Principal Government Officials
Chief of State: President Joachim Gauck
Head of Government: Chancellor Angela Merkel
The government is parliamentary, and a democratic constitution 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) are largely ceremonial; the chancellor exercises executive power. The Bundestag (lower, principal chamber of the parliament) elects the chancellor. The president normally is elected every 5 years by the Federal Assembly, a body convoked only for this purpose, comprising the entire Bundestag and an equal number of state delegates.
The Bundestag, which serves a 4-year term, consists of at least twice the number of electoral districts in the country (299). When parties' directly elected seats exceed their proportional representation, they may receive additional seats. The number of seats in the Bundestag was reduced to 598 for the 2002 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 specified in the Basic Law. The Bundestag has primary legislative authority. The Bundesrat must concur on legislation concerning 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 Bundesverfassungsgericht (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.
Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU).
An important aspect of postwar German politics was the emergence of a moderate, ecumenical Christian party--the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)--operating in alliance 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. Angela Merkel, Germany’s current Chancellor, is the leader of the CDU and Horst Seehofer leads the Christian Social Union. The CDU/CSU currently holds 237 seats in the Bundestag.
Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The SPD is one of the oldest organized political parties in the world. It originally advocated Marxist principles, but in the 1959 Godesberg Program abandoned the concept of a "class party" while continuing to stress social welfare programs. Under the leadership of Gerhard Schroeder, the SPD-Greens government implemented in 2003 the centrist Agenda 2010 reforms, designed to modernize the country's social system and labor market. The SPD elected Franz Muentefering as chairperson on October 18, 2008 replacing Kurt Beck, who had resigned in September 2008. The SPD also chose Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to lead the party against incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU in the September 27, 2009 national parliamentary elections. Following the SPD's poor showing in the federal election of 2009, Franz Muentefering resigned from the position of party chairman of the SPD. Sigmar Gabriel was nominated as his successor and was elected as party chairman on November 13, 2009. Steinmeier became SPD Bundestag caucus leader. The SPD has a powerful base in the bigger cities and industrialized states. Currently, 146 seats in the Bundestag are held by the SPD.
Free Democratic Party (FDP).
The FDP has traditionally been composed mainly of middle and upper class Protestants who consider themselves heirs to the European liberal tradition. It supports free trade and reducing the role of the state in economic policy. It is libertarian on social issues. The party has participated in all but three postwar federal governments but was in opposition from 1998-2009. After its strong showing in the September 2009 elections, the FDP, under Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's leadership, joined with the CDU/CSU to form the current government coalition. After dramatic losses in the polls and in 2011 state elections, Philipp Roesler became Chairman of the FDP, Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister. The FDP currently holds 93 seats in the Bundestag.
The PDS (composed largely of former East German communists) and the WASG (composed of western leftists) merged in June 2007 to form a party now called "The Left ." The party's foreign policy is largely shaped by its rigid opposition to foreign military deployments. On domestic policy, the party opposes economic and social reforms, such as Hartz IV, which aim to increase free markets and reduce unemployment benefits. The Left party proposes to replace the free market system with a return to socialist principles. The Left party is currently led by Gesine Loetzsch and Klaus Ernst and holds 76 seats in the Bundestag.
In the late 1970s, environmentalists organized politically as the Greens. Opposition to nuclear power, military power, and certain aspects of highly industrialized society were principal campaign issues. In the December 1990 all-German elections, the Greens merged with the Eastern German Alliance 90, a loose grouping of civil rights activists with diverse political views. The Greens joined a federal government for the first time in 1998, forming a coalition with the SPD. Alliance 90/Greens are currently led by Claudia Roth and Cem Oezdemir. Currently, 68 seats in the Bundestag are held by the Greens.
Because of the instability caused by the need for multi-party coalitions in the Weimar Republic, Germany's Basic Law today requires that parties reach 5% of the vote to win seats in the Bundestag. In addition to those parties that won representation in the Bundestag in 2009, a variety of minor parties won a cumulative 6% of the vote, up from 2.7% in 2005. Several other parties were on the ballot in one or more states but did not qualify for representation in the federal Bundestag. The Pirate Party began in Germany in 2007 and focuses on data privacy issues with a largely young membership. It drew 2% of the vote in the 2009 national election. In September 2011 elections, the Pirate Party won enough votes to enter the Berlin state parliament with 15 seats, the first time it has entered a state parliament. The extreme right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD) is currently represented in two state parliaments in Germany.
2005 and 2009 Federal Elections
The 2005 federal elections were held after Chancellor Schroeder asked for a Bundestag "vote of confidence" on the SPD-Greens coalition. The July 1, 2005, confidence motion failed, and President Koehler called for elections to be held on September 18, 2005, a year earlier than planned. The results of the 2005 Bundestag elections were as follows: CDU/CSU 35.2% (226 seats); SPD 34.2% (222 seats); FDP 9.8% (61 seats); LP/PDS 8.7% (54 seats); Greens 8.1% (51 seats). After several weeks of negotiations, the CDU/CSU and SPD agreed to form a "grand coalition" under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Angela Merkel and the new cabinet were sworn in on November 22, 2005.
Bundestag elections were held again on September 27, 2009. The results were as follows: CDU/CSU 33.8% (239 seats); SPD 23% (146 seats); FDP 14.6% (93 seats); LP 11.9% (76 seats); Greens 10.7% (68 seats). The CDU/CSU received a slightly lower proportion than in the previous election, with the Bavarian CSU receiving its lowest vote share in decades. In contrast, their preferred coalition partner, the liberal FDP, gained nearly 5% points to give it 14.6% of the vote, the best result of its history. The big loser of the election was the SPD, which received its worst result ever in a federal election, receiving only 23% of the total party vote and suffering the biggest percentage loss of any party in German federal election history in 60 years. The two other parties represented in the Bundestag, The Left party and the Greens, both made large gains and received the highest vote share of their respective histories. For the first time, The Left party won constituency seats outside its traditional stronghold of East Berlin. As a result of the losses by the SPD and the gains by the FDP, the alliance of the CDU/CSU and FDP received an outright majority of seats. The Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, and the Free Democratic Party were able to form a center-right government, with Angela Merkel continuing as Chancellor.
Germany continues to emphasize close ties with the United States, membership in NATO, and the "deepening" of integration among current members of the EU. The Federal Republic of Germany took part in all of the joint postwar efforts aimed at closer political, economic, and defense cooperation among the countries of Western Europe. Germany has been a large net contributor to the EU budget. Germany also is a strong supporter of the United Nations and of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In October 2010, Germany was elected to a 2-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council beginning in January 2011.
During the postwar era, the Federal Republic of Germany also sought to improve its relationship with the countries of Eastern Europe, first establishing trade agreements and, subsequently, diplomatic relations. With unification, German relations with the new democracies in central and Eastern Europe intensified. On November 14, 1990, Germany and Poland signed a treaty confirming the Oder-Neisse border. They also concluded a cooperation treaty on June 17, 1991. Germany concluded four treaties with the Soviet Union covering the overall bilateral relationship, economic relations, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the territory of the former G.D.R., and German support for those troops. Russia accepted obligations under these treaties as successor to the Soviet Union. Germany continues to be active economically in the states of central and Eastern Europe and to actively support the development of democratic institutions, bilaterally and through the EU.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (March 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( March 2012)