2.1 General Description of the Political System

As the preceding sections have shown, the Basic Law specifies representative democracy as the organising principle for government in the Federal Republic of Germany. State authority is not exercised directly by the people; they delegate it to elected, representative or parliamentary bodies.49 At the federal level, the parliamentary body is the Federal Diet (Bundestag), in each state the state diet (Landtag), in counties the county council (Kreistag), in cities the city council (Stadtrat), in municipalities (Gemeinden) the municipal council (Gemeinderat).
These assemblies enjoy particular legitimacy, since they are the constitutional bodies directly chosen by the people.50 The Deutscher Bundestag elects the Federal Chancellor, each Landtag elects the minister president of the given state. At the local government level, arrangements differ considerably depending on the applicable local government constitution.51 But what they all have in common is that the representative body (by whatever name it is known, Gemeinderat, Gemeindevertretung, or Rat) is elected by the citizenry. Under the North German council constitution, for instance, the council is competent in all matters. It chooses its chairman, usually with the title of mayor (Bürgermeister) and the chief executive (Gemeindedirektor), who heads the administration. Under the South German council constitution, by contrast, both the council and the mayor are directly elected. The mayor is ex officio chairman of the council and head of the municipal administration as a public authority.52
Article 20 of the Basic Law stipulates the separation of legislature, executive, and judiciary. Over the past 50 years, the accent in relations between executive and legislature has shifted from a separation of powers to an "interlinkage of powers."53 Apparently, the traditional tasks of government - defining government policy at the highest level and governing the country - are now, so to speak, carried out jointly by parliament and government.54 Nevertheless, the classical tension between parliament and government persists to a certain degree in discharging governmental functions.55 However, in constitutional reality, this dualism has clearly been more and more displaced by political cleavage between government / governing coalition and opposition.56
The power of the Federal Government is checked and controlled by:
  • the opposition in the Bundestag,
  • the federalism principle with the distribution of government functions and powers between federal, state, and local government,
  • the independent judiciary, especially the powers of the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), and
  • public opinion.57



49 Cf. Katz, Staatsrecht, Rn. 149, 76.
50 Cf. Katz, Staatsrecht, Rn. 149, 76.
51 The arrangements in force in non-city states include the North German and South German council constitutions (Ratsverfassung), the collegiate executive constitution (Magistratsverfassung), and the mayoral constitution (Bürgermeisterverfassung).
52 Cf. details in Bundesakademie für öffentliche Verwaltung im Bundesministerium des Innern, Bonn/Bayerische Verwaltungsschule (eds.), Kommunale Selbstverwaltung. Handbuch der Internationalen Rechts- und Verwaltungssprache.
53 Cf. Katz, Staatsrecht, Rn. 399.
54 Cf. Katz, Staatsrecht, Rn. 399.
55 Cf. Katz, Staatsrecht, Rn. 399.
56 Cf. Katz, Staatsrecht, Rn. 399.
57 Cf. Pötzsch, Die deutsche Demokratie, 67 ff.