Germany looks back at a long history. It has existed as a 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, founded in 1949, has learnt from its history, and the country’s democratic constitution guarantees that those lessons will not be forgotten.
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 expression, arts and sciences (Article 5); equality before the law (Article 3); freedom of faith and conscience (Article 4); freedom of association (Article 9); occupational freedom (Article 12) and the right of asylum and protection from political persecution (Article 16a). The Basic Law defines Germany as the following:
- Constitutional state: all actions of the state are subject to judicial control.
- Federal state: political sovereignty is divided between the 16 federal states and the central state – a system often described as “federalism”.
- 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.
A federal state with five permanent constitutional bodies
Germany is a federal state. Up until 1990, the Federal Republic consisted of 11 federal states, or Länder. After reuniting with the German Democratic Republic in 1990, the initial 11 states were joined by five new states. 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 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 federal states 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 power 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.
At the present time the 20th German Bundestag – the national parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany elected on 26 September 2021 – consists of the political groups SPD (The Social Democratic Party of Germany), Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens) and the FDP (The Free Democratic Party). Together, these three parties form the government. In the opposition are the Union parties CDU (The Christian Democratic Union of Germany) and CSU (The Christian Social Union in Bavaria), AfD (Alternative for Germany) and Die Linke (The Left).
The elections to the Bundestag and the federal state parliaments are free, confidential and equal (each vote carries the same weight). 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 federal state parliaments are general elections. This means that all citizens aged 18 and over are eligible to vote and to stand for election.
The EU & Germany’s partners
Thanks to various alliances, partnerships and memberships in organisations, Germany maintains a friendly relationship with many countries and works with them to promote peace, democracy and respect for human rights. Germany is a member of the European Union, which grants Germans and all other EU citizens advantageous rights, such as the freedom of movement. These rights also include free travel, living, shopping, study or working inside the EU. The freedom of movement is valid for the movement of people, goods, services and capital on the domestic market. Moreover, any kind of discrimination against EU citizens due to their nationality is prohibited. You can obtain further information about the free movement of EU workers on the website of the Office for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers.
Next to the EU, Germany is a member of the United Nations and NATO, as well as the group of permanent representatives of the G7 and G20. Numerous bilateral partnerships and trade agreements complement these wide-ranging co-operations.
Safe and secure
Since its founding, the Federal Republic of Germany has been a very politically stable country. The government is divided into three branches of legislature, executive power and the judiciary. The purpose of this structure is to prevent a concentration or abuse of political power. Moreover, the separation of powers guarantees a high degree of legal certainty. In other words, you can rely on Germany’s laws and respect for the law, and on its administrative structures and judicial system. The freedom of the press is often mentioned as the fourth power (Article 5 of the Basic Law) which is of great value in Germany.
In comparison, Germany is one of the safest countries worldwide. In the world's leading ranking “Global Peace Index”, Germany is in the top 25 of the most peaceful countries as of 2022 (ranked 16 out of 163 countries and regions). Iceland is classified as the world's safest country, followed by New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland. For this index, the peacefulness of a country is determined by the stability of the government and the corruption rate, for example.
The government invests in programmes covering security-related issues, such as research in security and stability matters. In addition to the challenges of protecting society from terrorism or the consequences of natural disasters, it also includes the examination of other complex tasks. In case of emergency, Germany provides a network of security authorities and ambulance services for civil protection at high technological and organisational standards.