Last Updated on December 8, 2022
We continue to study basic knowledge of German politics and laws for Leben in Deutschland test. This part covers a lot of information about the structure of power and elections, so I divided it into 2 entries.
Germany has a parliamentary democracy based on strong competition between different parties. The head of government, Kanzler or Kanzlerin, is elected by parliament; the president has representative functions.
In Germany, as in other countries, there are legislative (pass the laws), executive (put decisions or laws into effect) and judicial branches.
The Bundestag, the Landtags of Bundesländer and the governments of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen, the Bundesrat are legislative bodies.
The basic principles are determined by the Constitution (Grundgesetz). Changing the Constitution requires two-thirds of the votes in Parliament and the Federal Council. Matters of compliance with the Constitution are decided by the Constitutional Court: federal and land.
Germany has a multi-level system of government: at the federal, state (Bundesland) and communal (communes – Gemeinden, districts – Kreise and free cities – Kreisfreistadt) level.
Every citizen who has reached the age of 18 has the right to participate in elections to the federal parliament – Bundestag (active suffrage).
Elections in Germany are free and secret. Everyone can decide whether to go to the polls and whom to choose. A person going to the polls cannot be forced to cast their vote for someone and should not have any consequences because of their choice.
Before elections, citizens receive a notification from the local government. The counting of votes is carried out by the “electoral assistants”. They are recruited on a voluntary basis or appointed by the electoral commission. This is an honorary service (Ehrenamt).
During elections to the Bundestag, a citizen chooses from two lists:
- in the first list, a specific candidate from the district is selected,
- in the second – a party.
The second choice determines the percentage of parties in the Bundestag, the first only specifies the list of each party.
Thanks to the first vote, residents can count on their own local candidate to represent their views in parliament. In addition, non-party candidates sometimes get into parliament
If the ratio on the first list does not match the ratio on the second, the party that gets more votes in the second list, but less in the first, gets additional seats in parliament.
Therefore, with a minimum number of deputies of 598 people, in reality there are usually more of them (currently record number 709). Such a system is majority and proportional (Mehrheits- und Verhältniswahlrecht). A party with less than 5 percent of the vote does not get into parliament (5% – Hürde).
For forming the government party fractions form a coalition. Factions that do not fall into the coalition turn to the opposition.
Functions of Parliament:
- pass federal laws,
- elects Kanzler
- as part of the federal assembly (Bundesversammlung), elects the federal president,
- control government actions and the formation of the federal budget.
The Bundestag is elected for a term of 4 years (last time in 2017). The Bundestag is headed by the Bundestagpräsident. He / she is chosen by an unspoken rule from among the members of the largest faction, regardless of whether it is ruling or opposition.
Elections to the parliament of the federal state
In addition to the Bundestag, German citizens elect the parliament of the federal state. In most cases it is called the Landtag and is elected for a period of 5 years.
The parliament of the Bundesland elects the head of government (who in most Bundesländer is called the Ministerpräsident). Ministerpräsident forms the land government. The parliament of the federal state pass land laws and monitors the implementation of the land budget.
Bundesrat (federal council)
Representatives of the Bundesländer governments form the federal council – Bundesrat, with 3-6 votes from each Bundesland, depending on the number of inhabitants.
Representatives of the same land must vote equally. Sessions of the Bundesrat are chaired by the Bundesratpräsident. The Bundestag is not a second house of parliament, but an independent body. The Bundesrat expresses the interests of the Bundesländer and participates in the process of writing and approving laws.
The executive branch is represented by:
at the federal level, the federal chancellor (Kanzler / Kanzlerin), the federal government, the president,
at the state level – the Ministerpräsident and the state government (Bundesland Regierung).
The Federal President nominates the Federal Chancellor to Parliament. As a rule, this candidacy is agreed in advance in the negotiations between the president and parliamentary parties.
Parliament holds a secret ballot on a candidate and approves it with an absolute majority. If it is not approved, then a second attempt is made. However, in the entire history of the second attempt, the case has not yet reached.
Kanzler forms the government and determines the leading line of the country’s policy. The current Kanzler is Olaf Scholz (SPD).
The federal president has representative functions. He represents the country, nominates the chancellor to parliament. The president gets real power in times of crisis.
He / she is elected by the Bundesversammlung – the assembly of the deputies of the federal and state parliaments – for 5 years. The current president is Steinmeier.
With the transfer of the capital to Berlin, the federal authorities have their residences in Berlin:
- Bundestag in the Reichstag,
- Kanzler/in in the new building of the Bundeskanzleramt
- Präsident in the Bellevue palace
- Bundesrat in the Prussian Herrenhaus.