Federal executive branch
The Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor) heads the Bundesregierung (Federal Cabinet) and thus the executive branch of the federal government. He or she is elected by and responsible to the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. Germany, like the United Kingdom, can thus be classified as a parliamentary system.
The Chancellor cannot be removed from office during a 4-year term unless the Bundestag has agreed on a successor. This Constructive Vote of No Confidence is intended to avoid the situation of the Weimar Republic in which the executive did not have enough support in the legislature to govern effectively, but the legislature was too divided to name a successor.
Except between 1969 and 1982, the Chancellor has always been the candidate of the largest party, usually supported by a coalition of two or more parties with a majority in the parliament. The Chancellor appoints a Vice-Chancellor (Vizekanzler), who is a member of his cabinet, usually the Foreign Minister (at the moment, the Vice-Chancellor is the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs). When there is a coalition government (which has, so far, always been the case, except for the period of 1957 to 1961), the Vice-Chancellor usually belongs to the smaller party of the coalition.
The heads of governments may change the structure of ministries whenever and however they see fit. For example, in the middle of January 2001, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture was renamed to Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture as a consequence of the BSE crisis. For that measure, competences from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Health were transferred to the new Ministry of Consumer Protection.
Subordinate to the cabinet is the Civil service of Germany.
By contrast, the duties of the Bundespräsident (Federal President) are largely representative and ceremonial; power is exercised by the Chancellor. The President is elected every 5 years on May 23 by the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung), a special body convoked only for this purpose, comprising the entire Bundestag and an equal number of state delegates selected especially for this purpose. In May 2004, Horst Köhler of the CDU was elected. The reason that the President is not popularly elected is to prevent him from gaining enough popular legitimacy to circumvent the constitution, as occurred with the Weimar Republic.