for this purpose, comprising the entire Bundestag (federal legislative lower house) and an equal number of state delegates. In the 1999 election, Johannes Rau of the Social Democratic Party was elected.

The chancellor is usually the candidate of the party with the most seats in parliament. He appoints a vice-chancellor (Vizekanzler), who is a member of his cabinet, usually the foreign minister. When there is a coalition government (which is almost always the case), the vice-chancellor usually belongs to the smaller party of the coalition.

The heads of the federal states' governments are called minister presidents (Ministerpräsidenten). They form a cabinet as well, although it is usually much smaller than the federal government. The 16 minister presidents form the Bundesrat, some fields of legislation require approval from the Bundesrat.

It should be noted that heads of governments may change the structure of ministries whenever and however they see fit. For example, in the middle of February 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.

The Bundestag, also elected for a 4-year term, consists of at least twice the number of electoral districts--328 in 1998, being reduced to 299--in the country. (More deputies may be admitted when parties' directly elected seats exceed their proportional representation.) Elections for an all-German Bundestag were first held on December 2, 1990, and again on October 16, 1994 and September 27, 1998. A total of 669 deputies were seated after the 1998 national elections. The Bundesrat (upper chamber or Federal Council) consists of 69 members who are delegates of the 16 Laender (states). The legislature has powers of exclusive jurisdiction and concurrent jurisdiction with the Laender 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 treating revenue shared by federal and state governments and those imposing responsibilities on the states.

Germany has an independent federal judiciary consisting of a constitutional court, a high court of justice, and courts with jurisdiction in administrative, financial, labor, and social matters. The highest court is the Federal Constitutional Court, which ensures a uniform interpretation of constitutional provisions and protects the fundamental rights of the individual citizen as defined in the Basic Law.

Political Parties
Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD, one of the oldest organized political parties in the world, emerged as the winner in the September 1998 elections with 40.9% of the votes cast. Historically, it advocated Marxist principles, but in the Godesberg Program, adopted in 1959, the SPD abandoned the concept of a class party while continuing to stress social welfare programs. Although the SPD originally opposed West Germany's 1955 entry into NATO, it now strongly supports German ties with the alliance. Gerhard Schröder led the party to victory in 1998 on a moderate platform emphasizing the need to reduce unemployment. The SPD has a powerful base in the bigger cities and industrialized Laender. Oskar Lafontaine, elected SPD chairman November 1995, resigned from his party and government positions in March, 1999. Schröder succeeded Lafontaine as party chairman.

Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU). An important aspect of postwar German politics was the emergence of a moderate Christian party--the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)--operating with a related Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Although each party maintains its own structure, the two form a common caucus in the Bundestag and do not run opposing campaigns. The CDU/CSU has adherents among Catholics, Protestants, rural interests, and members of all economic classes. It is generally conservative on economic and social policy and more identified with the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches than are the other major parties, although its programs are pragmatic rather than ideological. Helmut Kohl served as chairman of the CDU from 1973 until the party's electoral defeat in 1998, when he was succeeded by Wolfggang Schäuble; Schäuble resigned in early 2000 as a result of a party financing scandal and was replaced by Angela Merkel. Edmund Stoiber took over the CSU chairmanship early in 1999. In the 1998 general election, the CDU polled 28.4% and the CSU 6.7% of the national vote.

Alliance 90/Greens. In the late 1970s, environmentalists organized politically as the Greens. Opposition to expanded use of nuclear power, to NATO strategy, and to certain aspects of highly industrialized society were principal campaign issues. The Greens received 8.3% of the vote in the January 1987 West German national election. However, in the December 1990 all-German elections, the Greens in western Germany were not able to clear the 5% hurdle required to win seats in the Bundestag. It was only in the territory of the former GDR that the Greens, in a merger with Alliance 90 (a loose grouping civil rights activists with diverse political views), were able to clear the 5% hurdle and win Bundestag seats. In 1994, Greens from East and West returned to the Bundestag with 7.3% and 49 seats in 1998; despite a slight fall in percentage of the vote (6.7%), the Greens retained 47 seats and joined of the federal government for the first time in coalition with the SPD. Joschka Fischer became vice chancellor and foreign minister in the new government, which has two other Greens ministers.

Free Democratic Party (FDP). The FDP has traditionally been composed mainly of middle- and upper-class Protestants, who consider themselves "independents" and heirs to the European liberal tradition. Although the party is weak on the state level, it has participated in all but three postwar federal governments and has spent only eight years out of government in the 50-year history of the Federal Republic. The party took 6.2% of the vote and returned 43 deputies to the Bundestag in 1998. In 2001, Guido Westerwelle replaced Wolfgang Gerhardt as party chairman.

Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). Under chairman Gabi Zimmer, the PDS is the successor party to the SED (the communist party of the GDR). Established in December 1989, it renounced most of the extreme aspects of SED policy but has retained much of the ideology. In the December 1990 all-German elections, the PDS gained 10% of the vote in the former GDR and 17 seats in the Bundestag. In October 1994, the PDS won four directly elected seats, to re-enter parliament with a total caucus of 30 seats despite staying below the 5% hurdle for proportional representation. In 1998, the party improved its result slightly to 5.1% of the national vote and 36 deputies.

Other parties. In addition to those parties that won representation in the Bundestag in 1998, a variety of minor parties won a cumulative total of 5.9% of the vote, up from 3.5% in 1994. 16 other parties were on the ballot in one or more states, but not qualified for representation in the Bundestag. The right-wing parties remained fragmented and ineffectual at the national level.

Recent Election Issues
The SPD in the 1998 election emphasized commitment to reducing persistently high unemployment and appealed to voters' desire for new faces after 16 years of Kohl government. Schröder positioned himself as a centrist "Third Way" candidate in the mold of Britain's Tony Blair. 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 the Greens, 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 since the federal election was held in Hesse in February, 1999. The CDU increased its vote by 3.5 percent to emerge as the largest party, and was able to replace a 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 other state elections in 2000 and 2001, the respective SPD- or CDU-led coalition governments were returned to power.

Country name:

conventional long form: Federal Republic of Germany
conventional short form: Germany
local long form: Bundesrepublik Deutschland
local short form: Deutschland

Data code: GM

Country code: DE

Government type: federal republic

Capital: Berlin

Administrative divisions:

16 states (Länder, singular Land; or Bundesländer, singular Bundesland)

Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria (German: Bayern), Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse (German: Hessen), Mecklenburg-Hither Pomerania (German: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), Lower Saxony (German: Niedersachsen), North Rhine-Westphalia (German:Nordrhein-Westfalen), Rhineland-Palatinate (German: Rheinland-Pfalz), Saar (German: Saarland), Saxony (German: Sachsen), Saxony-Anhalt (German: Sachsen-Anhalt), Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringia (German: Thueringen)

Independence:

  • 18 January 1871 (German Empire unification)
  • divided into four zones of occupation (UK, US, USSR, and later, France) in 1945 following World War II
  • Federal Republic of Germany (FRG or West Germany) proclaimed 23 May 1949 and included the former UK, US, and French zones
  • German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany) proclaimed 7 October 1949 and included the former USSR zone
  • unification of West Germany and East Germany took place 3 October 1990
  • all four powers formally relinquished rights 15 March 1991

National holiday: German Unity Day (Day of Unity), 3 October (1990)

Constitution: 23 May 1949, known as Basic Law; became constitution of the united German people 3 October 1990

Legal system: civil law system with indigenous concepts; judicial review of legislative acts in the Federal Constitutional Court; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:

chief of state: President Johannes Rau (since 1 July 1999)
head of government: Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (since 27 October 1998)
cabinet: Cabinet or Bundesregierung appointed by the president on the recommendation of the chancellor

elections:

  • president elected for a five-year term by a Federal Convention including all members of the Federal Assembly and an equal number of delegates elected by the Land Parliaments; election last held 23 May 1999 (next to be held 23 May 2004)
  • chancellor elected by an absolute majority of the Federal Assembly for a four-year term; election last held 27 September 1998 (next to be held in the fall of 2002)

election results:

Johannes Rau elected president; percent of Federal Convention vote - 57.6%
Gerhard Schroeder elected chancellor; percent of Federal Assembly - 52.7%

Legislative branch:

bicameral Parliament or Parlament consists of the Federal Assembly or Bundestag (656 seats usually, but 669 for the 1998 term; elected by popular vote under a system combining direct and proportional representation; a party must win 5% of the national vote or three direct mandates to gain representation; members serve four-year terms) and the Federal Council or Bundesrat (69 votes; state governments are directly represented by votes; each has 3 to 6 votes depending on population and are required to vote as a block)

elections:

Federal Assembly - last held 27 September 1998 (next to be held by the fall of 2002); note - there are no elections for the Bundesrat; composition is determined by the composition of the state-level governments; the composition of the Bundesrat has the potential to change any time one of the 16 state goverments changes

election results:

Federal Assembly - percent of vote by party: SPD 40.9%, Alliance '90/Greens 6.7%, CDU/CSU 35.1%, FDP 6.2%, PDS 5.1%
Federal Assembly - seats by party: SPD 298, Alliance '90/Greens 47, CDU/CSU 245, FDP 43, PDS 36
Federal Council - current composition - votes by party: SPD-led states 26, CDU-led states 28, grand coalitions (i.e. SPD-CDU coalitions) 15

Please note that the Federal Council figures are out of date already

Judicial branch:

Federal Constitutional Court or Bundesverfassungsgericht, half the judges are elected by the Bundestag and half by the Bundesrat

Political parties and leaders:

Alliance '90/Greens: Fitz Kuhn and Claudia Roth
Christian Democratic Union or CDU: Angela Merkel
Christian Social Union or CSU: Edmund Stoiber, chairman
Free Democratic Party or FDP: Wolfgang Gerhardt, chairman
Party of Democratic Socialism or PDS: Lothar Bisky, chairman
Social Democratic Party or SPD: Gerhard Schroeder, chairman

Political pressure groups and leaders:

employers' organizations; expellee, refugee, trade unions, and veterans groups

International organization participation:

AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group, BDEAC, BIS, CBSS, CCC, CDB (non-regional), CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G- 5, G- 7, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, MONUC, NAM (guest), NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNITAR, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNOMIG, UPU, WADB (nonregional), WEU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, ZC

Diplomatic representation in the US:

chief of mission: Ambassador Juergen Chrobog
chancery: 4645 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC 20007
telephone: [1] (202) 298-8141
FAX: [1] (202) 298-4249
consulate(s) general: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco
consulate(s): Wellington (America Samoa)

Diplomatic representation from the US:

chief of mission: Ambassador John C. Kornblum
embassy: Neustaedtische Kirchstrasse 4-5, 10117 Berlin
mailing address: PSC 120, Box 1000, APO AE 09265
telephone: [49] (30) 238-5174
FAX: [49] (30) 238-6290
consulate(s) general: Dusseldorf, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich

Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of black (top), red, and gold

Some links:

German government
Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)
Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen(The Green Party / ecological oriented party)
German Parliament