Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
President of Germany
The Federal President (German: Bundespräsident) is Germany's head of state. The president is elected by a specially convened body called the Federal Convention (Bundesversammlung) to serve a five year term. In accordance with Germany's parliamentary system of government the presidency is limited by a mixture of law and convention to being a ceremonial position. The office of Federal President was first established with the creation of West Germany in 1949, and is the successor to the office of Reichspräsident ("Reich President") that existed during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and at the start and the end of the Third Reich.
The first official residence of the Federal President is the Bellevue Palace in Berlin. The president's second official residence is the Hammerschmidt Villa , in Bonn. The current office-holder is Horst Köhler, elected in 2004.
Main article: German Federal Convention
The Federal President is elected by secret ballot, without debate, by the Federal Convention, a body established solely for that purpose. The convention consists of all Bundestag members as well as an equal number of delegates chosen by the legislatures of the länder (states). The delegates of each Land to the Federal Convention are elected by the members of the legislature of that jurisdiction under a form of proportional representation. However it is not required that delegates themselves be members of a legislature; often esteemed local citizens are chosen.
In total, the Federal Convention numbers more than one thousand people. The German constitution, the Basic Law, requires that it be convened no later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the president. In practice it is convened every five years (in all years with year numbers ending in "4" or "9") on 23rd May, the date of the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949. The body is convened and chaired by the President of the Bundestag .
The Federal Convention attempts to elect a president by an absolute majority of votes cast. If, after two votes, no single candidate has received this level of support, in the third and final vote the candidate endorsed by a plurality of votes cast is deemed elected. The process of electing the Federal President is usually determined by party politics, the office being in the gift of whichever party, or group of allied parties, can muster a majority in the convention. The authors of the Basic Law chose an indirect form of presidential election because they believed it would produce a head of state who was widely acceptable and yet at the same time insulated from public pressure and lacking in sufficient popular legitimacy to undermine other institutions of government.
The office of Federal President is open to all Germans who are entitled to vote in Bundestag elections and have reached the age of forty, but no one may serve more than two five year terms. The president receives an annual payment of approximately €213,000 that continues when he or she leaves office.
The president may not be a member of the government or of a legislature at either the federal or Land level. On taking office the president must take the following oath, stipulated by Article 56 of the Basic Law, before the assembled members of the Bundestag and Bundesrat (however he or she is permitted to ommit the religious references if so desired):
- I swear that I will dedicate my efforts to the well-being of the German people, enhance their benefits, avert harm from them, uphold and defend the Constitution and the statutes of the Federation, fulfil my duties conscientiously, and do justice to all. So help me God.
Duties and functions
The degree of power actually conferred upon the Federal President by the Basic Law is ambiguous. However, in practice, holders of the office treat it as a ceremonial, non-political one, and act in accordance with the advice and directives of the Federal Government. Unlike many constitutions the Basic Law does not designate the head of state as the commander-in-chief of the military (ceremonially or otherwise). This role is vested in the Minister of Defence by Article 65a. The Federal President carries out the following duties:
- Appointment of the Federal Government: The Federal President proposes an individual as Federal Chancellor and then, provided they are subsequently elected by the Bundestag, appoints him or her to the office. However the Bundestag is free to disregard the president's proposal and elect another individual to the post, who the president is then obliged to appoint. The president appoints and dismisses the remaining members of the Federal Government "upon the proposal of the Chancellor". The President can dismiss the chancellor but only in the event that the Bundestag passes a Constructive Vote of No Confidence. If this occurs the president must dismiss the chancellor and appoint the successor requested by the Bundestag.
- Other appointments: The president appoints federal judges, federal civil servants and military officers. All such appointments require the counter-signature of either the chancellor or the relevant cabinet minister.
- Dissolution of the Bundestag: In the event that a vote of confidence is defeated in the Bundestag the Federal President may dissolve the body within 21 days, but only on a proposal from the incumbent chancellor. In the event that the Bundestag elects an individual for the office of chancellor by a plurality of votes, rather than a majority, the Federal President can, at his discretion, either appoint that individual as chancellor or dissolve the Bundestag.
- Promulgation of the law: All federal laws must, after counter-signature, be signed by the president before they can come into effect. Ordinances must be signed by the agency which issues them, and then by the president.
- Foreign relations: The Federal President takes part in foreign visits and receives foreign dignitaries. He or she also concludes treaties with foreign nations, accredits German diplomats and receives the letters of accreditation of foreign diplomats.
- Pardons and honours: The president grants pardons and confers decorations and honours.
- State of emergency: In the event of a national crisis, the emergency law reforms of 1968 designate the president as a mediator who can declare a "legislative state of emergency", which is not quite as sweeping in its effects as a true state of emergency: it only allows a minority government to continue in office for a limited amount of time, but does not suspend basic human rights.
Impartiality and influence
Though usually chosen as the candidate of a political party or parties, the president nonetheless is expected to be non-partisan after assuming office. Every president to date has let his or her party membership rest dormant during his or her term of office. Although the formal powers of the president are limited, the president's role can be quite significant depending on his or her own activities. The very fact that the president usually doesn't interfere with day-to-day politics means that if he or she does choose to speak out on an issue, the event is perceived as one to take note of. There have been a number of occasions when certain presidential speeches have dominated German political debate for a year or more.
There is disagreement about whether Federal Presidents have, in fact, greater constitutional powers than they customarily choose to exercise. Some argue that the Basic Law does not require that the president must follow government directives in all circumstances. It is suggested, for instance, that the president could refuse to sign legislation, thus vetoing it, or refuse to approve a cabinet appointment. Because no Federal President has ever attempted to take either of these actions the constitutionality of these points has never been tested.
In the few cases in which a bill was not signed all presidents claimed that the bill in question was manifestly unconstitutional. Also, in some cases, a president has signed a law whilst asking that the political parties refer the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in order to test the law's constitutionality. The most recent case of such an occurrence was the controversial 'passing' of an immigration law in the Bundesrat in 2003. This law was ultimately declared invalid by the court for reasons of procedure.
The Basic Law did not create an office of vice president. If the president is outside of the country, or the position is vacant, the President of the Bundesrat (this position is rotated among the state governors on a yearly basis) fills in as temporary, acting Federal President. While doing so he or she does not continue to exercise the role of chair of the Bundesrat. If the president dies, or is removed from office, a successor is elected within thirty days. However since the establishment of the office this has never occurred.
While the president is abroad on a state visit the President of the Bundesrat does not assume all of his responsibilities but may "deputise" for the Federal President, performing on the president's behalf merely those tasks that require his or her physical presence, such as the signing of documents.
As with many other provisions of the Basic Law, the mechanism for presidential succession was introduced in response to a perceived weakness in the Weimar constitution, under which the chancellor would act as head of state in the president's absence. This made it easier for Adolf Hitler to combine the two offices of president and chancellor and make himself dictator.
List of Federal Presidents
See also: List of German presidents since 1919
|No.||Name||Took office||Left office||Party|
|1.||Theodor Heuss||13th September, 1949||12th September, 1959||FDP|
|2.||Heinrich Lübke||13 September,1959||30th June,1969||CDU|
|3.||Gustav Heinemann||1st July,1969||30th June, 1974||SPD|
|4.||Walter Scheel||1st July,1974||30th June, 1979||FDP|
|5.||Karl Carstens||1st July, 1979||30th June, 1984||CDU|
|6.||Richard von Weizsäcker||1st July, 1984||30th June, 1994||CDU|
|7.||Roman Herzog||1st July, 1994||30th June, 1999||CDU|
|8.||Johannes Rau||1st July, 1999||30th June, 2004||SPD|
|9.||Horst Köhler||1st July, 2004||(Incumbent)||CDU|
Impeachment and removal
While in office the Federal President enjoys immunity from prosecution and cannot be voted out of office or recalled. The only mechanism for removing the president is impeachment by the Bundestag for willfully violating German law. Once the Bundestag impeaches the president the Federal Constitutional Court is charged with determining if he or she is guilty of the offence. If the charge is sustained the court has authority to remove the president from office. To date no Federal President has ever been impeached.
The office of Federal President was preceded by the office of Reichspräsident ("Reich President") that existed during the Weimar Republic 1919-1933 and continued under the Third Reich until the death of Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934. Under the Weimar Republic the Reichspräsident was elected by popular vote and intended to be largely a ceremonial figurehead. However, in the later years of the republic, the difficulty in creating a workable parliamentary majority allowed President von Hindenburg to rule by decree and bypass the Reichstag (parliament).
In 1934, after the death of Hindenburg, Adolf Hitler, who had previously been appointed Reichskanzler ("Reich Chancellor") by Hindenburg in 1933, solidified his hold on power by merging the offices of Chancellor and Reich President to form a new office of Führer und Reichskanzler ("Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor") (as part of the process of Gleichschaltung). After Hitler committed suicide on 30th April, 1945, days before World War II formally ended in Germany, the title of Reichspräsident was briefly revived and held by Karl Dönitz, until the end of World War II in Europe.
During the first four years of Allied occupation of Germany there was no active German president or head of state. When the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was created from the western occupied territory in 1949 Theodor Heuss was chosen as the first holder of a new position called the Bundespräsident or "Federal President". With this event the presidency once again assumed the largely figurehead status that had existed during the Weimar Republic until about 1929. However the presidency now had clarified and in some cases more limited constitutional powers. Most Federal Presidents have been people perceived to be of moral authority. For example most have been active Christians.
When East Germany and West Germany were united in 1990 the newly reunited country continued to operate under the constitution created for the Federal Republic. Thus today the Federal President is head of state for the whole of Germany. In 1994, as part of the movement of the Federal Republic's seat of government from Bonn to Berlin, the president's official residence was moved from the Hammerschmidt Villa , in Bonn, to its current location at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details