Comparative Government of Europe- Germany Essay

Comparative Government of Europe- Germany

1.) German history is characterized by an autocratic as well as an undemocratic tradition. These autocratic and undemocratic events in German history shaped the German political culture.

The territory which later called the Federal Republic of Germany has a number of different states ruled by kings, archbishops, dukes and princes. These leaderships varied in terms of territorial extent, military powers and economic wealth. During the 18th century, the most powerful kingdom among these states is the Kingdom of Prussia headed by Napoleon who welded together several Germanic states within a “Rhenish League”. Such grouping of states formed a German confederation created by the Congress of Vienna. In 1834, the custom union was established to facilitate the trade among German states and at the same time there were various national manifestations conducted by nationalist in a form of rallies and radicals. When the revolution spread throughout Europe, the German nationalist sees it as an opportunity to press for the establishment of German Unification. The issues of unifying Germany was discussed in the Frankfurt Parliament. The Parliament promulgated a constitution for Germany on March 27, 1849, stating that the leadership will be under the power of an emperor. To fulfill the objective of electing an emperor, the King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, was elected as an emperor but he refused to accept this crown of an imperial Germany.

The struggle for supremacy in Germany between Prussia and Austria continued reaching its climax in the defeat of Austria in the Seven Weeks War and formation of the Prussian-dominated North German Confederation. The architect of this new German unity was Otto von Bismarck, a conservative, monarchist, and militaristic Prussian prime minister. He unified all of Germany in a series of three wars. On Jan. 18, 1871, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed German emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The North German Confederation was abolished, and the Second German Reich, consisting of the North and South German states, was born. With a powerful army, an efficient bureaucracy, and a loyal bourgeoisie, Chancellor Bismarck consolidated a powerful centralized state. Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck in 1890 and embarked upon a “New Course,” stressing an intensified colonialism and a powerful navy. His chaotic foreign policy culminated in the diplomatic isolation of Germany and the disastrous defeat in World War I (1914–1918). The Second German Empire collapsed following the defeat of the German armies in 1918, the naval mutiny at Kiel, and the flight of the kaiser to the Netherlands.The Social Democrats, led by Friedrich Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann, crushed the Communists and established a moderate state, known as the Weimar Republic, with Ebert as president. President Ebert died on Feb. 28, 1925, and on April 26, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was elected president. The mass of Germans regarded the Weimar Republic as a child of defeat, imposed on a Germany whose legitimate aspirations to world leadership had been thwarted by a worldwide conspiracy. Added to this were a crippling currency debacle, a tremendous burden of reparations, and acute economic distress.

Adolf Hitler, an Austrian war veteran and a fanatical nationalist, fanned discontent by promising a Greater Germany, abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles, restoration of Germany’s lost colonies, and the destruction of the Jews, whom he scapegoated as the reason for Germany’s downfall and depressed economy. When the Social Democrats and the Communists refused to combine against the Nazi threat, President von Hindenburg made Hitler the chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. With the death of von Hindenburg on Aug. 2, 1934, Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles and began full-scale rearmament. In 1935, he withdrew Germany from the League of Nations, and the next year he reoccupied the Rhineland and signed the Anti-Comintern pact with Japan, at the same time strengthening relations with Italy. Austria was annexed in March 1938. By the Munich agreement in Sept. 1938, he gained the Czech Sudetenland, and in violation of this agreement he completed the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. His invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, precipitated World War II.

Hitler established death camps to carry out “the final solution to the Jewish question.” By the end of the war, Hitler’s Holocaust had killed 6 million Jews, as well as Gypsies, homosexuals, Communists, the handicapped, and others not fitting the Aryan ideal. Germany surrendered unconditionally to Allied and Soviet military commanders on May 8, 1945. On June 5 the four-nation Allied Control Council became the de facto government of Germany. The Berlin conference set forth the guiding principles of the Allied Control Council: Germany’s complete disarmament and demilitarization, destruction of its war potential, rigid control of industry, and decentralization of the political and economic structure. Pending final determination of territorial questions at a peace conference, the three victors agreed to the ultimate transfer of the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) and its adjacent area to the USSR and to the administration by Poland of former German territories lying generally east of the Oder-Neisse Line. For purposes of control, Germany was divided into four national occupation zones.

The Federal Republic of Germany was proclaimed on May 23, 1949, with its capital at Bonn. In free elections, West German voters gave a majority in the constituent assembly to the Christian Democrats, with the Social Democrats largely making up the opposition. Konrad Adenauer became chancellor, and Theodor Heuss of the Free Democrats was elected the first president.

The East German states adopted a more centralized constitution for the Democratic Republic of Germany, put into effect on Oct. 7, 1949. The USSR thereupon dissolved its occupation zone but Soviet troops remained. The Western allies declared that the East German Republic was a Soviet creation undertaken without self-determination and refused to recognize it. Soviet forces created a state controlled by the secret police with a single party, the Socialist Unity (Communist) Party. The division between West Germany and East Germany was intensified when the Communists erected the Berlin Wall in 1961. In 1968, the East German Communist leader, Walter Ulbricht, imposed restrictions on West German movements into West Berlin. The Soviet-bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia in Aug. 1968 added to the tension. West Germany signed a treaty with Poland in 1970, renouncing force and setting Poland’s western border at the Oder-Neisse Line. It subsequently resumed formal relations with Czechoslovakia in a pact that “voided” the Munich treaty that gave Nazi Germany the Sudetenland. By 1973, normal relations were established between East and West Germany and the two states entered the United Nations.

West German chancellor Willy Brandt, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his foreign policies, was forced to resign in 1974 when an East German spy was discovered to be one of his top staff members. Succeeding him was a moderate Social Democrat, Helmut Schmidt. Schmidt staunchly backed U.S. military strategy in Europe, staking his political fate on placing U.S. nuclear missiles in Germany unless the Soviet Union reduced its arsenal of intermediate missiles. He also strongly opposed nuclear-freeze proposals.

Helmut Kohl of the Christian Democrat Party became chancellor in 1982. An economic upswing in 1986 led to Kohl’s reelection. The fall of the Communist government in East Germany left only Soviet objections to German reunification to be dealt with. On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was dismantled, making reunification all but inevitable. In July 1990, Kohl asked Soviet leader Gorbachev to drop his objections in exchange for financial aid from (West) Germany. Gorbachev agreed, and on Oct. 3, 1990, the German Democratic Republic acceded to the Federal Republic, and Germany became a united and sovereign state for the first time since 1945.

A reunited Berlin serves as the official capital of unified Germany, although the government continued to have administrative functions in Bonn during the 12-year transition period. The issues of the cost of reunification and the modernization of the former East Germany were serious considerations facing the reunified nation.

Basing on history, Germany shapes its political culture from the autocratic ruling to federal republican ruling to where they shaped there political system basing on the ideas of so many rulers and leaders from the past up to the present. It continued to adopt certain policies, rules and principles to strengthen the government.

2.) Composition, functions and powers of the Bundestag in German politics.

The Bundestag was the nickname of the governing body of the German Confederation from 1815-1866 (officially called Bundesversammlung, “Federal Assembly”). This body met in Frankfurt and was presided over by the Austrian delegate. As one of the chief instruments of the reactionary forces opposed to democracy and nationalism, it was dissolved during the liberal revolution of 1848 but reconvened in 1850. It is a predecessor to the modern Bundestag in name only. While the modern parliament is elected by the people, the Bundestag of the German Confederation was appointed by the various princes and the governments of the free cities.

Bundestag is the lower house of the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its members are the only federal officials directly elected by the public. This popularly elected body elects the chancellor, passes all legislation, and ratifies the most important treaties. In addition, they have the responsibility to check the executive branch on issues of both substantive policy and routine administration. This check on executive power can be employed through binding legislation, public debates on government policy, investigations, and direct questioning of the chancellor or cabinet officials. The Bundestag concentrates much of its energy on assessing and amending the government’s legislative program.

For example, the Bundestag can conduct a question hour (Fragestunde), in which a government representative responds to a previously submitted written question from a member. Members can ask related questions during the question hour. The questions can concern anything from a major policy issue to a specific constituent’s problem. Use of the question hour has increased markedly over the past forty years, with more than 20,000 questions being posed during the 1987-90 term.

Since the bundestag has the power to elect for the chancellor, they also have the right to remove the chancellor, in a vote of No Confidence by electing a new chancellor but can be dissolved by the President if deadlock on a new government.

It has a total of 598 members, double the number of electoral districts in Germany. There are about 50 percent of Bundestag deputies are directly elected to represent a specific geographic district; the other half are elected as party representatives. The political parties are thus of great importance in Germany’s electoral system, and many voters tend not to see the candidates as autonomous political personalities but rather as agents of the party. Interestingly, constituent service seems not to be perceived, either by the electorate or by the representatives, as a critical function of the legislator.

Members serve four-year terms; elections are held every four years, or earlier in the relatively rare case that the Bundestag is being dissolved prematurely by the President on the recommendation of the Chancellor, which has happened three times as of 2005: 1972 under chancellor Willy Brandt, 1982 under chancellor Helmut Kohl and 2005 under chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

All candidates must be at least eighteen years old; there are no term limits. The election uses the MMP electoral system, a hybrid of the first-past-the-post election system and party-list proportional representation. In addition, the Bundestag has a minimum threshold of either 5% of the national party vote or three (directly elected) constituency representatives for a party to gain additional representation through the system of proportional representation; thus, small (and often extremist) minority parties cannot so easily prevent the formation of stable majority governments as they could under the Weimar constitution.

The additional member system results in a varying number of seats; since the 2002 elections, there have been 603 seats. The distribution of the seats is calculated by the Largest remainder method. The additional seats are distributed to ensure that the combined total of direct and additional seats is proportional to the vote; this is calculated separately for each state. Sometimes parties win more seats directly than what their proportional share would entitle them to — these are known as overhang seats. Unlike the situation in some German state parliaments, overhang seats are not compensated in the Bundestag.

The most important organizational structures within the Bundestag are parliamentary groups, which are formed by political parties represented in the chamber which have gained more than 5% of the total votes; CDU and CSU have always formed a single united Fraktion. The size of a party’s Fraktion determines the extent of its representation on legislative committees, the time slots allotted for speaking, the number of committee chairs it can hold, and its representation in executive bodies of the Bundestag. The Fraktionen, not the members, receive the bulk of government funding for legislative and administrative activities.

The leadership of each Fraktion consists of a parliamentary party leader, several deputy leaders, and an executive committee. The leadership’s major responsibilities are to represent the Fraktion, enforce party discipline, and orchestrate the party’s parliamentary activities. The members of each Fraktion are distributed among working groups focused on specific policy-related topics such as social policy, economics, and foreign policy. The Fraktion meets once a week to consider legislation before the Bundestag and formulate the party’s position on it.

Parties which do not fulfill the criterion for being a Fraktion but which have got at least three seats by direct elections (i.e. which have got at least three MPs which represent a certain electoral district) in the Bundestag can be granted the status of a group of the Bundestag. This applied to the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) from 1990-1998. This status entails some privileges which are in general less than those of a Fraktion. In the current Bundestag, there are no such groups (the PDS only had two MPs in parliament until 2005 and was thus not even considered a group anymore; the party has now returned to the Bundestag with full Fraktion status).

The Bundestag’s executive bodies include the Council of Elders and the Presidium. The council consists of the Bundestag leadership, together with the most senior representatives of each Fraktion, with the number of these representatives tied to the strength of the party in the chamber. The council is the coordination hub, determining the daily legislative agenda and assigning committee chairpersons based on party representation. The council also serves as an important forum for interparty negotiations on specific legislation and procedural issues. The Presidium is responsible for the routine administration of the Bundestag, including its clerical and research activities. It consists of the chamber’s president (usually elected from the largest Fraktion) and vice presidents (one from each Fraktion).

Most of the legislative work in the Bundestag is the product of standing committees, which exist largely unchanged throughout one legislative period. Although this is common practice in the U.S. Congress, it is uncommon in other parliamentary systems, such as the British House of Commons and the French National Assembly. The number of committees approximates the number of federal ministries, and the titles of each are roughly similar (e.g., defense, agriculture, and labor). Between 1987 and 1990, the term of the eleventh Bundestag, there were twenty-one standing committees. The distribution of committee chairs and the membership of each committee reflect the relative strength of the various parties in the chamber. In the eleventh Bundestag, the CDU/CSU chaired eleven committees, the SPD eight, the FDP one, and the environmentalist party, the Greens (Die Grünen), one. Unlike in the United States Congress, where all committees are chaired by members of the majority party, the German system allows members of the opposition party to chair a significant number of standing committees. These committees have either a small staff or no staff at all.

3.) Provide specific provisions of the Basic Law on the powers of the Chancellor and give concrete examples from the roles of different chancellors to substantiate as to why it can be described as the `Chancellor Democracy`.

The Basic Law invests the chancellor with central executive authority. For that reason, some observers refer to the German political system as a “chancellor democracy.” The chancellor’s authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law and from his or her status as leader of the party or coalition of parties holding a majority of seats in the Bundestag. Every four years, after national elections and the seating of the newly elected Bundestag members, the federal president nominates a chancellor candidate to that parliamentary body; the chancellor is elected by majority vote in the Bundestag.

Article 65 of the Basic Law sets forth three principles that define how the executive branch functions:

The “chancellor principle” makes the chancellor responsible for all government policies. Any formal policy guidelines issued by the chancellor are legally binding directives that cabinet ministers must implement. Cabinet ministers are expected to introduce specific policies at the ministerial level that reflect the chancellor’s broader guidelines.
The “principle of ministerial autonomy” entrusts each minister with the freedom to supervise departmental operations and prepare legislative proposals without cabinet interference so long as the minister’s policies are consistent with the chancellor’s broader guidelines.
The “cabinet principle” calls for disagreements between federal ministers over jurisdictional or budgetary matters to be settled by the cabinet.
In the Weimar Republic, this procedure was abused by parties of both political extremes in order to oppose chancellors and undermine the democratic process. As a consequence, the Basic Law allows only for a “constructive vote of no-confidence.” That is, the Bundestag can remove a chancellor only when it simultaneously agrees on a successor. This legislative mechanism ensures both an orderly transfer of power and an initial parliamentary majority in support of the new chancellor. The constructive no-confidence vote makes it harder to remove a chancellor because opponents of the chancellor not only must disagree with his or her governing but also must agree on a replacement.

The chancellor determines the composition of the cabinet. The federal president formally appoints and dismisses cabinet ministers, at the recommendation of the chancellor; no Bundestag approval is needed. According to the Basic Law, the chancellor may set the number of cabinet ministers and dictate their specific duties. Chancellor Ludwig Erhard had the largest cabinet, with twenty-two ministers, in the mid-1960s. Kohl presided over seventeen ministers at the start of his fourth term in 1994.

4.) Compare and contrast the Christian Democratic Union with the Social Democratic Party in party ideology, party composition and party organization.

Following World War II, the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union–CDU) was founded by a diverse group of Catholics and Protestants, businesspeople and trade unionists, and conservatives and moderates. The party espoused a Christian approach to politics and rejected both Nazism and communism. CDU members advocated conservative values and the benefits of a social market economy–that is, one combining capitalist practices and an extensive welfare system. Konrad Adenauer, the CDU’s first leader and West Germany’s first chancellor, envisioned the CDU as a conservative catchall party (Volkspartei) that would attract a majority of the electorate. The organizational structure of the CDU is a product of the party’s evolution. In its early years, the CDU was a loose collection of local groups. Over time, a weak national party emerged to complement the strong Land party organizations. In the early 1970s, the CDU built up its national organization to compete with the more tightly structured SPD. Membership and party income increased accordingly. The Federal Executive is the primary executive organ of the CDU. It consists of about sixty individuals, including the party chair (elected for two years), several deputy chairs, a general secretary, a treasurer, the CDU’s main legislative representatives, and the leaders of the Land party organizations. Because the Federal Executive is too large and does not meet frequently, a smaller subset called the Presidium, composed of the highest ranking CDU officials, actually sets party policy and makes administrative decisions. Each Land except Bavaria, where the CSU is active, holds semiannual party congresses and has an executive committee. These party structures are primarily responsible for the selection of party candidates for Bundestag elections. Every two years, the CDU holds a full party congress of several hundred party activists. Kohl has served as national chairman of the CDU since 1973, headed the parliamentary Fraktion from 1976 until 1982, and continues to lead the party as chancellor. Kohl’s single-handed management of the party has given him a political dominance within the CDU that only Adenauer surpassed.

The CDU maintains several auxiliary organizations designed to increase the party’s attractiveness to particular societal groups and to represent their views within the party. CDU statutes list seven organizations representing youth, women, workers, business and industry, the middle class, municipal politics, and refugees. Other, unofficial groupings exist as well. The most powerful of the auxiliary organizations has traditionally been the one representing business and industry. Although these auxiliary organizations are legally autonomous from the CDU, a high percentage of their members are also members of the CDU.

While on the other hand, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands–SPD), founded in 1875, is Germany’s oldest political party and its largest in terms of membership. After World War II, under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher, the SPD reestablished itself as an ideological party, representing the interests of the working class and the trade unions. The party’s program, which espoused Marxist principles, called for the nationalization of major industries and state planning. The organizational structure of the SPD is highly centralized, with decisions made in a top-down, bureaucratic fashion. Technically, the SPD’s highest authority is the party congress, which meets biannually. Arguably, its only significant function is to elect the thirty-six-member Executive Committee, which serves as the SPD’s primary executive body and its policy maker. The members of the Executive Committee typically represent the various political factions within the party. The core of the Executive Committee is the nine-member Presidium, which represents the inner circle of party officials and is generally composed of the party leadership. The Presidium meets weekly to conduct the business of the party, deal with budgetary issues, and handle administrative and campaign matters. The Presidium is also responsible for endorsing policy originating either with an SPD government or with the leadership of the parliamentary Fraktion when the party is in opposition. In almost all cases, decisions made in the Presidium are ratified by the Federal Executive and the party congress. All SPD organizations below the national level elect their own party officials. The district, subdistrict, and local levels are all subordinate to the Land executive committees, which direct party policy below the national level and are relatively independent of the federal party officials. Like the CDU/CSU, the SPD maintains specialized groups representing particular professions, youth, women, trade unions, refugees, and sports interests. In the case of the SPD, these groups are closely tied to the SPD bureaucracy, and only the Young Socialists and the trade union group have policy-making roles.

Work Cited:

www.germanculture.com

www.infoplease.com

www.answers.com/topic/political-culture-of-germany