DEUTSCH
ENGLISH
ESPAÑOL
FRANÇAIS
.
THE BASIC LAW
THE CONSTITUTIONAL BODIES
THE LEGAL SYSTEM
FEDERALISM & SELF-GOVERNMENT
PARTIES & ELECTIONS
COUNTRY AND LANDSCAPE
THE "LÄNDER" (STATES/COUNTRIES)
THE PEOPLE
THE STATE OF HAMBURG
HISTORY UP TO 1945
HISTORY PAST 1945
HAMBURG HISTORY
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The constitutional bodies


“All public authority emanates from the people.“ This underlying principle of democracy is codified in the Basic Law, the German constitution. The people exercise that authority directly in elections and indirectly through bodies instituted by the constitution: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The constitutional bodies with primarily legislative functions are the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. Executive responsibilities lie principally with the Federal Government, headed by the Federal Chancellor, and the Federal President. Judicial functions pertaining to the constitution are performed by the Federal Constitutional Court.

The Federal President.
The head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany is the Federal President. He is elected by the Federal Convention, a constitutional body which convenes only for this purpose. It consists of the members of the Bundestag and an equal number of members elected by the state parliaments. Sometimes eminent persons who are not members of a state parliament are nominated for the Federal Convention. The Federal President is elected for a term of five years with the majority of votes in the Federal Convention. He may only be reelected once.

The Federal President represents the Federation in its international relations and concludes treaties with other states on its behalf. He also accredits and receives envoys, although foreign policy as such is the responsibility of the Federal Government.

The Federal President appoints and dismisses federal judges, federal civil servants and commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the armed forces. The President can pardon convicted criminals. He checks whether laws have come about by the proper constitutional procedure; they are subsequently promulgated in the Federal Law Gazette.

He proposes to the Bundestag a candidate for the office of Federal Chancellor (taking account of the majority situation in parliament) and, in response to proposals from the Chancellor, appoints and dismisses the federal ministers. If the Chancellor seeks but fails to gain a vote of confidence, the Federal President may, on the Chancellor’s proposal, dissolve the Bundestag.

The Federal President personifies the country’s political unity in a special way. He is the link between all elements in society regardless of party distinctions. Although his tasks are mainly of a representational nature, he can exercise considerable personal authority through his neutral, mediating function. By commenting on the fundamental aspects of current issues, he can rise above general party-political controversy and set standards for the public’s political and moral guidance.

The Bundestag.
The German Bundestag is the parliamentary assembly representing the people of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is elected by the people every four years. It may only be dissolved prematurely under exceptional circumstances, the final decision lying with the Federal President. The Bundestag’s main functions are to pass laws, to elect the Federal Chancellor and to keep check on the government.

The Bundestag is the scene of parliamentary battles, especially over crucial foreign and domestic policy issues. It is in the parliamentary committees, whose meetings are not usually open to the public, that the extensive preparatory work for legislation is done. Here it is a question of harmonizing political intentions with the detailed knowledge provided by the experts. It is likewise in the committees that parliament scrutinizes and controls government activity. Otherwise it would not be possible to cope with the multitude of technical questions. The Bundestag’s committees correspond to the Federal Government’s departments and range from the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Labour and Social Affairs to the Budget Committee. The latter is particularly important because it represents parliament’s control of the budget. Anyone may directly address requests and complaints to the Petitions Committee of the German Bundestag.

From 1949 until the end of the 12th legislative term in 1995, more than 7,500 bills were introduced in parliament and 4,600 of them passed. Most bills are initiated by the Federal Government, the others coming from members of the Bundestag or from the Bundesrat. They receive three readings in the Bundestag and are usually referred to the appropriate committee once. The final vote is taken after the third reading. A bill (unless it entails an amendment to the constitution) is passed if it receives a majority of the votes cast. Those which affect the functions of the states require the approval of the Bundesrat, however.

Members of the German Bundestag are elected in general, direct, free, equal and secret elections. They are representatives of the whole people; they are not bound by any instructions, only by their conscience. In line with their party allegiances they form parliamentary groups. Freedom of conscience and the requirements of party solidarity sometimes collide, but even if in such a situation a member feels obliged to leave his party he keeps his seat in the Bundestag. This is the clearest indication that members of the Bundestag are independent.

The relative strengths of the parliamentary groups determine the composition of the committees. The President (Speaker) of the Bundestag is elected from the ranks of the strongest parliamentary group, in keeping with German constitutional tradition.

Members of the Bundestag are paid remuneration ensuring their independence and reflecting their status as MPs. Anyone who has been a member of the Bundestag for at least eight years receives a pension upon reaching retirement age.

The Bundesrat.
The Bundesrat represents the sixteen states and participates in the legislative process and administration of the Federation. In contrast to the senatorial system of federal states like the United States or Switzerland, the Bundesrat does not consist of elected representatives of the people but of members of the state governments or their representatives. Depending on the size of their population, the states have three, four, five or six votes which may only be cast as a block.

More than half of all bills require the formal approval of the Bundesrat, which means that they cannot pass into law against its will. This applies especially to bills that concern vital interests of the states, for instance their financial affairs or their administrative powers. No proposed amendments to the constitution can be adopted without the Bundesrat’s consent (two-thirds majority). In all other cases the Bundesrat only has a right of objection, but this can be overruled by the Bundestag. If the two houses of parliament cannot reach agreement a mediation committee composed of members of both chambers must be convened, which in most cases is able to work out a compromise.

In the Bundesrat state interests often override party interests; voting thus may not reflect party strengths in the Bundesrat. This points to an active federalism. The Federal Government cannot always rely on a state government where the same party is in power to follow its lead in every respect, for each state has its own special interests and sometimes takes sides with other states who pursue the same aim, irrespective of the party they are governed by. This produces fluctuating majorities, and compromises have to be made when the parties forming the Federal Government do not have a majority in the Bundesrat.

The Bundesrat elects its president from among the minister-presidents of the sixteen states for a twelvemonth term according to a fixed rotation schedule. The President of the Bundesrat exercises the powers of the Federal President in the event of the latter’s indisposition.

The Federal Government.
The Federal Government, the Cabinet, consists of the Federal Chancellor, who is chairman of the Cabinet and head of government, and the federal ministers. The Chancellor alone chooses the ministers and proposes them to the Federal President for appointment or dismissal. He also determines the number of ministers and their responsibilities. Certain ministries are mentioned in the Basic Law: the Federal Foreign Office as well as the Federal Ministries of the Interior, Justice, Finance and Defence. Institution of the three latter ministries is a constitutional requirement. The Chancellor is in a strong position primarily due to the fact that it is he who lays down the guidelines of government policy. The federal ministers run their departments independently and on their own responsibility but within the framework of these guidelines. In a coalition government, the Chancellor must also take account of agreements reached with the other party in the coalition.

This explains why the German system of government is often referred to as a “Chancellor democracy“. The Chancellor is the only member of the government elected by parliament, and he alone is accountable to it. This accountability may manifest itself in a “constructive vote of no confidence“, which was introduced by the authors of the Basic Law in deliberate contrast to the Weimar constitution. Its purpose is to ensure that opposition groups who are in agreement only in their rejection of the government but not as regards an alternative program are not able to overthrow the government. A Bundestag vote of no confidence in the Chancellor must at the same time be a majority vote in favor of a successor. Of the two attempts to bring down a Chancellor with the help of a constructive vote of no confidence, only one has succeeded. That was in October 1982, when a noconfidence motion removed Helmut Schmidt from office and put Helmut Kohl in his place. The Basic Law makes no provision for motions of no confidence in individual federal ministers.

The Federal Constitutional Court.
The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe is the guardian of the Basic Law. It takes action only when called upon. A catalog of types of proceedings stipulates when cases may be brought before the Court.

Every citizen has the right to file a constitutional complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court if he feels his basic rights have been violated by public authority. Before doing so, however, he must as a rule have exhausted all other legal remedies.

The Court also rules on disputes between the Federation and the states or between individual federal institutions. Only this court has the power to declare that a party constitutes a threat to freedom and democracy and is therefore unconstitutional, in which case it orders that party’s dissolution. It scrutinzes federal and state laws as to their conformity with the Basic Law. If it rules that a law is unconstitutional, that law may no longer be applied. The Court acts in such cases only when called upon by certain authorities, such as the Federal Government, the state governments, at least one third of the members of the Bundestag, or the lower courts.

So far the Court has passed judgment in more than 114,000 cases. Approximately 109,640 dealt with constitutional complaints, but only about 2,900 of these were successful. Often matters of great domestic or international significance are dealt with, for instance whether the involvement of German forces in missions of the United Nations is compatible with the Basic Law. Federal Governments of all political persuasions have had to submit to decisions of the judges in Karlsruhe. The Court has repeatedly stressed, however, that while its work indeed has a political impact, it is not a political institution. Its standard is the Basic Law alone, pursuant to which the constitutional scope for political decision-making has been established.

The Federal Constitutional Court consists of two panels, each with eight judges; half of them are elected by the Bundestag and half by the Bundesrat. The judges serve for twelve years and may not be reelected.

The federal capital.
On 10?May 1949, the university town of Bonn on the Rhine, which at the time had a population of about 100,000, was chosen as the provisional federal capital (in the face of strong competition, especially from Frankfurt am Main) by the Parliamentary Council. The Bundestag confirmed this decision on 3?November 1949 but at the same time stated that the federal bodies would be moved to Berlin following free elections in the GDR. Over the years Bonn came to be synonymous worldwide for the Federal Republic of Germany and its democratic policies.

After the reunification of Germany, the German Bundestag on 20 June 1991 resolved by a majority of 337 to 320 to move the parliament and the government from Bonn to Berlin. On 27 September 1996, the Bundesrat likewise resolved to move to Berlin. Six ministries are staying in Bonn and will merely have an office in Berlin. The ministries in Berlin will conversely have an office in Bonn. Furthermore, 18 federal authorities such as the Federal Cartel Office and the Federal Court of Audit will be moved to Bonn, which has been given the title “federal city“. With the aid of substantial compensation payments, Bonn is to be developed into a center of science, scholarship and culture.

Considerable resources are presently being invested to build the government district in the curve of the Spree River in Berlin and to convert the Reichstag building into the seat of the German Bundestag. Moving the ministries and authorities to Berlin and purchasing and erecting the approximately 12,000 dwellings that will be needed will likewise consume tremendous sums of money. Improvements in Berlin’s infrastructure, especially in the area of transport, will incur further costs.

Details of the move are governed by the “Act to Complete the Unity of Germany“, usually referred to as the “Bonn/Berlin Act“, which was adopted by the Bundestag on 10?March 1994 and stipulates moving costs of DM?20 billion. The Bundestag and the Federal Government will move to Berlin in the years 1999 and 2000. In the spring of 1999, the converted Reichstag building will be opened to the Bundestag for use.


DEUTSCH
ENGLISH
ESPAÑOL
FRANÇAIS
.
THE BASIC LAW
THE CONSTITUTIONAL BODIES
THE LEGAL SYSTEM
FEDERALISM & SELF-GOVERNMENT
PARTIES & ELECTIONS
COUNTRY AND LANDSCAPE
THE "LÄNDER" (STATES/COUNTRIES)
THE PEOPLE
THE STATE OF HAMBURG
HISTORY UP TO 1945
HISTORY PAST 1945
HAMBURG HISTORY
X
X
X

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