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Backgrounds: Germany Government
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 and cannot remove the chancellor from office during a 4-year term unless it has agreed on a successor. The president is elected every 5 years on May 23 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 more 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.
Recent Election Issues
Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU). An important aspect of postwar German politics was the emergence of a moderate 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. Helmut Kohl served as chairman of the CDU from 1973 until the party's electoral defeat in 1998, when he was succeeded by Wolfgang Schaeuble. Schaeuble resigned in early 2000 as a result of a party financing scandal. Angela Merkel is now party leader. Edmund Stoiber took over the CSU chairmanship early in 1999. Stoiber, currently Minister-President of Bavaria, was the CDU/CSU Chancellor candidate for the September 2002 elections.
Alliance 90/Greens. 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. Joschka Fischer became vice chancellor and foreign minister in the new government, retaining those positions after the 2002 elections.
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. The party has participated in all but three postwar federal governments and has spent only 8 years out of government in the 50-year history of the Federal Republic. In 2001, Guido Westerwelle replaced Wolfgang Gerhardt as party chairman.
Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). The PDS was established in December 1989 as the successor party to the SED (the communist party of the GDR). It has renounced most of the extreme aspects of SED policy but retained much of its Marxist leanings. In the 2002 elections, the PDS only obtained 4.0% of the popular vote and thus failed to repeat its 1998 successful establishment of a caucus within the Bundestag (at least 5.0% of the popular vote is needed to do this). The PDS did win two directly mandated seats but is generally ineffective in the Bundestag and no longer considered a serious party in German politics. The PDS' decline is blamed on a lack of political orientation and a continuing series of disputes among party leaders.
Other parties. In addition to those parties that won representation in the Bundestag in 2002, a variety of minor parties won a cumulative 3.0% of the vote, down from 5.9% in 1998. Several other parties were on the ballot in one or more states but were not qualified for representation in the Bundestag. The right-wing parties remained fragmented and failed to win Bundestag representation.
Germany maintains an embassy in the United States at 4645 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-298-4000). Consulates general are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Germany has honorary consuls in more than 30 U.S. cities.
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