The German government and political structure
Let's start off with some structural basics
Every democracy consists of a framework of institutions, all with their separate roles. And each one has its own quirks. Here's how Germany compares to other systems around the world.
What is the political system of Germany?
Germany is a Federal democracy, with strong political parties, an independent judiciary, and powerful regional and local governments. As such, things can get a little confusing - even for native citizens.
The "Federal" part refers to the way that power is divided nationally. Institutions in Berlin have certain Federal powers, which reach across regional boundaries. For instance, Berlin mandates rules regarding health insurance.
On the other hand, many powers are reserved for regional assemblies or local authorities. This helps to prevent power accumulating in the center - potentially threatening the health of German democracy.
What role does the German Constitution play?
Germany is also a constitutional democracy. This means that the framework of rules which determines where power lies, and how people are elected, is described by a core document. Any changes to this document must be made with careful attention to their wider implications.
The constitution itself was passed in 1949 and is known as the Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (or Basic Law). Unlike some constitutions, it has regularly been reshaped to suit changing situations and is regarded as one of the most flexible of its kind in the world.
How does German voting work?
Just as in every democracy, voting is the most important German political right, and non-citizens are generally not able to vote in most elections. There are exceptions. For instance, EU nationals can vote in local and European elections.
However, elections to the Federal chambers are limited to German citizens. The voting age in Germany is 18 (16 for local elections), and all adult citizens can vote. The most important elections take place every 4 years and elect representatives to the Bundestag (essentially the national assembly).
In these elections, voters cast two votes. The first is for a specific candidate, who needs to earn the most votes in each electoral district to be elected. The other vote is for a "party list". These votes are used to make sure that parties receive approximately as many seats as their percentage of the vote.
Who is Germany’s head of government?
You might be wondering where power really lies in Germany, and it can be hard for outsiders to understand the political landscape. On the face of it, you might look to the "Head of State" - in this case, the German President. But appearances can be deceptive.