Political system of the Federal Republic of Germany

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Political system of Germany

The political institutions, decision-making processes and their content in Germany belong to the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany .

The political system in Germany is federal and organized as a parliamentary democracy . The strongly competing parties are important, which is why Germany is also known as party democracy. The elections are mostly carried out as personalized proportional representation ; coalitions of the competing parties are usually necessary to form a government . The German Bundestag elects a person as Federal Chancellor . This person determines the guidelines for domestic and foreign policy at the federal level ( guideline competence ) and proposes the federal ministers . The federal institutions and the distribution of tasks between the federal government and the states are regulated by the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany . The Federal Constitutional Court monitors compliance with the Basic Law . The federal states that make up the state of Germany have their own representation, the Bundesrat , which, alongside the Bundestag, participates in legislation. Germany is a member of the European Union and has transferred some of its sovereign rights to this association of states .


Central characteristics for Germany are the inviolable structural principles of respect for human dignity ( Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law), democracy , the rule of law , the federal principle (division into states ) and the welfare state principle ( Article 20 of the Basic Law). Other principles laid down in Art. 20 GG are the separation of powers and the right of resistance . According to Article 79 (3) of the Basic Law, the principles of Article 1 and Article 20 of the Basic Law cannot be changed ( eternity clause ). All participants in political life are bound by the free democratic basic order or constitutional order and it is strongly protected ( defensive democracy ).

Each of her since 1990. Sixteen countries have due to the federal - federal order its own executive , legislative (parliament) and the judiciary , thereby forming a second (sub-national) government decision-making level. It acts on the Bundesrat Federal diverse one on the federal level. The “Europe Article” 23 GG provides the basis for Germany's participation in European integration . Art. 23 and Art. 24 GG enable the transfer of sovereign powers of the Federal Republic to supranational institutions. The political system in Germany is therefore integrated into a complex, multilevel political system .

The role of the parties in Germany is very pronounced and is described in Article 21 of the Basic Law. They present the candidates for political offices and influence the filling of the leading positions in the administration , the courts and the public prosecutor's offices . Even if Art. 20, Paragraph 2 expressly lists votes as part of the state power emanating from the people, elements of direct democracy in Germany are not present at the federal level, with the exception of the regional reorganization ( Art. 29 GG). Plebiscites and referendums are limited only at the level of municipalities and states possible, but the outcome is not legally binding part.

The governments of the Federal Republic of Germany assume - confirmed by the Federal Constitutional Court - a continuity that connects them with the German Reich in terms of constitutional and international law .

The British historian Timothy Garton Ash illustrates the actual decision-making process of the executive by speaking of the "four B" (Bundestag, Federal Constitutional Court, Bundesbank and Bildzeitung ) that the Chancellor has to observe. He thus includes the press or the media as the fourth power and the advocate of price level stability in his characterization of reality, also alongside the constitutional text.

Parliamentary democracy

The Federal Republic of Germany is considered a parliamentary democracy because the head of government , i.e. the Federal Chancellor , is elected directly by parliament, the Bundestag . In contrast to presidential democracies, the Federal President has almost only representative functions; he has neither veto rights nor can he occupy decisive government offices.


Triangle with the federal government at the top, including in layers the federal states, optional administrative districts, (rural) districts, optional municipal associations and municipalities.  The strict stratification is broken up by city-states and district-free cities, which perform tasks of several strata.Bund Bundesländer/Flächenländer Bundesländer/Stadtstaaten (Regierungsbezirke) (Land-)Kreise Gemeindeverbände (Gemeindeverbandsangehörige/Kreisangehörige Gemeinden) (Gemeindeverbandsfreie) Kreisangehörige Gemeinden Kreisfreie Städte
Vertical state structure of Germany

Based on the long federal tradition from the imperial estates in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation to the member states of the German Empire , in contrast to the totalitarian unitary state in the time of National Socialism, and at the suggestion of the western victorious powers in the Frankfurt documents , Germany became a federal state in the Basic Law conceived, a decision that can no longer be changed according to the so-called eternity clause in Article 79.3 of the Basic Law. The newly founded German states in the western zones since 1946 united in 1949 to form the Federal Republic of Germany. At this point in time, all federal states already had their own state constitutions , state governments , state parliaments and courts .

Although it is not expressly mentioned as a constitutional principle , the distribution of tasks should be based on the principle of subsidiarity , that is, the tasks should only be taken over by the federal government if it can better fulfill them. This does not mean, however, that the federal government can only access certain (legislative) competences if it can successfully demonstrate that it can do this more efficiently . The majority of the competences in legislation lie with the federal government; significant exceptions are police and municipal law as well as cultural and educational policy. The federal states take on large parts of administration and jurisdiction independently. An important function of the state is that of a second level of separation of powers , also known as the vertical separation of powers . The Federal Council represents the interests of the state governments at the federal level and is a federal body because its powers / competencies result from federal and in no way from state law.

There were repeated discussions about a reform of the federal state, above all about the amalgamation of states, about the position of the Federal Council and about the return of tasks to the state parliaments, from which more and more tasks were taken over the course of time. A reform of the federal system in Germany must therefore always be thought of in three dimensions: (1) competence system, (2) financial system, (3) reorganization of the federal territory. With the federalism reform of 2006, at least the area of ​​federal-state competencies was reformed comparatively comprehensively, a restructuring of the financial system is still pending.

Defensive democracy

The authors of the Basic Law drew conclusions from the end of the Weimar Republic and made the positivism prevailing at the time (all regulations can be changed) and part of the Basic Law a natural law , that is, an over-positive law. This immutability was laid down in Article 79 (3) of the Basic Law and applies to Article 1 of the Basic Law ( human dignity ), Article 20 of the Basic Law ( structural principles ) and the division into countries as well as their participation in legislation.

Another approach of defensive democracy is the possibility of denying opponents of the constitutional order basic rights, as well as banning parties and other associations for the protection of the constitution. Another means of protection is criminal law .

With the emergency laws , Article 20, Paragraph 4 of the Basic Law introduced a right of resistance for the population "against anyone who undertakes to remove this order" as an ultima ratio .

Overview of the organs

In the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany, the constitutional organs, the Federal Assembly and the Federal President, have little power and cannot be assigned to one of the three state powers.

  legislative branch executive Judiciary
European level European Parliament , Council of the European Union European Commission Court of Justice of the European Union : European Court of Justice , General Court of the European Union , Civil Service Tribunal
Federal level Bundestag , Bundesrat , mediation committee , joint committee Federal Government : Federal Chancellor , Federal Minister

Federal administration

Federal courts : Federal Constitutional Court , Federal Labor Court , Federal Fiscal Court , Federal Court of Justice , Federal Social , Federal Administrative , Federal Patent and Troop Service Courts
State level State Parliament / House of Representatives / Citizenship State government / State government / Senate : Prime Minister / Governing or First Mayor , State Minister / State Minister / Senators

State administration

Courts of countries : State Constitutional Court , Landesarbeits- , labor , financial , Higher Regional , Agriculture , Governance , Landessozial- , Social Court , Supreme Administrative Court / Administrative Court , Administrative Court
Local level Self-governing bodies of the districts and municipalities: district council, city council, municipal council Self-governing bodies of the districts and municipalities: district administrator, lord mayor, mayor, magistrate, municipality board no facilities

The system of government at the federal level

Basic Law as a federal constitution

Basic Law , published by the Federal Agency for Civic Education

The Federal Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany was given the name Basic Law . This should emphasize its provisional, provisional character, which it has lost in the meantime, since it should only be a transitional constitution until the constitution of an all-German state . The constitutional process was initiated with the handover of the Frankfurt documents on July 1, 1948 by the commanders in charge of the western occupation zones to the prime ministers of the federal states there. These documents called for a democratic , federal system of government and the guarantee of personal freedoms . The constitution was developed by the Parliamentary Council . The most important point of contention was the design of the federal order implemented in the Basic Law for the entire Federal Republic of Germany at that time, as well as the repeal of tested norms by the same on the day it came into force (May 24, 1949). The Basic Law was originally only supposed to apply until the establishment of German unity, but after it had proven itself for more than 40 years, it was retained without major changes after the accession of the previous German Democratic Republic to the Federal Republic.

In the Basic Law, the central civil and human rights were deliberately placed at the beginning of the constitution. These rights are summarized in the first 19 articles of the Basic Law. It then describes the central structure of the political system and defines the federal organs and their competencies and relationships. Article 79.3 of the Basic Law protects the principle of human dignity, the core of human rights, the federal order of the Federal Republic and Article 20 of the Basic Law.

The Basic Law can only be changed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Bundestag and Bundesrat . The Federal Constitutional Court monitors compliance with the constitution .

Federal President

The head of state of the Federal Republic is the Federal President. Deliberately differentiating it from the power of the Reich President of the Weimar Republic , which had contributed to the instability of the political situation in the Weimar Republic, the Basic Law gave the office of Federal President a different profile after 1949. This lies beyond the day-to-day politics and above all has an integrative, trend-setting and monitoring focus. Nevertheless, the office of Federal President includes the right and the duty to act politically and is not limited to purely representative tasks. The functions of the office are defined by the Basic Law (Art. 54–61).

In addition to representing the Federation under international law and numerous formal and protocol-related tasks, the Federal President has important reserve powers that assign him major political tasks, especially in times of crisis.

Within the political system, the Federal President is not assigned to any of the three classic powers , but as head of state embodies the “unity of the state”. Because of this, it is sometimes seen as “violence sui generis ”. In this context, the Federal President is also referred to as a “ neutral force” ( pouvoir neutre ).

The Federal President is elected by the Federal Assembly for five years and can be re-elected for a second term.

Legislative branches at federal level: Bundestag and Bundesrat

The legislature of the Federal Republic passes federal laws and watches over the federal budget . The Bundestag and Bundesrat belong to the legislature in the Federation . Only the members of the Bundestag are directly elected by the people and thus have a free mandate . The members of the Federal Council have a so-called imperative mandate because they are bound by the instructions of their respective state government. These organs are also weighted differently in the legislative process . The Bundesrat is therefore not a second chamber that is equivalent to the Bundestag. The Federal Assembly, consisting of the members of the Bundestag and delegates from the regional parliaments, who do not have to belong to them, elects the Federal President . The federal judges are elected by the judges' election committees of the Bundesrat and Bundestag.


The Bundestag passes federal laws , elects the Federal Chancellor and, as part of the Federal Assembly, the Federal President , watches over the federal budget , controls the government , decides on deployments of the Federal Armed Forces , forms committees to prepare legislation and controls the intelligence services .

According to the Basic Law, MPs are independent of their political party or other interest groups, but if you look at the constitutional reality , you see the strong influence of parliamentary group discipline . The MPs of the individual parties usually agree on a common voting behavior before a legislative proposal. Deviations can be sanctioned within the party , since the successful renewed candidacy of a member of parliament depends heavily on the support of his party. The group leader is the custodian of group discipline .

Federal Council

The members of the Federal Council are sent by the state governments of the states. It is not a purely legislative body because it has a say in certain federal regulations, for example. It was created to ensure the participation of the states in federal laws if these affect the interests of the states. He is always involved in the legislative process, but his veto can be overruled if a federal law does not require approval.

Each country receives 3–6 votes in the Federal Council according to the number of its inhabitants; these votes can only be cast uniformly per country. If the parties represented in the state government of the respective state disagree about the voting behavior in the Federal Council, the representatives of the state usually vote with abstention, which, however, de facto counts as a no. In the event of a conflict between the Bundesrat and the Bundestag, the mediation committee can be called upon. The chairman of the Federal Council is chaired by the President of the Federal Council, who as a person represents the Federal President if necessary . The Federal Council has 69 members.

Legislative process

Federal laws can be introduced from the middle of the Bundestag ( parliamentary group or a fixed minimum number of MPs ) as well as by the Federal Government and the Bundesrat - the latter must submit the drafts to each other for comment before they are sent to Parliament, and are usually made in advance in the federal government - and state ministries prepared as a ministerial draft for the legislative process. Introduced to the Bundestag, there will be three readings on the bill. If the latter accepts the proposal in the third reading in the final vote, it will be forwarded to the Federal Council. If the latter does not convene the mediation committee or rejects it through objection, it can come into force. Otherwise, the effects of the Federal Council's vote depend on whether it is a federal law that requires approval or one that does not require approval . As a rule (in the case of federal laws that do not require approval, before an objection is raised) the Mediation Committee is called, whose task it is to work out a compromise proposal that the Bundestag and Bundesrat can approve. (If the draft is changed, it must first be submitted to the Bundestag for a vote before it is submitted to the Bundesrat again for a decision.) If the Bundesrat again refuses to approve the federal law, a federal law that requires approval has finally failed, whereas one that does not require approval Federal law the Bundestag can overrule this vote with another vote. In addition, the Federal Council can withdraw its objection. At the end of the legislative process, the Federal President finally signs the federal law. With this copy he confirms that this federal law has come into being in a constitutional form (formal right of examination). If he is convinced that the federal law to be drawn up runs counter to the Basic Law, a number of legal scholars grant him a substantive right of examination. Once issued, the federal law is published in the Federal Law Gazette and comes into force.

In the case of federal laws amending the constitution, there must be a 2/3 majority in both bodies, the Bundesrat and the Bundestag.

The federal government or individual federal ministers can issue ordinances on the basis of federal laws, which - like laws - bind state action and citizens equally. In addition to federal laws, regulations of the European Union also have direct legal force in Germany. EU directives, on the other hand, must be implemented through federal legislation.

Emergency regulations

In 1968 the emergency laws were a step towards regaining full sovereignty and were intended to ensure that Germany remains capable of acting even in emergency situations. In the event of a defense, a joint committee made up of the Bundestag and Bundesrat can take over their functions as an emergency parliament. The legislative emergency has been a means of preventing a blockade by the Bundestag since 1949 .

Federal executive

Deutsche Soziale Union Freie Volkspartei Gesamtdeutscher Block/Bund der Heimatvertriebenen und Entrechteten Deutsche Partei Unionsparteien Freie Demokratische Partei Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands Bündnis 90/Die Grünen

Federal government

The executive in the Federal Republic of Germany implements laws and regulations of the state. Depending on the legal situation, the executive bodies have a margin of appreciation . Every citizen has the right to have the administrative acts, i.e. specific actions of the executive that affect him, reviewed by the administrative courts . In particular, the executive is bound by the Basic Law. Every citizen is able to lodge a constitutional complaint in individual cases before the Federal Constitutional Court after the legal process has been fully exhausted if he feels that his fundamental rights have been violated by state (executive) action . Members of the executive at federal level are, for example, the federal government ( Federal Chancellor and Federal Minister ), federal authorities and their officials, the federal police , the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution , the Federal Armed Forces and the Foreign Office . The Federal Chancellor and the Federal Minister together make up the Federal Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, also known colloquially as the Federal Cabinet.


The Federal Chancellor is the head of government of the federal government. He is elected by the members of the Bundestag. He is usually backed by an absolute majority of MPs, which is usually formed by a coalition and is referred to as the Chancellor majority . The Federal Ministers are appointed and dismissed by the Federal President on the proposal of the Federal Chancellor. According to the Basic Law, the Federal Chancellor has the authority to issue guidelines , i.e. he determines the main features of federal policy . Before the end of his term of office, he can only be replaced by a constructive vote of no confidence and dissolve the Bundestag through a vote of confidence .

The Federal Chancellor is considered to be one of the political power centers in the Federal Republic. Supported by the majority in the Bundestag, it has great influence on federal legislation. Because of the important role of the Federal Council in legislation and the frequent compulsion to form coalitions in the government due to proportional representation , its position cannot be compared with the power of the British head of government ( prime minister ). In particular, if there are different majorities in the Bundesrat and Bundestag, the Chancellor is dependent on far-reaching compromises when shaping his policy.

Federal Ministries

The federal ministries organize the administration at the federal level. The political leadership of the federal ministries lies with the respective federal ministers . Alongside them, the state secretaries head the ministries . The technical work in a ministry is carried out by specialist units headed by the heads of unit . Several units are grouped into departments in the ministries, and the department heads have political responsibility for the work of the departments. State secretaries and department heads are political officials and the government can take early retirement at any time.

Even if the top of the federal ministries is politically determined, one can assume that the administration will act relatively autonomously. The opinion and the will of the top positions of the professional civil servants (head of unit) cannot simply be ignored by politics. The ministers 'sanctioning options are severely limited by civil servants' law. A large number of professional officials preside over a small number of political leaders. The political control of the federal administration is relatively weak compared to the administrations in other countries. This is particularly important since most of the bills are being prepared in the federal ministries. In most cases, politics takes a late, and only minor, influence on the concrete formulation of federal laws .

The Federal Chancellor determines the number and areas of competence of the ministries and the ministers. Usually the parties lay down the guidelines in the coalition negotiations and appoint ministers and state secretaries. There are currently (December 2018) 14 federal ministries.

Federal Judiciary

In principle, courts in Germany do not act by themselves. You must be called upon to make a decision ( disposition maxim in civil and public law, accusation principle in criminal law). Judgments are made on the basis of laws . Federal judges are appointed by the judges' selection committee. You are not bound by instructions. In contrast, public prosecutors are subordinate to the federal and state justice ministers .

Federal Constitutional Court

All activities of the state are bound by the Basic Law. The Federal Constitutional Court monitors compliance with this principle. Every citizen can submit a constitutional complaint to check that the state is in accordance with the law. Other important tasks of the Federal Constitutional Court are the clarification of disputes between the state organs ( organ dispute ) and the examination of laws for their constitutionality ( control of norms ). Only the Federal Constitutional Court can pronounce a party ban or the forfeiture of fundamental rights.

Other federal courts

At the federal level, the federal courts have the task of standardizing the jurisdiction of the courts of the federal states. The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) is the highest revision instance for ordinary jurisdiction . As a revision instance, the federal courts normally only deal with the course of the procedure and the legal assessment of the facts established by the courts of the federal states.

The system of government of the countries

Each country has its own system of government . The state constitution , structure and function of the state government and the election of the state parliaments can differ. What all of the Länder have in common is that their provincial government can influence federal politics through the Bundesrat and that the Länder have set up many joint bodies to coordinate their work nationwide (e.g. conference of prime ministers , conference of ministers of education, or conference of interior ministers ).

Legislative: state parliaments

The state parliaments are elected for 4 or 5 years by the voters of the respective state. The tasks consist in the control of the state government, the state budget , in the election of the head of government, partly in the election of ministers and in the legislation. It is important here that federal law regularly takes precedence over state law (" Federal law breaks state law "). The constitution of the state of Hesse, for example, provided for the death penalty until recently , but it is prohibited by the Basic Law. In some countries (e.g. Bavaria ) referendums are also possible on laws. The legislative competence of the federal states is severely limited. After many amendments to the Basic Law, most of the competencies of the states have been restricted to a few important areas, but the states' right to have a say in the Bundesrat has increased just as much compared to the function originally envisaged in the Basic Law. The focus is on competencies in culture and education as well as in hazard prevention and police law . In addition, there are the regulations for the administration, which is only run by the federal states and municipalities. The state parliaments are called the Landtag in the 13 territorial states and the Citizenship (Bremen, Hamburg) or House of Representatives (Berlin) in the three city ​​states .

Executive: state government

There is a state government in every country . The head of government is called Prime Minister in the territorial states and Governing Mayor (Berlin), President of the Senate or Mayor (Bremen), or First Mayor (Hamburg) in the city states . He is always elected by the respective state parliament. Depending on the country, the state parliaments also elect the state ministers or the prime minister appoints the state ministers on his own authority. The term of office of the head of government is determined by the electoral term of the respective state parliament (either 4 or 5 years). The executives of the federal states have a great deal of power, as they can have a say in federal legislation and administration via the Bundesrat ( see law requiring approval ).

Judiciary: Land constitutional courts and other courts of the federal states

If no federal courts have jurisdiction, jurisdiction is exercised by the courts of the federal states ( Art. 92 GG).

The jurisprudence in Germany is divided into the ordinary jurisdictions ( civil jurisdiction and criminal jurisdiction ), as well as the specialized jurisdictions of the labor , financial , social and administrative jurisdiction . The courts of the federal states decide the majority of the case law in the final instance. Each state has its own State Constitutional Court , the country's Constitutional Court , Constitutional Court , Constitutional Court and State Court is called.


The representatives of the people at the municipal level such as the district council and city ​​council or municipal councils are not organs of the legislature, even if they create executive legal norms in the form of statutes. In terms of constitutional law, they belong to the executive branch in the tradition of the Stein-Hardenberg reforms. This is also expressed, for example, in their summary designation as organs of local self-government. In relation to the federal and state level as well as in relation to the European Union, the municipalities are mainly represented by the central municipal associations .

European Union

Germany is one of the founding members of the European Union , to which it has transferred certain sovereign rights via the EU Treaty and the AEU Treaty . The national constitutional basis for this is provided by Article 23 of the Basic Law, which expressly provides for participation in the European integration process. The preamble even expressly provides " to serve the peace of the world as an equal member in a united Europe." However, German European policy is not only justified by a general Europe strategy, but also by interest-driven factual policy, which is expressed above all in the European coordination .

European policy coordination of the federal government
European policy coordination of the federal government

All German citizens also have Union citizenship . This enables them, among other things, to participate in European elections to the European Parliament and to participate in European citizens' initiatives . A discrimination of EU citizens because of their nationality is in all EU countries banned.

Within the political system of the European Union , the German Federal Government is represented in the Council of the European Union and in the European Council . In addition, the Bundestag and Bundesrat are also involved in German European policy , for example through the Act on Cooperation between the Federal Government and the German Bundestag in European Union Affairs (EUZBBG) and the Act on the Assertion of the Bundestag's and Bundesrat's responsibility for integration in matters of the European Union (IntVG). The German federal states and municipalities are also represented at the European level through the Committee of the Regions .

Legal acts of the European Union are in some cases directly valid in Germany ( EU regulations ), in some cases the German bodies are obliged to implement them in national law ( EU directives ). The set by the EU European law (also called "Union law") is having on the Costa / ENEL decision a primacy to the German national law. The highest judicial authority is the European Court of Justice . However, according to the principle of limited individual power , the EU may only legislate in areas that are expressly provided for in the treaties. In the Lisbon judgment, the German Federal Constitutional Court reserves the right to examine European legal acts in this regard, the so-called ultra vires control.

Party system

The parties have a strong position in Germany, so that the term party democracy is sometimes used to denote the political system. The strong position of the parties is explained by their need for a parliamentary democracy and the (modified) proportional representation . Due to their importance, the parties are dealt with in Art. 21 GG.

The party system of the Federal Republic of Germany since the reunification marked by strong differences in the former old or former eastern states of Germany. In the West, with the CDU and CSU on the one hand and the SPD on the other, two parties dominate in a country. The AfD , the FDP , Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen and Die Linke are counted among the "smaller parties" . In the eastern federal states, the AfD and the left are disproportionately represented compared to the western federal states. The majority ratios have fluctuated more strongly in the individual countries since the 1990s than up to this time. The party loyalty of voters to a particular party has decreased overall.

The parties in Germany are based on the national associations and are based on the law on political parties in the country to elections admitted. The major parties form federal associations at the federal level. The major German parties are also each integrated into a political party at European level .

The conservative parties CSU (in the Free State of Bavaria ) and CDU (in the other states) work together at the federal level. Both parties, like the social democratic SPD, see themselves as people 's parties . The big parties see their target group in all social classes, they only set themselves apart from left and right-wing extremists. A large part of the SPD supporters see themselves as representatives of the workers and are close to the unions . The AfD also repeatedly calls itself a people's party. FDP, Left and Alliance 90 / The Greens draw from a much narrower range of voters. They see themselves as program parties . These parties repeatedly fail in individual elections at the five percent hurdle . Nevertheless, they are established forces in the German party system and usually serve the CDU / CSU or SPD as a majority funder in coalitions , but in individual cases also lead coalitions themselves, such as Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen with the CDU as a junior party in Baden-Württemberg in 2016 or the left with the SPD as a junior party in Thuringia 2014 . The extent to which this categorization of the parties can be maintained has been the subject of intense debate, especially since the massive loss of votes by the two large popular parties, the CDU / CSU and the SPD, in the 2018 state elections. In its program, the AfD mainly addresses the criticism of the euro and refugee policy and advocates the introduction of direct democracy at the federal level. Various political observers classify the AfD as right-wing populist . The FDP sees itself as a liberal democratic party. It is close to the interests of the economy. Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen primarily address ecological and civil rights issues, see themselves in the tradition of the peace and anti-nuclear movement and emphasize consumer protection. FDP and Greens are established in the old states, but not in the new states. The left can be described as the people's party in the eastern countries. It offers itself as a democratic-socialist alternative to the SPD. Your range of voters is also broad (in eastern Germany). The AfD has now established itself in the West and the East, but is not yet represented in any government coalition.

Citizen participation


An election is a vote on people (candidates) or options for action. Elections serve to form political will and decision-making.

At the federal level, the Bundestag is elected every 4 years according to personalized proportional representation. With this electoral system, voters have two votes that can go to different parties (so-called vote splitting): With the first vote, they decide which candidate should represent their constituency in parliament according to the majority vote , with the second vote, according to proportional representation , which party they prefer. Ultimately, the second votes largely decide on the distribution of seats in the Bundestag. Since the candidates directly elected with the first vote always retain their seat, even if the party is entitled to fewer seats after the second vote, there are normally overhang seats in federal elections . The personalized proportional representation is intended to combine the advantages of majority voting and proportional representation.

There is a blocking clause to prevent parliament from being split up into too many small parties . According to this, the second votes of a party only count for the distribution of the mandates if it receives at least five percent of the second votes or three direct mandates . However, directly elected applicants (if there are only one or two) can always move into the Bundestag, but then cannot form a parliamentary group in the Bundestag .

In addition to the federal elections , the citizens of Germany also decide on the composition of the European Parliament , the state parliaments and the municipal councils in the municipalities . The respective electoral system is set out in the European Election Act , in the corresponding state constitution or in the state's municipal electoral law. In local elections, the right to vote extends to all EU citizens who are resident in the respective district. Citizens can vote in the European elections either in their country of residence or in their nationality . Only the right to vote in the state parliaments and the Bundestag is linked to German citizenship .

In practice, it is often criticized that the sheer number of elections and the associated election campaigns ( Bundestag elections , state elections , local elections , European elections ) as well as a legislative period of the Bundestag of only 4 years have a negative effect on the development of politics, since the diverse Election dates are not coordinated with each other and during election campaign times the parties - rightly or wrongly - endeavor to refrain from doing anything that could cost votes ( see also: Super Election Year ). Political science also discusses the extent to which voters can exercise real influence on the direction of politics in a system with many (relatively weak) centers of power, which have to balance each other out and ultimately level everything by means of consensus ( meaningful election ).

Direct democracy

At the federal level in particular, Germany - despite Article 20, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law, which expressly lists votes - has few opportunities for direct participation: only in the case of the layout of the federal states - amalgamation, splitting or changing borders - referendums are provided for in the Basic Law under Article 29 of the Basic Law.

At the state level, depending on the state, there are more or less strong opportunities to influence through referendums, citizens' initiatives and petitions. Here it must be considered in detail how high the hurdle for such initiatives is. The limits of this participation lie within the limits of the competencies of the federal state.

More options

Every citizen has the right to petition to send petitions to the European Parliament, the Bundestag and its state parliament. The constituency MPs hold office hours to maintain contact with the citizens. Everyone can raise their concerns there.

For individual groups that otherwise would have to remain politically mute, the institution of public ombudsmen was introduced based on the Scandinavian model (not always under this name).

Associations , religious communities , trade unions and employers' associations are heavily involved in the preparation of decisions on certain issues. Working in such organizations, like working in political parties, enables certain opportunities for participation. The municipal participation opportunities for residents in the planning process of major projects are more direct.

As in other countries, associations play an important role in the political system. With their lobbying they try to move politics in the direction of their interests. The usefulness of these activities is not undisputed and is subject to frequent criticism, in particular from the other associations negatively affected by the lobbying work.

Legitimation of sovereign action

Chain of legitimation at the federal level, direct state administration, simplified

According to the legitimation chain theory , the democratic legitimation of all sovereign action is traced back in an uninterrupted chain to the will of the people in the election.

Theory and Practice - Criticism and Dysfunction

Different consideration of social groups in political decisions

According to a research report from 2016 on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs , the preferences of social groups are taken into account to varying degrees in political decisions in Germany. The analysis of data from the period between 1998 and 2015 shows a clear correlation with the attitudes of people with higher incomes, but no or even a negative correlation for those with low incomes.

Number of countries

The spatial distribution of the countries is very uneven. It ranges from territorial states with several million inhabitants to city-states. Decision-making in the Federal Council as an important part of federalism has become more difficult over time. There are currently 16 countries.

Party state

The founding fathers considered the privilege of parties as organizations of political decision-making in the Basic Law to be sensible. However, falling membership numbers and voter turnout have a negative impact on the legitimacy of the “people's parties” and weaken the political system as a whole.


The role of the mass media as the fourth power was not provided for in the Basic Law. De facto, however, hardly any politician can escape the influence of the press on public opinion . This is particularly problematic when the media, which in the literal sense of the word are only supposed to be “mediators” of what is happening, perceive their own interests, be it that they support the political worldview of editors or owners, or that the media through report distorted economic self-interests.

Multilevel integration and dominance of the executive

Due to the numerous political interlinkages and formal and informal forms of cooperation (e.g. the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs ), the executives , in particular the state governments , are preferred to the parliaments . From the point of view of democracy theory, this is problematic insofar as the parliaments represent the actual representation of the people.

See also

Portal: Politics  - Overview of Wikipedia content on politics


Web links

Commons : Political system of the Federal Republic of Germany  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Torsten Riecke and Frank Wieberg: Interview with Timothy Garton Ash, handelsblatt.com from June 16, 2012 , accessed on June 16, 2012.
  2. In detail Christian Starck, Germany on the way to state unity , JZ 1990, pp. 349, 352 f.
  3. More on this Rühmann, in: Umbach / Clemens / Dollinger (ed.), Federal Constitutional Court Act. Employee commentary and manual , 2nd edition, Heidelberg 2005, p. 1097.
  4. ↑ More in detail: Office and duties of the Federal President, self-description on the website of the Federal President's Office . Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  5. Judgment of the BVerfG of June 10, 2014 - 2 BvE 4/13 - , para. 28.
  6. ^ Heinrich Wilms : Staatsrecht I. State organization law taking into account the federalism reform. Stuttgart 2007.
  7. Raban Graf von Westphalen (ed.): German government system . Munich / Vienna 2001, p. 314 ff.
  8. Deviating: Manfred G. Schmidt , The political system of the Federal Republic of Germany , CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-50871-5 , p. 68 ff. , Which counts him to the executive .
  9. See BVerfG, 2 BvE 2/09 of June 10, 2014 , para . 94.
  10. Marcus Höreth: The office of the Federal President and his right of examination , supplement from politics and contemporary history 16/2008 of April 14, 2008.
  11. Dieter Umbach, in: Dieter C. Umbach / Thomas Clemens (ed.), Basic Law, Employee Commentary , Vol. II, CF Müller, Heidelberg 2002, p. 308 f.
  12. Cf. Roman Herzog, in: Maunz / Dürig / Herzog , Basic Law, Art. 54 Rn. 4th
  13. Federal Ministries. Retrieved December 6, 2018 .
  14. The loss of power - can the popular parties make a fresh start? In: Anne Will. The first, November 11, 2018, accessed January 9, 2019 .
  15. Lea Elsässer, Svenja Hense, Armin Schäfer: Systematically distorted decisions? The responsiveness of German politics from 1998 to 2015. Ed .: Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (=  poverty and wealth reporting of the federal government ). 2016, ISSN  1614-3639 .
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on December 9, 2005 .