Danke les

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Red-Green" vs. Christian coalitions

In the 1998 election the SPD emphasized commitment to reducing persistently high unemployment and appealed to voters' desire for new faces after 16 years of Helmut Kohl's government. Gerhard Schröder positioned himself as a centrist "Third Way" candidate in the mold of Britain's Tony Blair and America's Bill Clinton--he was critiqued as "Clintonblair" by some newspaper sources throughout his election campaign. The CDU/CSU stood on its record of economic performance and experience in foreign policy. The Kohl government was hurt at the polls by slower growth in the east in the past two years, widening the economic gap between east and west. The final margin of victory was sufficiently high to permit a "red-green" coalition of the SPD with Alliance '90/The Greens (Bündnis '90/Die Grünen), bringing the Greens into a national government for the first time. The first months of the new government were marked by policy disputes between the moderate and traditional left wings of the SPD, resulting in some voter disaffection. The first state election after the federal election was held in Hessen in February, 1999. The CDU increased its vote by 3.5 % to emerge as the largest party, and was able to replace a SPD/Green coalition with a CDU/FDP coalition. The result was interpreted in part as a referendum on the federal government's proposed new citizenship law, which would have eased requirements for long-time foreign residents to obtain citizenship, and permitted them to retain their original citizenship as well.

In March 1999, SPD chairman and Minister of Finance Oskar Lafontaine, who represented a more traditional social democratic position, resigned from all offices after losing a party-internal power struggle against Schröder.

In state elections in 2000 and 2001, the respective SPD- or CDU-led coalition governments were re-elected into power.

The next election for the Bundestag was September 22, 2002. Gerhard Schröder led the coalition of SPD and Greens to an 11 seat victory over the conservative challengers headed by Edmund Stoiber (CSU). Two factors are generally cited that enabled Schröder to win the elections despite poor approval ratings a few months before: good handling of the floods in the summer of 2002 and firm opposition to the USA's plans to invade Iraq.

The coalition treaty for the second red-green coalition was signed October 16, 2002. With a significantly changed cabinet (see below), Schröder and Fischer began their second term.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Politics of Germany

Politics of Germany takes place in a framework of a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Federal Chancellor is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, Bundestag and Bundesrat. Since 1949, the party system is dominated by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

The Judiciary of Germany is independent of the executive and the legislature. The political system is laid out in the 1949 constitution, the Grundgesetz (Basic Law), which remained in effect with minor amendments after 1990's German Reunification.

The constitution emphasizes the protection of individual liberty in an extensive catalogue of human rights and also divides powers both between the federal and state levels and between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. In many ways, the 1949 Grundgesetz is a strong response to the perceived flaws of the failed 1919 Weimar Republic, which collapsed in 1933 and was replaced by the dictatorship of the Third Reich.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Federal parliament

Germany has on the federal level a bicameral legislature. The parliament has two chambers. The Bundestag (Federal Diet) nominally has 598 members, elected for a four year term, 299 members elected in single-seat constituencies according to first-past-the-post, while a further 299 members are allocated from statewide party lists to achieve a proportional distribution in the legislature, conducted according to a system of mixed member proportional representation. Voters vote once for a constituency representative, and a second time for a party, and the lists are used to make the party balances match the distribution of second votes. In the current parliament there are 16 overhang seats, giving a total of 614. This is caused by larger parties winning additional single-member districts above the totals determined by their proportional party vote. A party must receive 5% of the national vote or win least three directly elected seats to be represented in the Bundestag. This rule, often called the "five percent hurdle", was incorporated into Germany's Election law to prevent political fragmentation and strong minor parties, which was considered a major reason for the inefficacy of the Weimar Republic's Reichstag. The first Bundestag elections were held in the Federal Republic of Germany ("West Germany") on August 14, 1949. Following Reunification, elections for the first all-German Bundestag were held on December 2, 1990. The last election was held on September 18, 2005, the new (16th) Bundestag convened on October 18, 2005. The number of Bundestag Deputies was reduced from 656 to 598 beginning in 2002, although under the additional member system, more deputies may be admitted if a party wins more directly elected seats than it would be entitled to under proportional representation.

The Bundesrat (Federal Council) is the representation of the state governments at the federal level. It consists of 69 members who are delegates of the 16 Bundesländer and usually, but not necessarily include the 16 Minister Presidents themselves. The Länder each have from three to six votes in the Bundesrat, dependent on population. Bundesrat members receive voting instructions from their state governments.

The legislature has powers of exclusive jurisdiction and concurrent jurisdiction with the Länder in areas specifically enumerated by the Basic Law. The Bundestag bears the major responsibility. The necessity for the Bundesrat to concur on legislation is limited to bills related to revenue shared by the federal and state governments and those imposing responsibilities on the states, although in practice, this means that Bundesrat concurrence is very often required.

Since the political orientation of the Bundesrat (which depends on the various state elections that occur independently of the federal ones) is quite frequently the opposite of that of the Bundestag, it has, in recent years, become more and more of a forum for the opposition parties, as opposed to one for state interests, as the constitution intended.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Judicial branch

Germany has an independent judicial branch. Since the independence of the judiciary is historically older than democracy in Germany, the organization of courts is traditionally strong, and almost all state actions are subject to judicial review. Besides a so-called "ordinary" judicial branch that handles civil and criminal cases, which is in turn comprised of four levels of courts up to the Bundesgerichtshof in a fairly complex appeals system, there are separate branches for administrative, tax, labour, and social security issues, each with their own hierarchies. Courts are generally in the hands of the states, except for the highest courts of each branch, which are federal, respectively, to maintain a certain degree of unity in jurisdiction.

In addition, Germany has a powerful Constitutional Court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht. This is somewhat unique since the Grundgesetz stipulates in principle that every person may file a complaint to that court when his or her constitutional rights, especially the human rights, have been violated by the state. Such actions can include laws passed by the legislative branch, court decisions, or acts of the administration. While in practice, only a small percentage of these constitutional complaints (Verfassungsbeschwerden) are successful, the Constitutional Court is known to frequently antagonise both the executive and the legislative branches with far-reaching decisions. This has even gone so far as judges openly stating that they are indifferent to the reactions of the government, the Bundestag, public opinion or any financial consequences arising from a decision with the only relevant point being the constitution. It should also be mentioned that the Bundesverfassungsgericht has very high approval rates throughout the general population. The Constitutional Court also handles several other procedures such as disputes between state institutions over their constitutional powers.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

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.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher

Hans-Dietrich Genscher (born March 21, 1927) is a German politician and member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). He was Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1974-1992, making him Germany's longest serving Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor.