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Germany

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Politics and government of
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Politics of Germany take place in a framework of a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Chancellor is the head of government, and of a plurality multi-party system. Federal legislative power is vested in the parliament (Bundestag) and the Bundesrat as the representation of the regional states. Since 1949, the party system has been 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 Basic Law is a response to the perceived flaws of the 1919 Weimar Constitution, which may have had its share in the decline of the republic and the subsequent rise of the Nazi party in 1933.

Contents

Federal executive branch

Chancellery in Berlin, since 2001

The Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor) heads the Bundesregierung (Federal Government) 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 four 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 in the periods 1969–72 and 1976–82, when the social democratic party of Chancellor Brandt and Schmidt came in second in the elections, the Chancellor has always been the candidate of the largest party, usually supported by a coalition of two parties with a majority in the parliament. One of the ministers the Chancellor appoints Vice-Chancellor (Vizekanzler). The office itself is hardly important but often indicates who is the main cabinet member of the smaller coalition partner.

By contrast, the duties of the Bundespräsident (Federal President) are largely representative and ceremonial. The President is elected every five years on May 23 by the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung), a special body convened only for this purpose, comprising the entire Bundestag and an equal number of state delegates selected especially for this purpose in proportion to election results for the state diets.

Horst Köhler of the CDU was first elected in May 2004 and was reelected five years later, in May 2009. As this party has usually the biggest support in national elections but also in the Länder, it is quite common that the Federal President is a Christian Democrat.

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Horst Köhler CDU 1 July 2004
Chancellor Angela Merkel CDU 22 November 2005
Other government parties FDP, CSU

1) Although Mr. Köhler has been a member of the CDU the German Basic Law requests in Article 55 that the Federal President does not hold another office, practice a profession or hold a membership of any corporation. Accordingly every Federal President has let his party membership rest dormant and does not belong to a political party during his term of office.

The federal legislature

The Reichstag building, seat of the Bundestag.

Federal legislative power is divided between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. The Bundestag is directly elected by the German people, whilst the Bundesrat represents the regional states (Länder). The federal legislature has powers of exclusive jurisdiction and concurrent jurisdiction with the states in areas specifically enumerated by the constitution.

The Bundestag is more powerful than the Bundesrat and only need the latter's consent for proposed legislation related to revenue shared by the federal and state governments, and the imposition of responsibilities on the states. In practice, this means that the agreement of the Bundesrat in the legislative process is very often required, as federal legislation often has to be executed by state or local agencies. In the event of disagreement between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat a conciliation committee is formed to find a compromise.

The Bundestag

The Bundestag (Federal Diet) is elected for a four year term and consists of 598 or more members elected by a means of mixed member proportional representation. 299 members represent single-seat constituencies and are elected by means a First Past the Post electoral system. Parties that obtain less constituency seats than their national share of the vote indicates that they ought to have are allotted seats from party lists to make up the difference. In contrast parties that obtain more constituency seats than their national share of the vote indicates that they ought to have are allowed to keep these so-called overhang seats. In the current parliament elected in 2009 there are 24 overhang seats, giving the Bundestag a total of 622 members.

A party must receive either five percent of the national vote or win at 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. 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 18 September 2005, the 16th Bundestag convened on 18 October 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.

Judicial branch

Constitutional court in Karlsruhe

The independence of the judiciary of Germany 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 composed 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 Basic Law stipulates 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 and when he or she has exhausted all stages of appeal in the regular court system.

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 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. It has also the power to outlaw political parties when their goals contravene the principles of the constitution. However so far the Constitutional court has only used this power twice, outlawing the SRP (Socialist Reichs Party, a successor to the NSDAP) in 1952, and the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) in 1956.

Recent politics

"Red-Green" coalition of 1998-2002

After 16 years of the Christian liberal coalition of Helmut Kohl, the Social Democrats together with the Greens won the elections of 1998. SPD leader Gerhard Schröder positioned himself as a centrist "Third Way" candidate in the mold of Britain's Tony Blair and America's Bill Clinton. 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, and constantly high unemployment.

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.

Initial problems of the new government, marked by policy disputes between the moderate and traditional left wings of the SPD, resulting in some voter disaffection. CDU won in the first state election after the federal election held in Hesse in February 1999, but in other state elections of this time, the respective SPD- or CDU-led coalition governments were re-elected into power. The popularity of the CDU dropped severely when in 2000 it became public that Kohl had accepted high party donations not indicating them to the authorities as required by law. As a result of this CDU crisis, Angela Merkel became chair.

The next election for the Bundestag was September 22, 2002. Gerhard Schröder led the coalition of SPD and Greens to an eleven seat victory over the Christian democrat challengers headed by Edmund Stoiber (CSU). Three factors are generally cited that enabled Schröder to win the elections despite poor approval ratings a few months before and a weaker economy: good handling of the 100-year-flood, firm opposition to the USA's 2003 invasion of Iraq, and Stoiber's unpopularity in the east that cost the CDU crucial seats there.

Christian democrat comeback

In its second term, the red green coalition lost several very important state elections, for example in Lower Saxony where Schröder was the prime minister from 1990 to 1998. The liberal FDP, weakened by the loss of power in 1998 and not quite recovering in 2002, became again more successful on state level. On the other hand, some far right wing parties had their moments in state elections, too.

In April 20, 2003, chancellor Schröder announced massive labor market reforms, called Agenda 2010, that among other measures include a shakeup of the system of German job offices, cuts in unemployment benefits and subsidies for unemployed persons who start their own businesses. These changes are commonly known by the name of the chairman of the commission which conceived them as Hartz I - Hartz IV. Although these reforms have sparked massive protests they are now credited with being in part responsible for the economic upswing and the fall of unemployment figures in Germany in the years 2006/7.

The European elections on June 13, 2004 brought a staggering defeat for the Social Democrats, who polled only slightly more than 21%, the lowest election result for the SPD in a nationwide election since the Second World War. Many observers believe that this election marked the beginning of the end of the Schröder government and indicates a process in which the SPD party seems to shrink and/or fall apart.

Grand coalition since 2005

Chancellor Angela Merkel
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, foreign affairs minister since 2005, was the social democrat candidate for chancellorship in 2009

On May 22, 2005, as predicted, the SPD took a devastating defeat in its former heartland, North Rhine-Westphalia. Half an hour after the election results, the SPD chairman Franz Müntefering announced that the chancellor would clear the way for special federal elections by the means of a purposely lost vote of confidence in the Bundestag.

This took the republic by surprise, especially because the SPD was below 25% in polls at the time. On the following Monday the CDU announced Angela Merkel as Christian democrat candidate for chancellorship, aspiring to be the first female chancellor in German history.

New for the 2005 election was the alliance between the newly formed Electoral Alternative for Labor and Social Justice (WASG) and the PDS, planning to fuse into a common party (see Left Party.PDS). With the former SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine for the WASG and Gregor Gysi for the PDS as prominent figures, this alliance soon found interest in the media and in the population. Polls in July saw them as high as 12%.

Whereas in May and June 2005 victory of the Christian democrats seemed highly likely, with some polls giving them an absolute majority, this picture changed shortly before the election at September 18, 2005, especially after the Christian democrats introduced Paul Kirchhof as potential minister of the treasury, and after a TV duel between Merkel and Schröder where many considered Schröder to have performed better.

The election results of September 18, 2005 were surprising insofar as they differed widely from the polls of the previous weeks. The Christian democrats lost votes compared to 2002, reaching only 35%, and failed to get a majority for a "black-yellow" government of CDU/CSU and liberal FDP. The FDP polled a stunning 10% of the votes, one of their best results ever. But the red-green coalition also failed to get a majority, with the SPD losing votes, but polling 34% and the greens staying at 8%. The left party alliance reached 8.7% and entered the German Parliament, whereas the NPD only got 1.6%.

The most likely outcome of coalition talks was a so-called "grand coalition" between the Christian democrats (CDU/CSU) and the social democrats (SPD), with the three smaller parties (liberals, greens and the left) in the opposition. Other possible coalitions include a "traffic light coalition" between SPD, FDP and Greens and a "Jamaica coalition" between CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens. Coalitions involving the Left Party have been ruled out by all parties (including the Left Party itself).

On November 22, 2005, Angela Merkel was sworn in by president Horst Köhler for the office of Bundeskanzlerin. Merkel is the first woman, the first East German and the first scientist to be chancellor as well as the youngest post-war German chancellor. The existence of the grand coalition on federal level helps smaller parties electoral prospects in state elections.

Since in 2008, the CSU lost its absolute majority in Bavaria and formed a coalition with the FDP, the grand coalition has no majority in the Bundesrat and depends on FDP votes on important issues. In November 2008, the SPD re-elected Franz Müntefering as its chairman and made Frank-Walter Steinmeier its leading candidate for the federal election in September 2009.

As a result of the that federal election, the grand coalition came to an end. The SPD suffered the heaviest losses in its history and was unable to form a coalition government. Consequently, the SPD's status as a Volkspartei has come into question (a Volkspartei is a party in the German system that has traditionally drawn votes from a broad group of supporters and claims to represent the interests of all German citizens, as opposed to special interest parties that focus most of their energy around a single issue, such as the Pirate Party or the RRP). Many political commentators speculated in televised interviews on election night that Müntefering will most likely resign as party leader, and that Steinmeier will eventually also step down from the ranks of the party's leadership sometime thereafter. Many voters who had traditionally been supporters of the SPD split their votes in the 2009 election between the FDP, the Left Party or the CDU, as the SPD had lost much of its former vitality and direction as a result of its secondary role in the grand coalition and its subsequently weak campaign efforts against the CDU before the 2009 election. The smaller parties thus have more seats in the German Bundestag than ever before, for example the liberal party FDP won 14,6% of votes and had one of its best election results ever. The existential crisis within the SPD will likely continue as the party struggles to unify its base and refine its ideology and platform. Foremost among its concerns will likely be a redefinition of its relationship to the Left Party (which profited greatly in the election from voters who had traditionally supported the more left-wing elements of the SPD), which the SPD had refused to govern with prior to the election for a number of reasons.

See also

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Simple English

Germany

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Politics and government of
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The Politics of Germany is based on a federal parliamentary democratic republic

The Federal Chancellor is the head of government, and of the majority group in the legislature (law making body) which is called the Bundestag.

Executive power is exercised by the government.

The power to make federal law is given to the government and the two parts of parliament, the Bundestag and Bundesrat.

From 1949 to 1990, the main political parties were the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with its "sister party", the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU).

After the reunification of Germany the Green Party and Alliance '90(Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) became more important and was in government between 1999 and 2005.

Other important political parties after reunification have been the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) which was based on East Germany's Socialist Unity Party of Germany. It joined with The Left Party (Die Linkspartei) of western Germany. In 2007 Die Linke and WASG joined together under the leadership of Oskar Lafontaine

Contents

Rights and the constitution

The political system is set out in the 1949 constitution, the Grundgesetz (Basic Law), which stayed in effect after 1990's German reunification.

The constitution puts freedom and human rights first. It also splits powers both between the federal and state levels and between the legislative (law-making), executive (government), and judicial (courts) branches. The 1949 Grundgesetz was written to correct the problems with the Weimar Republic's constitution. The Weimar Republic collapsed in 1933 and was replaced by the dictatorship of the Third Reich.

The Federal Courts

The courts of Germany are independent of the government and the lawmakers. Senior judges are appointed by the Bundestag for a fixed term.

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 chosen by and must report to the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. Germany, like the United Kingdom, can thus be said to have a parliamentary system.

Konstruktives Misstrauensvotum

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 (German: Konstruktives Misstrauensvotum) is stop what happened in the Weimar Republic. There the goivernment did not have a lot of support in the parliament. The small parties often joined together to vote against the government, but could never stay together and choose a new government.

Except in the periods 1969-72 and 1976-82, when the social democratic party of Chancellor Brandt and Schmidt came in second in the elections, the Chancellor has always been the candidate of the largest party. Usually the largest party is helped by one or smaller more parties to get a majority in the parliament. Between 1969-72 and 1976-82 the smaller parties decided not to help the largest party, but the second biggest party instead.

The Chancellor appoints a Vice-Chancellor (Vizekanzler), who is a member of his cabinet, usually the Foreign Minister. 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 Federal Cabinet

The Chancellor is responsible for policy guidelines. This means he, or she, sets the broad ideas of what the government will do. To help carry out these ideas the Chancellor can change the make-up of the federal ministries whenever they want. For example, in the middle of January 2001, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture was renamed to Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture. This was to help fight the "Mad Cow Disease" BSE problem. At the same time some of the jobs (competences) of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Health were moved to the new Ministry of Consumer Protection.

Reporting to the cabinet is the Civil service of Germany.

The Federal President

The duties of the Bundespräsident (Federal President) are mostly representative and ceremonial; The power of the executive is exercised by the Chancellor.

The President is elected every 5 years on May 23 by the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung). The Bundesversammlung only meets to elect the President. Its members are the entire Bundestag and an equal number of state delegates selected especially for this purpose in proportion to election results for the state parliaments. In May 2004, Horst Köhler of the CDU was elected. The reason that the President is not directly elected by the people is to stop him from claiming to be more powerful than the government and the constitution, which happened in the Weimar Republic.

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Horst Köhler --- 1) 1 July 2004
Chancellor Angela Merkel CDU 22 November 2005
Other government parties SPD, CSU

1) Although Mr. Köhler has been a member of the CDU the German Basic Law requests in Article 55 that the Federal President does not hold another office, practice a profession or hold a membership of any corporation. Accordingly every Federal President has let his party membership rest dormant and does not belong to a political party during his term of office.

Federal parliament

, seat of the parliament, Berlin.]] Germany has a bicameral legislature, that means that the parliament has two houses. The Bundestag (Federal Diet) has at least 598 members, elected for a four year term. Half of the members (299) are elected in single-seat constituencies according to first-past-the-post. The other 299 members are chosen from statewide party lists.

The total percentage of constituency members and regional list members a party has should equal the percentage of votes that a party gets. This is called proportional representation.

Because Voters vote once for a constituency representative, and a second time for a party Germany is said to have mixed member proportional representation.

Sometimes a party already has more constituency seats in a land (state) than it should have to keep the percentage of votes and seats equal. The party does not lose seats. Instead it gets no land seats. This means that the Bundestag sometimes has more than 598 members. In the current parliament there are 16 overhang seats, giving a total of 614.

A party must get 5% of the national vote or win at least three constituency seats to be represented in the Bundestag. This rule, often called the "five percent hurdle", was made to stop lots of small parties being in the Bundestag. Small parties were blamed for the problems 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 16th Bundestag met on October 18 2005.

The Bundesrat (Federal Council) is the representation of the state governments at the federal level. The Bundesrat has 69 members who are delegates of the 16 Bundesländer. Usually the 16 Ministers President are members, but they do not have to be. The Länder each have from three to six votes in the Bundesrat, depending on population. Bundesrat members must vote as their state government tell them.

Powers of the legislature

The legislature has powers of exclusive jurisdiction (it can make laws by itself) and concurrent jurisdiction with the Länder (the länder can also make laws). What laws and what type of laws are set out in the Basic Law.

The Bundestag does most law making.

The Bundesrat must concur (agree) to laws about money shared by the federal and state governments and those making more work for the states. Often this means that the Bundesrat often needs to agree to a law, because federal laws are often carried out by state or local agencies.

Since the political make-up of the Bundesrat is often different from that of the Bundestag, the Bundesrat is often the place for opposition parties to put their point of view, rather than for the states to look after their interests, as the constitution intended.

To limit, members of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat form a Vermittlungsauschuss which is a joint committee to try to reach agreement when the two chambers can not agree on a certain piece of legislation.

Political parties and elections

ed Summary of the 18 September 2005 German Federal Diet (Bundestag) election results
Parties Constituency Party list Total seats
Votes  % +/− Seats +/− Votes  % +/− Seats +/− Total +/−  %
Christian Democratic Union *) (Christlich-Demokratische Union) 15,390,950 32.6 +0.6 106 +24 13,136,740 27.8 -1.7 74 -34 180 -10 29.3
Christian Social Union of Bavaria *) (Christlich Soziale Union in Bayern) 3,889,990 8.2 -0.8 44 +1 3,494,309 7.4 -1.6 2 -13 46 -12 7.5
Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) 18,129,100 38.4 -3.5 145 -26 16,194,665 34.2 -4.3 77 -3 222 -29 36.2
Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei) 2,208,531 4.7 +1.1 0 0 4,648,144 9.8 +2.5 61 +14 61 +14 9.9
The Left Party.PDS (Die Linkspartei.PDS), since 2007: The Left (Die Linke) 3,764,168 8.0 +3.6 3 +1 4,118,194 8.7 +4.7 51 +51 54 +52 8.8
Alliance '90/The Greens (Bündnis '90/Die Grünen) 2,538,913 5.4 -0.2 1 0 3,838,326 8.1 -0.5 50 -4 51 -4 8.3
National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands) 857,777 1.8 +1.6 0 0 748,568 1.6 +1.2 0 0 0 0 0.0
Other 1,272,410 2.7 0 0 1,857,610 4.0 0 0 0 0
Totals 47,194,062 100 299 47,287,988 100 315 +11 614 +11 100

More info: 16th German federal election, 2005 The Federal Council is composed by representatives of the State governments.

[discuss] – [edit]
Composition of the Bundesrat after the last State elections, 13 May 2007
Political profile of State governments Number Notes
CDU/FDP 18 All of the votes of a state must be cast as a block. If the parties in a coalition do not agree how to vote then the Bundesrat can ignore that state's vote
CDU 15
CDU/SPD 12
SPD/CDU 7
SPD/Left Party.PDS 4
CSU 6
SPD 4
SPD/Bündnis 90/Die Grünen 3
Total 69

Judicial branch

Germany has had a court system that was free of government control for longer than it has had democracy.

This means that the courts have traditionally been strong, and almost all state actions are subject to judicial review (being looked at by the court).

Organisation

There is the "ordinary" courts system that handles civil and criminal cases

This has four levels

  1. Amtsgericht - local courts
  2. Landesgericht - state courts
  3. Oberlandesgericht - state appeals courts
  4. Bundesgerichtshof - the federal supreme criminal and civil court

There is also a system of specialist courts, that deall with certain areas of the law. These generally have a state court and state appeals court before coming to the federal supreme court for that area of law. The other federal supreme courts are

Unlike the United States, all courts are state courts, except for the top level supreme courts.

Bundesverfassungsgericht

Germany also has another supreme court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht Federal Constitutional Court. The Grundgesetz says that every person may complain to the Federal Constitutional Court when his or her constitutional rights, especially the human rights, have been violated by the government or one of its agencies, and after he or she has gone through the ordinary court system.

The Bundesverfassungsgericht hears complaints about laws passed by the legislative branch, court decisions, or acts of the administration.

Usually only a small percentage of these constitutional complaints, called (Verfassungsbeschwerden) are successful. Evenso, the Court is often angers both the government and the law-makers. The judges even say that they do not care about the reactions of the government, the Bundestag, or public opinion or about the cost of one of the court's decisions. All that matters is the constitution.

The Bundesverfassungsgericht is very high popular with ordinary people, because it protects them from government wrong doing.

Only the Constitutional Court can handle some types of cases, including arguments between government bodies about their constitutional powers.

Only the Constitutional Court has the power to ban political parties for being unconstitutional. However so far the Constitutional court has only used this power twice, outlawing the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) and the SRP (Socialist Reich Party, a successor to the NSDAP) because both parties ideas went against the constitution.

Recent political issues

"Red-Green" vs. Conservative-led coalitions

In the 1998 election the SPD said they wanted to reduce high unemployment rates and said new people were needed in government after 16 years of Helmut Kohl's government.

Gerhard Schröder said he was a centrist "Third Way" candidate like Britain's Tony Blair and America's Bill Clinton.

The CDU/CSU said people should look at how well off they were because of Kohl's government, and that the CDU/CSU had experience in foreign policy.

But the Kohl government was hurt at the polls by slower growth in the east in the prvious two years, which meant the gap between east and west wideded as the west got richer and the east did not.

The final seat count was enough to allow 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 had policy disputes between the moderate and traditional left wings of the SPD, and some voters got fed up. The first state election after the federal election was held in Hesse in February 1999. The CDU increased its vote by 3.5 %. The CDU became the largest party, and replaced a SPD/Green coalition with a CDU/FDP coalition. The result was seen in part as a referendum on the federal government's ideas for a new citizenship law]], which would have made it easier forlong-time foreign residents to become German citizens, and also to keep 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 CDU/CSU 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 2002 European floods and firm opposition to the USA's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The coalition treaty for the second red-green coalition was signed October 16, 2002. There were a lot of new ministers.

Conservative comeback

In February 2003, elections took place in the states of Hesse and Lower Saxony, were won by the conservatives. In Hesse, the CDU minister president Roland Koch was re-elected, with his party CDU gaining enough seats to govern without the former coalition partner FDP.

In Lower Saxony, the former SPD minister president Sigmar Gabriel lost the elections, leading to an CDU/FDP-government headed by new minister president Christian Wulff (CDU). The protest against the Iraq war changed this situation a bit, favouring SPD and Greens.

The latest election in the state of Bavaria led to a landslide victory of the conservatives, gaining not just the majority (as usual), but two thirds of parliamentary seats.

In April 2003, chancellor Schröder announced massive labour market reforms, called Agenda 2010. This included a shakeup of the system of German job offices (Arbeitsamt), cuts in unemployment benefits and subsidies for unemployed persons who start their own businesses. These changes are commonly known by the name of the chairman of the commission which conceived them as Hartz I - Hartz IV. Although these reforms have sparked massive protests they are now credited with being in part responsible for the economic upswing and the fall of unemployment figures in Germany in the years 2006/7.

The European elections on June 13, 2004 brought a staggering defeat for the Social Democrats, who polled only slightly more than 21 %, the lowest election result for the SPD in a nationwide election since the Second World War. Liberals, Greens, conservatives and the far left were the winners of the European election in Germany, because voters were disillusioned by high unemployment and cuts in social security, while the governing SPD party seems to be concerned with quarrels between its members and gave no clear direction. Many observers believe that this election marked the beginning of the end of the Schröder government.

Rise of the Right

In September 2004, elections were held in the states of Saarland, Brandenburg and Saxony. In the Saarland, the governing CDU was able to remain in power and gained one additional seat in the parliament and the SPD lost seven seats, while the Liberals and Greens re-entered the state parliament. The far-right National Democratic Party, which had never got more than 1 or 2 % of the vote, received about 4%, although it failed to earn a seat in the state parliament (a party must obtain at least 5% of the vote to achieve state parliamentary representation).

Two weeks later, elections were held in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony: once again, overall, the ruling parties lost votes and although they remained in power, the right to far-right parties made the big leaps. In Brandenburg, the Deutsche Volksunion (DVU) re-entered the state parliament after winning 6.1% of the vote. In Saxony, the NPD entered a non-competition agreement with the DVU and obtained 9.2% of the vote, thus winning seats in the state parliament. Due to their losses at the ballots, the ruling CDU of Saxony was forced to form a coalition with the SPD. The rise of the right to far-right worries the ruling political parties.

German federal election 2005

On May 22 2005 as predicted the SPD was defeated in its former heartland, North Rhine-Westphalia. Half an hour after the election results, the SPD chairman Franz Müntefering announced that the chancellor would clear the way for premature federal elections by deliberately losing a vote of confidence.

This took everyone by surprise, especially because the SPD was below 25% in polls at the time. On the following Monday the CDU announced Angela Merkel as conservative candidate for chancellorship.

Whereas in May and June 2005 victory of the conservatives seemed highly likely, with some polls giving them an absolute majority, this changed shortly before the election at September 18, 2005, especially after the conservatives introduced Paul Kirchhof as potential minister of the treasury, and after a TV duel between Merkel and Schröder where many considered Schröder to have performed better.

New for the 2005 election was the alliance between the newly formed Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (WASG) and the PDS, planning to join into a common party (see Left Party.PDS). With the former SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine for the WASG and Gregor Gysi for the PDS as prominent figures, this alliance soon found interest in the media and in the population. Polls in July saw them as high as 12 %.

After success in the state election for Saxony, the alliance between the far right parties National Democratic Party and Deutsche Volksunion (DVU), which planed to leapfrog the "five-percent hurdle" on a common party ticket was another media issue.

The election results of September 18 2005 were surprising. They were very different from the polls of the previous weeks. The conservatives lost votes compared to 2002, reaching only 35%, and failed to get a majority for a "black-yellow" government of CDU/CSU and liberal FDP. The FDP polled a 10 % of the votes, one of their best results ever. But the red-green coalition also failed to get a majority, with the SPD losing votes, but polling 34 % and the greens staying at 8 %. The left party alliance reached 8.7 % and entered the German Parliament, whereas the NPD only got 1.6 %.

The most likely outcome of coalition talks was a so-called "grand coalition" between the conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the social democrats (SPD), with the three smaller parties (liberals, greens and the left) in the opposition. Other possible coalitions include a "traffic light coalition" between SPD, FDP and Greens and a "Jamaica coalition" between CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens. Coalitions involving the Left Party were ruled out by all parties (including the Left Party itself), although the combination of one of the major parties and any two small parties would mathematically have a majority. Of these combinations, only a red-red-green coalition is politically even imaginable. Both Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel announced that they had won the election and should become next chancellor.

On October 10, talks were held between Franz Müntefering, the SPD chairman, Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber, the CSU chairman. In the afternoon it was announced that the CDU/CSU and SPD would begin formal coalition negotiations with the aim of a Grand Coalition with Angela Merkel as the next German chancellor.

Angela Merkel is the first woman, the first East German and the first scientist to be chancellor as well as the youngest German chancellor ever. On November 22 2005 Angela Merkel was sworn in by president Horst Köhler for the office of Bundeskanzlerin.

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