Politics: Germany’s vibrant democracy

The Constitution guarantees stability

Germany looks back on a long history. It has existed as state, in today’s sense of the word, since 1871. Many ups and downs have followed, including two world wars, the barbarous dictatorship of the National Socialists, and the division into two German states. Yet the Federal Republic of Germany, which was founded in 1949, has learnt from its history, and the country’s democratic constitution guarantees that those lessons will not be forgotten.

Until 1990, the Federal Republic comprised 11 federal states, or Länder. Following reunification with the German Democratic Republic in 1990, these were joined by a further five. Since then, the federal capital and seat of government has been Berlin, although several federal ministries still have a presence in Bonn, the former capital. Germany has been a stable democracy for over 60 years now, and this democratic culture is endorsed and embodied by the country’s citizens.

The constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany is known as the Basic Law. It begins with Article 1: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.” Among the guaranteed basic rights are freedom of opinion, information, and the press (Article 5); equality before the law (Article 3); freedom of faith and conscience (Article 4); freedom of association (Article 9); the right to choose an occupation, a workplace and a training centre (Article 12) and the right to protection from political persecution (Asylum, Article 16a). The Basic Law defines Germany as a:

  • Constitutional state: all actions of the state are subject to judicial control.
  • Federal state: political sovereignty is divided between the 16 Länder and the central state – a system often described as “federalist”.
  • A welfare state: the government makes provisions to ensure social equity and to guarantee that citizens are provided with the requisite social welfare. This includes ensuring that citizens have a decent standard of living in the event of unemployment, disability or illness, and in old age.

The basic rights, the democratic form of government, the federal state, and the welfare state all have an irrevocable character. This means they may not be abrogated in the future either by subsequent alterations to the Basic Law or by a new constitution.

The five permanent constitutional bodies

The five permanent constitutional bodies of the Federal Republic of Germany are the Federal President (the head of state), the Bundestag (the elected representative assembly of the German people), the Bundesrat (the representative of the Länder and a second chamber of parliament, alongside the Bundestag), the Federal Government (the Federal Chancellor and the Federal Ministers), and the Federal Constitutional Court (the supreme court).

The separation of powers – i.e., the division of state powers among a number of bodies of state – is an important component of the constitution. The legislature, the executive, and the judiciary must never fall under the control of a single authority.

Political parties and elections

According to the terms of the Basic Law, it is the task of the political parties to participate in the formation of the political will of the people.

The 18th German Bundestag, elected on 22. September 2013, is made up of the CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union) along with its sister party, the CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union), and the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands), which together form the coalition government; the opposition parties are the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen und Die Linke.

The elections to the Bundestag and the Länder parliaments are free, confidential, and equal (each vote counts the same). These elections are also direct. This means that people vote directly for members of parliament via a list. In Germany, elections to the Bundestag and the Länder parliaments are general elections. This means that all citizens aged 18 and over are eligible to vote and to stand for election.

Information on the World Wide Web

The Federal Government

The Federal Government presents itself (German, English, French)

Federal Office of Migration and Refuges

The political system is briefly explained (German, English, Russian, Turkish)

Federal Center for Political Education

Here you can learn more about the German parties (German, English)

The Basic Constitutional Law

Basic Constitutional Law for download (PDF, 189 KB) (German, English)

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