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Germany Government



Germany is a federal democracy, with rights guaranteed by the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), or constitution. The Basic Law, was enacted on May 23, 1949. The Basic Law recognises fundamental human rights, such as the freedoms of speech and the press, the right of equality before the law, and the right of asylum. These basic rights are legally binding and apply equally to the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. Any individual who believes that his or her rights have been violated may file a complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court.

In addition to codifying human rights, the Basic Law stipulates the structure of the German government, including the Bundestag (lower house of parliament), the Bundesrat (upper house of parliament), the president (chief of state), the executive branch and administration, the independent judiciary, the financial system, and the relationship of the states to the federal government. The Basic Law requires that Germany work toward a unified Europe under the aegis of the European Union (EU). It also specifies the requirements for a declaration of war.

In May 2005, Germany’s Bundestag and Bundesrat ratified the EU constitution.

The dual executive consists of a chancellor, who is head of government, and a president, who is head of state. The chancellor is the leader of the party or coalition of parties holding a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament. The president is usually one of the senior leaders of the largest party in the lower house of parliament but is nonetheless expected to be non-partisan after assuming office. A cabinet officer, often from a smaller coalition party, serves as vice chancellor.

The Basic Law grants most executive authority to the federal chancellor; the presidency is primarily a ceremonial post, and its occupant represents the Federal Republic in international relations. The president is selected every five years by secret ballot at a Federal Convention composed of members of the lower house of parliament and delegates chosen by state legislatures. A president may serve no more than two five-year terms. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who took office in November 2005, and President Horst Köhler, who took office in July 2004, both belong to the Christian Democratic Union.

Two federal legislative bodies form the national parliament: the Bundesrat (Federal Council, or upper house), consisting of 69 members appointed by state governments in proportion to the population; and the Bundestag (Federal Diet, or lower house), the main legislative body, consisting of 601 popularly elected members. The Bundestag is responsible for passing federal laws, which are then implemented by the government. The chancellor, who is elected by the Bundestag, functions as prime minister in the cabinet. The chancellor’s authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law, which invests the chancellor with central executive authority, and from his or her status as leader of the majority party or coalition in the Bundestag.

The Basic Law limits parliament’s control over the chancellor and the cabinet. Unlike most parliamentary legislatures, the Bundestag cannot remove the chancellor simply with a vote of no-confidence. The Basic Law allows only for a “constructive vote of no-confidence.” That is, the Bundestag can remove a chancellor only when it simultaneously agrees on a successor. This stipulation was recently a source of controversy when ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called for a vote of no-confidence to trigger an early national election in September 2005. President Köhler and the Federal Constitutional Court decided that this step was consistent with the Basic Law.

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