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Series: Politics Today

This book offers an overview of the principal features of the German political system. It emphasises four important characteristics of the system: the way in which twentieth-century history shaped the post-Second World War political system; the stability and adaptability of that system; the unusual importance within the political system of legal rules; and the significance of Germany's association with European integration. The book surveys the Basic Law, designed in 1948-1949 as a direct response to the failure of Germany's first experiment with democracy: the regime of the Weimar Republic. The book describes the events of the fateful years 1989 and 1990, which led to reunification, in three phases: the downfall of the old regime in the German Democratic Republic; the period of adjustment and transition to a democratic regime in Germany; and the process and consequences of reunification itself. The book also examines the principal influences which have shaped the present-day political system, the electoral system and electoral behaviour of the Federal Republic, and the features of the 'party state'. It reviews the structure, operation and political effects of Germany's particular version of federalism and analyses the core institutions of government. The structure and powers of the legislative chambers, the legislative process, and the role of the elected representative are also discussed. Finally, the book charts the path taken by West Germany to develop links to 'Europe', and explores the ways in which membership of what has become the European Union impinges upon the domestic politics of the Federal Republic.

The study of German electoral politics has been neglected of late, despite being one of the most pervasive elements of the German political process. This book argues that concentration on electoral politics facilitates deeper understanding and appreciation of the German political system. It provides explanations and analysis of the federal electoral system, its evolution and the challenges that have been made to its format; discusses the role of electoral politics in relation to political parties and to the public; and the influence of second-order elections in the German political system. The book goes on to evaluate the effectiveness of the German electoral system in relation to its functions, and challenges the premise that electoral politics makes a difference in Germany. Ultimately, it aims to reconcile the apparently limited role that elections have in determining the composition of governments with the notion that there is a ‘permanent election campaign’ in existence in German politics.

Geoffrey K. Roberts

The historical background to the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany can be divided into five phases, which are discussed in this chapter. The unification of Germany as the Second Empire in 1871 is the first phase. The consolidation of the new German state and its involvement in the First World War is the second phase. The third phase is the foundation, development and downfall of the Weimar Republic. The fourth phase is the period of Nazi rule and the Second World War, and the fifth phase is the four-power occupation regime put in place following Germany's unconditional surrender in 1945. Even before the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, the Soviet Union sent a group of German communists (who had spent the war in exile in Russia) into areas of eastern Germany to set up local administration and to prepare the way for the Soviet occupation regime.

in German politics today (third edition)
Geoffrey K. Roberts

This chapter describes the events of the fateful years 1989 and 1990, which led to reunification, in three phases: the downfall of the old regime in the GDR; the period of adjustment and transition to a democratic regime in Germany; and the process and consequences of reunification itself. The Basic Law contained its final provision Article 146, which would have involved the termination of both German states when a reunified Germany was created, under some new constitution. The employment of Article 23 avoided the need to create a totally new constitution for reunited Germany. The reunification of Germany is important to an understanding of the German political system for two reasons. It has changed the size of the Federal Republic of Germany and affected its political institutions. It has also affected the political agenda, so that new problems have arisen since 1990.

in German politics today (third edition)
Geoffrey K. Roberts

This chapter describes the most important factors that have influenced the development of the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. The factors are the Basic Law itself and the Federal Constitutional Court that is charged with the task of interpreting that Basic Law. The chapter considers the economy, the division of Germany and the 'cold war' and the political culture of the Federal Republic, as these played a role in countering any tendencies which might have led to a resurgence of extremism. Many of the decisions made by the Court have had direct significance for the institutions and processes of the political system. Political stability and the development of a democratic political system are held to depend upon a foundation of a prosperous economy. The political culture of the Federal Republic has of course influenced the development of the political system.

in German politics today (third edition)
Geoffrey K. Roberts

This chapter discusses the principles of the German electoral system, summarises the most important defining features of the German electoral system, and describes how this electoral system came into existence. The electoral system affects the type of government of the Federal Republic of Germany. The chapter discusses the effects of the electoral system on the party system and on government. The functions of the electoral system usually have been more concerned with adjusting the balances among the strengths of the parties than with changes of government. The chapter describes the two periods (1956 and 1966) when significant reform of the electoral system seemed likely to occur. It also examines the processes of electoral politics, including candidate selection and election campaigning, as well as German voting behaviour. The electoral system seems to have contributed to the stability and flexibility of democratic politics in Germany.

in German politics today (third edition)
Abstract only
Geoffrey K. Roberts

Political parties play a highly significant role in the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. The type of democratic system the Federal Republic enjoys has been called as 'party government', a concept which includes the ideas that parties give coherence and direction to government through their policy programmes. This chapter describes the role of German political parties and the legal context within which political parties must act. The party system of the Federal Republic prior to reunification in 1990 consisted of four parties: Christian Democrats; Social Democratic Party; Free Democratic Party and Greens. The chapter discusses the development and the structure of the party system. Reunification had a relatively small effect on the structure of the party system. Since the introduction of the Party Law of 1967, parties have to ensure that their organisational structures and procedures comply with the standards set out in that legislation.

in German politics today (third edition)
Geoffrey K. Roberts

The name of the German state, the Federal Republic of Germany, indicates and emphasises one of its fundamental characteristics: its federal structure. This chapter describes the principal reasons for the development of the federal system in Germany. It discusses various Articles of the Basic Law that makes reference to the federal organisation of the political system. The most distinctive feature of the structure of German federalism, though, is the functional division which exists between the federal government and the Länder. To allow the political system to operate effectively in a federal state such as that of Germany, a network of institutions which foster co-ordination and co-operation is necessary. The chapter describes the functions of the most obvious institution of co-ordination, the Bundesrat, which participates influentially in the legislative process at the federal level. The reunification of Germany in 1990 offered a new opportunity to rationalise the federal structure.

in German politics today (third edition)
Geoffrey K. Roberts

The creation of Land legislatures was of great relevance for the design of parliamentary structures for the new Federal Republic in 1949. This chapter describes the structures of the two chambers of the legislature of the Federal Republic: the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. The Bundestag, the lower chamber of the legislature of the Federal Republic of Germany, operates under relevant provisions of the Basic Law and under legislation such as the Electoral Law and the Party Law. The Bundesrat (Federal Council) is the most powerful second chamber in western Europe. It imports the 'federal' element to the legislative process, alongside the Bundestag's representation of the national 'popular' element. The chapter analyses the ways in which the functions of the legislature are carried out and examines the social composition of the Bundestag in relation to its representative function.

in German politics today (third edition)
Geoffrey K. Roberts

Politics in the Federal Republic of Germany is influenced by, and in some ways is dependent upon, the activities of interest groups. The political system that developed after the Second World War placed emphasis on pluralism as a desirable characteristic, as one which belonged to democratic politics. This chapter reviews the range of interest groups that participate in the political process in Germany. It identifies the more significant interest groups, in relation to the policy sectors in which they are mainly involved, and refers to examples of groups which are less significant, but which illustrate the range and variety of such groups. Six 'arenas' for interest group activity can be identified: public opinion, the electoral process, the parties, the legislature, the executive, and the courts. These arenas can be relevant at local and Land levels of government, as well as at the federal government level.

in German politics today (third edition)