State Secretary

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State Secretary is an official title in many countries. In Germany it is the official title of the highest civil servant in a ministry or other supreme authority. In the Federal Republic of Germany, state secretaries, as heads of office in ministries, senate administrations , state chancelleries and similar institutions, form the interface between the political bodies and the non-political civil service .

Furthermore, in the German-speaking countries, the title is mainly known from the USA and Great Britain . There a state secretary is usually a politician who can best be compared to a German or Austrian minister. From 1870, the Anglo-Saxon language was the model for the heads of the highest federal and Reich authorities in the North German Confederation and in the German Empire. The deputies were called Undersecretaries, also based on the British model. Only in 1919 did Germany get a cabinet system with ministers. State Secretary has been the title for the subordinate position ever since.


German Confederation 1815–1866

The German Bund was the only body to have the Bundestag representing the member states, not a government of its own. With the emergence of the German Empire during the revolutionary period in 1848/1849 , however, an imperial government came about that was also recognized by the member states. The members of the actual government had the title of minister. Their deputies received the title of Undersecretary of State .

North German Confederation and German Empire 1867–1918

The North German Confederation of 1867 had only one responsible minister , the Federal Chancellor . That did not change after the accession of the southern German states in 1870/1871 and the renaming of the state to " German Reich " (and the Federal Chancellor to Reich Chancellor ). Gradually, individual federal offices (the Federal Chancellery and the Foreign Office ) and Reich offices were established. The heads of these offices had the title of State Secretary. They were not colleagues of the Chancellor, but officials whom he could give instructions. In this way, there was no foreign minister in the empire, for example, but - with roughly the same task - a "state secretary for foreign affairs". The heads of the main departments of the Reich offices were called "Undersecretaries of State".

Otto von Bismarck introduced the title of State Secretary based on the British model; he wanted to avoid the general impression of a collegial government. The highest Reich authorities were not called "Reichsministerium", but Reichsamt or Amt . Instead of a "government" one spoke of the Reich leadership . In practice, the Chancellor and the State Secretaries worked together more and more like a cabinet.

At the state level, the first officials in the ministries and senate offices often held the title of councilor , especially in city-states .

Weimar Republic 1919–1933

With the Weimar Constitution in 1919, the German Reich executive was transformed into the “ Reich Government ”. Thereafter, the department heads held ministerial rank and rights until the fall of the German Reich in 1945 (→ Reichsminister ). The title “State Secretary” has been used since 1919 to designate the highest-ranking official in a department assigned to the minister .

The highest Reich authorities were renamed Reich Ministries. The Reich Ministry of the Interior thus became the Reich Ministry of the Interior. The Foreign Office was an exception : for reasons of tradition, it kept its original name (until today).

Federal Republic of Germany from 1949

Official State Secretary

A state secretary in Germany is the official title for the highest status law office that a civil servant in his civil service can achieve. The State Secretary represents the minister within the ministry in his capacity as head of the authority , holds the highest position below political leadership and has the right to issue instructions to the employees of the department. State secretaries only have posts in the highest federal authorities . Most of the state secretaries work in the federal ministries ; one ( BMU ) to five ( BMI ) state secretaries with civil servant status per ministry. There are currently around 31 state secretaries in the federal government. They refer salaries of grade B 11. As political officials may have them in temporary retirement be moved.

Parliamentary State Secretaries

In Germany, a Parliamentary State Secretary (PStS) supports the minister or head of government to which he is assigned in carrying out his governmental tasks . He represents this member of the government externally, e.g. As in the plenary , committees and political groups of the Parliament and public appointments, whereas a Permanent State Secretary him within the authorities in his capacity as head of agency represents. In the federal government , there are currently 36 Parliamentary Secretaries. At the state level there are parliamentary state secretaries in Baden-Württemberg , North Rhine-Westphalia and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania .

Director at the German Bundestag and State Secretary

After repeated attempts in the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s, the director at the German Bundestag has also been appointed State Secretary since January 1, 2008 .

German Democratic Republic

In the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which was founded in 1949 and existed until 1990, the function of state secretary was initially also in the spirit of the Weimar tradition, if not in the sense of the civil service (abolished in the GDR), at least as the highest-ranking employee of one Ministry and deputy of the superior minister. This group of state secretaries also existed until the end of the GDR. In the ministries headed by a minister belonging to a bloc party , the state secretary was usually the highest-ranking SED member in the ministry and in fact often more powerful than the officially superior minister.

However, as early as 1950 - based on the government organization in the Soviet Union - a second group of state secretaries was created who, as heads of independent departments (“State Secretariats”) that were not assigned to any ministry, were also full members of the GDR Council of Ministers . The most well-known departments of this type today were the “ State Secretariat for Church Issues ”, formed in 1957, and the “State Secretariat for Labor and Wages”.

Prominent examples of state secretaries in the GDR


In Austria , the state secretaries are - as political office holders in addition to the President , the federal ministers and members of the provincial governments - to the supreme organs of the execution of the federal . Like ministers, they are appointed to form a government, but do not belong to the federal government . They take part in the Council of Ministers meetings as advisory bodies and are bound by the instructions of the respective member of the government (i.e. Federal Chancellor or Federal Minister). The number of state secretaries is not fixed.

At the time of the Provisional Governments (1918 to 1920; 1945) in Austria the ministers (head of a division of the government) were called State Secretaries , today's State Secretaries were called Undersecretaries .


In Switzerland , the title of State Secretary has been awarded by the Federal Council since 1979 . It can temporarily award it to other directors and secretaries-general if they represent Switzerland in international negotiations at the highest level on behalf of the Federal Council. The Swiss state secretaries are not primarily holders of a political office, but essentially higher-ranking official directors who head a state secretariat.

The following six state secretariats currently exist (as of 2019):


In Belgium , the state secretaries hold political office and are an integral part of the federal government and, like ministers , are appointed or dismissed by the king . They differ from ministers primarily in that they do not belong to the Council of Ministers and always have to be attached to and answer to a minister or the prime minister himself. The competence of a state secretary never excludes that of the higher minister, and this minister always remains authorized to take on certain files himself. On the other hand, unlike for ministers, the Constitution does not provide for a maximum number or a necessary balance between Dutch- speaking and French-speaking state secretaries; The Leterme II government has seven state secretaries, two of whom are Dutch-speaking and five are French-speaking.

The statute of state secretaries is almost identical to that of ministers and in principle they have the same powers as ministers; for example, they can countersign royal decrees themselves. In certain cases, however, the State Secretary needs the signature of his superior minister for the countersignature. This is the case for:

  • Royal decrees for the submission of draft laws in the Chamber of Deputies or in the Senate ("submission decrees");
  • Sanctions and copies of laws;
  • Royal decrees with the character of ordinances (“rule decrees”);
  • Royal decrees for the creation of higher official positions in administration or in public institutions.

In addition to the federal state secretaries, the state secretaries of the Brussels-Capital Region should also be noted. They too are politicians and perform government tasks. However, their number is limited by law to three and it is stipulated that at least one of the State Secretaries must belong to the “less numerous language group” (read in Brussels : the Dutch language group).

State Secretaries in other countries

In Norway , the function of a State Secretary ( Norwegian statssekretær ) is similar to that of a Parliamentary State Secretary in Germany, but the State Secretaries are usually not members of parliament at the same time.

In Sweden , the title "Staatssekretär" ( Swedish statssekreterare ) is used in a similar way to that of a civil servant state secretary in Germany, but these managerial posts are usually occupied by people closely related to the respective government.

In the Netherlands , state secretaries - like in Austria or Bavaria - are politicians who oversee a department of a ministry and belong to the cabinet . In some cases they also look after areas that do not fall within the competence of the higher-level minister.

In the successor states of the Habsburg Monarchy, the meaning is exactly the same as in Austria, i.e. political heads of office at the highest level who do not formally belong to the government but participate in the Council of Ministers in an advisory capacity, for example in the Czech Republic , Slovakia ( Slovak štátný tajomník ), Hungary or Slovenia .

Presidential systems often have no ministerial responsibility; political responsibility rests solely with the head of state and government, which is why there are formally only state secretaries who, however, are grouped like ministers according to international protocol.

The German State Secretary is the State Secretary in English , which is something different from the Secretary of State (although linked via interwiki, a false friend ).

In the English-speaking world, the title Secretary of State has different meanings:

  • In the UK , the Secretary of State appoints a key minister in the UK Cabinet. The position corresponding to the State Secretary in German-speaking is called (Permanent) Under Secretary of State in the United Kingdom .
  • In the United States , with Secretary of State usually the foreign minister meant at the federal level; However, depending on the constitution, different states have a Secretary of State who can have very different tasks. For the rank of Secretary of State there are in the United States, the correlation Deputy Secretary ( Deputy Minister or Deputy Minister) or Under Secretary . The next lowest rank (“Undersecretary” or Head of Department) is the Assistant Secretary .
  • In South Africa , a secretary at government level, in addition to the secretarial staff , denotes a state employee in a high management position with primarily administrative tasks, such as the secretary of parliament (head of parliament's administration). A minister in the sense of the political management of a government department ( ministry , department or portfolio ) is called a minister ( cabinet minister) , the function of the administrative head, known as state secretary in German-speaking countries, corresponds roughly to the ministerial director-general in South Africa .

In Italy and other Romance countries, this position is also referred to as Undersecretary . This office is held by politicians, not administrative officials. The term Secretary of State is used here as a less well-known and common synonym for minister. The rare term vice minister was in turn synonymous with the undersecretary of state.

In Japanese ministries there are several officials who perform the duties of state secretaries .

In most ministries in other countries , ministerial employees who are comparable to the Austrian Secretary General or the German permanent state secretary (B11) are called Secretary General , who, as the highest administrative official , is usually the head of the office if there is no main department level. Smaller ministries often do not have a Secretary General. A few years ago, for example, Italy created its own level of vice minister , which stands between the minister and the undersecretary and occurs only in a few, very large ministries such as the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance .

In other countries, however, the secretary is often an office alongside the ministers, such as the Chief Secretary of Nauru as head of administration, not as a member of the government.

At the Holy See there is a Cardinal Secretary of State (official name: State Secretary of His Holiness the Pope ) who manages the administrative business of the Holy Apostolic See and its curia (the papal supreme authority) for the Pope. In terms of protocol, the cardinal state secretary is at the level of a head of government .

In Namibia , the highest administrative employees were ministries by the end of 2018 as Secretary of State ( english Permanent Secretary referred). After the ministers and deputy ministers, they occupied the third highest hierarchical position in a ministry. Since they carry the title of Executive Director (English Executive Director ). The renaming was carried out because the positions were by no means permanently assigned and in order to underline the task of administrative employees. These should run ministries as well as companies.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Steffi Menzenbach: Briefly noted. In: Parliament No. 45. German Bundestag, 2009, accessed on October 23, 2019 .
  2. Art. 46 Government and Administration Organization Act (SR 172.010)
  3. Article 104 of the Belgian Constitution .
  4. Art. 4 of the Royal Decree of March 24, 1972 relating to State Secretaries.
  5. Article 1 of the Royal Decree of March 24, 1972 relating to the State Secretaries.
  6. Art. 2 of the Royal Decree of March 24, 1972 relating to State Secretaries.
  7. Art. 41 of the special law of January 12, 1989 on the Brussels institutions.
  8. Parliament of the Republic of South Africa: Parliamentary Service " . On (English)
  9. Western Cape Provincial Parliament: Organizational Structure " . On (English)
  10. ^ Parliamentary Monitoring Group: Structure of Government . at (English)
  11. Govt explains dropping of permanent secretary title. The Namibian, January 31, 2019.