President of Germany: Wikis


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Federal President of Germany
Standarte des Bundespräsidenten.svg
Presidential Standard
Horst Köhler

since 1 July 2004
Residence Bellevue Palace
Term length Five years, renewable once
Inaugural holder Friedrich Ebert
Formation 11 February 1919

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The President of Germany (known in German as Bundespräsident, literally Federal President) is Germany's head of state. The position is largely a ceremonial one, with the president acting in accordance with the advice and directives of the legislature. The federal president is elected by the Federal Convention, a body established solely for that purpose.

The first official residence of the 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 and re-elected in 2009.



The position of president (German: Reichspräsident, President of the Empire) was first established in the Weimar Constitution, which was drafted in the aftermath of World War I and the abdication of Wilhelm II, German Emperor in 1918.

Friedrich Ebert (SPD) served as Germany's first President. The office was abolished in 1934 with the death of President Paul von Hindenburg, and its powers merged with those of Chancellor. Adolf Hitler's official title was changed to "Führer und Reichskanzler." The office was briefly revived at the end of the Second World War when Hitler appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor for President of Germany.

The German Reich did not cease to exist in 1945[citation needed], but after four years of Allied occupation, two German states were formed inside of Germany as a whole in 1949: the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in the former U.S., British and French zones of occupation, and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in the former Soviet Zone. Both German republics had a head of state with the title of President, although East Germany abandoned the title with the death of the first president, Wilhelm Pieck, in 1960. There continued to be two heads of state on German soil until the Reunification of Germany in 1990. At that point the President of the Federal Republic (German: Bundespräsident) became the president of the whole of Germany.

Weimar Republic

During the Weimar Republic of 1919-1933 the head of state had the German title Reichspräsident, which means "President of the Reich" (Reich is variously translated as "dominion", "empire" or "realm"). However in English he was usually simply referred to, like the modern president, as the President of Germany. The Weimar constitution created a semi-presidential system in which power was divided between the President, a cabinet and a parliament. The President enjoyed far greater power than the current president and had an active political role, rather than a largely ceremonial one. The influence of the President also increased greatly as a result of the instability of the Weimar period.

The President had authority to appoint the Chancellor and could dismiss the entire cabinet at any time. However it was also necessary for the cabinet to enjoy the confidence of the Reichstag (parliament) because it could be removed by a vote of no confidence.[1] All bills had to receive the signature of the president to become law and, although he did not have an absolute veto on legislation, he could insist that a law be submitted for the approval of voters in a referendum. The president also had authority to dissolve the Reichstag, conduct foreign affairs, and command the armed forces. Article 48 of the constitution also provided the president sweeping powers in the event of a crisis. If there was a threat to "public order and security" he could legislate by decree and suspend civil rights.

Unlike the current President of Germany, the Weimar constitution provided that the president be directly elected and serve a seven-year term. The election involved a form of the two-round system. However the first President was elected by the National Assembly and subsequently only two direct presidential elections actually occurred. These were the election of Paul von Hindenburg in 1925 and his re-election in 1932.

The system created by the Weimar constitution led to a number of problems. In particular, the fact that the President could appoint the cabinet, while the Reichstag had only a power of dismissal, created a high cabinet turn-over as ministers were appointed by the President only to be dismissed by the Reichstag shortly afterwards. Eventually Hindenburg stopped trying to appoint cabinets that enjoyed the confidence of the Reichstag and ruled by means of three "presidential cabinets" (Präsidialkabinette). Hindenburg was also able to use his power of dissolution to by-pass the Reichstag. If the Reichstag threatened to censure his ministers or revoke one of his decrees he could simply dissolve the body and be able to govern without its interference until elections had been held.

The Weimar presidency effectively came to an end in 1934 when Hindenburg died and Hitler became sole ruler of Germany. The office of president was not abolished, but combined with that of Reich Chancellor and Nazi Party Leader (Führer).[2]

The title of Reichspräsident was briefly revived in the final days of the Nazi regime when Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz was appointed in Hitler's will as Reichspräsident in 1945. The legality of this appointment is highly questionable, but Dönitz acted as de facto Reichspräsident by signing the capitulation to the Allies. He was arrested for war crimes a few days later.

List of Presidents (Reichspräsident)

Name Took office Left office Party
Friedrich Ebert 11 February 1919 28 February 1925 SPD
Hans Luther (acting) 28 February 1925 12 March 1925 None
Walter Simons (acting) 12 March 1925 12 May 1925 None
Paul von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg 12 May 1925 2 August 1934 None
The office was vacant 1934–1945 (Adolf Hitler was head of state but used the title Leader and Chancellor of the Reich Führer und Reichskanzler) 2 August 1934 30 April 1945 NSDAP
Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz 30 April 1945 23 May 1945 None

East Germany

The German Democratic Republic had an office of President from 1949 to 1960. When the President, the veteran Communist leader Wilhelm Pieck, died, the ruling Socialist Unity Party abolished the position. Thereafter the Chairman of the Council of State was the East German head of state until 1990. In the last months of East Germany's existence, this post was also abolished, and the President of the People's Chamber (Volkskammer) acted as head of state until East Germany ceased to exist.

President of the GDR (Präsident der DDR) (1949-1960)

West Germany

With the promulgation of the Grundgesetz (the new German Constitution) in 1949, the office of President (in German: Bundespräsident, i.e. President of the Federation, or Federal President) was recreated in the Federal Republic of (West) Germany. The Federal President was to be elected by a specially convened body called the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) to serve a five-year term.[3][4] In accordance with Germany's parliamentary system of government, the presidency has been limited by a mixture of law and convention to being a ceremonial position.

The Presidency today

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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 Land delegates themselves be members of a legislature; often esteemed local citizens are chosen.

In total, the Federal Convention numbers more than one thousand members. 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). Since 1979 all these conventions have been held on 23 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 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 President is open to all Germans who are entitled to vote in Bundestag elections and have reached the age of 40, but no one may serve more than two consecutive 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 omit 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.)[5]

Duties and functions

The degree of power actually conferred upon the 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 times of peace in the Minister of Defense, going to the Chancellor rather than the President in times of war, by Article 65a.[6] The President carries out the following duties:

Appointment of the Federal Government
The President proposes an individual as 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.[7] If this occurs the President must dismiss the chancellor and appoint the successor requested by the Bundestag.[8]
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.[9]
Dissolution of the Bundestag
In the event that the Bundestag elects an individual for the office of chancellor by a plurality of votes, rather than a majority, the President can, at his discretion, either appoint that individual as chancellor or dissolve the Bundestag. In the event that a vote of confidence is defeated in the Bundestag, and the incumbent chancellor proposes a dissolution, the President may, at his discretion, dissolve the body within 21 days. So far, this power has only been applied three times in the history of the Federal Republic. In all three occurrences it is doubtful whether the motives for that dissolution were in accordance with the constitution's intentions. Each time the incumbent chancellor called for the vote of confidence with the stated intention of being defeated, in order to be able to call for new elections before the end of their regular term. The most recent occurrence was on 1 July 2005, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder asked for a vote of confidence, which was defeated.[10]
Promulgation of the law
All federal laws must, after counter-signature, be signed by the president before they can come into effect.[11] Upon signing, the President has to check if the law was passed according to the order mandated by the constitution and/or if the content of the law is constitutional. If not, he has the right (and, some argue, the duty) to refuse to sign the law. This has happened only eight times. The constitution is not explicit on whether the President can refuse to sign a law merely because he disagrees with its content, i.e. if he has a power of veto, but it is generally held that he does not have such a power. In any case, no President has ever refused to sign a law unless he believed the constitution was being violated.
Foreign relations
The President takes part in foreign visits and receives foreign dignitaries. He or she also concludes treaties with foreign nations (which do not come into effect until affirmed by the Bundestag), accredits German diplomats and receives the letters of accreditation of foreign diplomats.
Pardons and honours
The President grants pardons if the person concerned had been convicted under federal jurisdiction 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. If the Bundestag rejects a motion of confidence, but neither the chancellor is dismissed nor the Bundestag is dissolved, the President may, by request of the cabinet, declare a "legislative state of emergency", which is quite different from a conventional state of emergency: If it is declared, during a limited period of time, bills proposed by the cabinet and designated as "urgent", but rejected by the Bundestag, become law nonetheless, if the Bundesrat does pass them. But the legislative state of emergency does not suspend basic human rights nor does it grant the executive branch any exceptional power. Such an emergency has never been declared.

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 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.

The standard of the President of Germany was originally adopted in 1926. This is the modern design.

The role of President is similar in some ways to that of a constitutional monarch found in other European states, with the important difference being that the President is elected, and selected based on his or her distinguished reputation. Therefore, true political power in Germany is concentrated in the position of the Chancellor of Germany.

Other comparisons might be to a court philosopher, or a 'national conscience'. The President is called on to develop, interpret and communicate a long-term view of trends affecting Germany and its role in the world. Formulating such vision calls for reflection about Germany's past. Recent Presidents have been instrumental in getting Germans to constructively confront their history during the Nazi period, for instance.

Reserve powers

Some argue that the Basic Law does not require that the President follow government directives in all circumstances. It is suggested, for instance, that the President could refuse to sign legislation merely because he disagrees with its content, thus vetoing it, or refuse to approve a cabinet appointment. Because no 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 have claimed that the bill in question was manifestly unconstitutional. In the autumn of 2006, incumbent President Köhler did so twice within three months. Also, in some cases, a president has signed a law while 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 2002. 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 (a position that is rotated among the state premiers on an annual basis) fills in as temporary, acting 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 President, performing on the President's behalf merely those tasks that require his or her physical presence, such as the signing of documents.

Impeachment and removal

While in office the 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 or Bundesrat 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 President has ever been impeached.

List of presidents

See also


  1. ^ "The Constitution of the German Federation of 11 August 1919". Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  2. ^ Reichgesetzblatt part I. Berlin: Reich Government. 1 August 1934. pp. 747. Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  3. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Berlin: Deutscher Bundestag - Verwaltung. 2005. Article 54.1. 
  4. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 54.2. 
  5. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 56. 
  6. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 65a inserted by 7th Amendment (19.3.56), changed by 17th Amendment (24.6.68). 
  7. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 67. 
  8. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 67. 
  9. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 60.1. 
  10. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Articles 67 and 68. 
  11. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 82. 

External links

Simple English


This article is part of the series:
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Other countriesTemplate:· Atlas

The President of Germany (German: Bundespräsident, literally: federal president) is the head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany. His functions are mostly representative.

The president is elected every five years by the Bundesversammlung.

The current president is Christian Wulff (CDU).

List of Presidents

  1. Theodor Heuss (FDP), 1949 – 1959
  2. Heinrich Lübke (CDU), 1959 – 1969
  3. Gustav Heinemann (SPD), 1969 – 1974
  4. Walter Scheel (FDP), 1974 – 1979
  5. Karl Carstens (CDU), 1979 – 1984
  6. Richard von Weizsäcker (CDU), 1984 – 1994
  7. Roman Herzog (CDU), 1994 – 1999
  8. Johannes Rau (SPD), 1999 – 2004
  9. Horst Köhler (CDU), 2004 – 2010
  10. Christian Wulff (CDU), 2010 - Current

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