President of Germany

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President of the Federal Republic of Germany
Bundespräsident der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Standarte des Bundespräsidenten.svg
2011 Joachim Gauck-2.jpg
Joachim Gauck

since 18 March 2012
Style Excellency
(in international relations only)
Residence Schloss Bellevue (Berlin)
Villa Hammerschmidt (Bonn)
Appointer Federal Convention
Term length Five years
Renewable once, consecutively
Constituting instrument Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
Precursor The Reichspräsident
Formation 13 September 1949
First holder Theodor Heuss
Salary 199,000 [1]
Website Der Bundespräsident / Homepage
Coat of arms of Germany.svg
This article is part of a series on the
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Foreign relations

The President of Germany (German: Bundespräsident)[n 1][2] is the head of state of Germany.

Germany has a parliamentary system of government with the Federal Chancellor running the government and the politics of the day. However, the German President has a role which is more than ceremonial. The Federal President, by his actions and public appearances, represents the state itself, its existence, its legitimacy, and unity. The President's office involves an integrative role and the control function of upholding the law and the constitution. It has also a "political reserve function" for times of crisis in the parliamentary system of government.[3] The Federal President gives direction to general political and societal debates and has some important "reserve powers" in case of political instability (such as those provided for by Article 81 of the Basic Law).[4] All federal laws must be signed by the President before they can come into effect; however, he can only veto a law that he believes to violate the constitution.

The 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 first presidential office in a republican Germany was created in 1919, replacing the emperor as head of state, with Friedrich Ebert (SPD) serving as the first president. The presidential standard, adopted in 1921, is still used today. While Germany had a semi-presidential system during the Weimar Republic, today's presidential office is mainly supervisory and ceremonial, with the Chancellor of Germany generally seen as wielding the effective power.

The current officeholder is Joachim Gauck who was elected on 18 March 2012.


The 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 state legislature under a form of proportional representation. However it is not required that Land delegates themselves be members of a legislature; often prominent 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 (which is five years). The body is convened and chaired by the President of the Bundestag. From 1979 to 2009, all these conventions have been held on 23 May, the date of the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949. However, the two latest elections were held on different dates after the predecessing presidents stepped down before the end of their terms since they had to be held within 30 days of Horst Köhler's and Christian Wulff's resignations in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

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 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.[citation needed]


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 state 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[edit]

The degree of power actually conferred upon the President by the Basic Law is ambiguous[6] and the German post-war presidents have established a tradition of self-restriction regarding the politics of the day. So it is the Chancellor of Germany and his cabinet who is in charge of the daily governmental business. However, the German President has a role which is more than ceremonial. The Federal President represents the nation itself, its legitimacy and unity. The President's office involves an important integrative role within the German society and has a control function of upholding the law and the constitution. The German President, other than purely ceremonial heads of state, has also a "political reserve function" for times of crisis in the parliamentary system of government.[7] The Federal President gives direction to general political and societal debates and has some important "reserve powers" in case of political instability (such as those provided for by Article 81 of the Basic Law).[8] Furthermore all federal laws must be signed by the President before they can come into effect; however, he can only veto a law that he believes to violate the constitution.

Appointment of the Federal Government[edit]

The president proposes an individual as Federal Chancellor and then, provided he or she is 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, whom 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.[9] If this occurs, the president must dismiss the chancellor and appoint the successor requested by the Bundestag.[9]

Other appointments[edit]

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.[10]

Dissolution of the Bundestag[edit]

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 or her discretion, either appoint that individual as chancellor or dissolve the Bundestag, triggering a new election. 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. As of 2010, 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, as the Basic Law does not give the Bundestag a right to dissolve itself. The most recent occurrence was on 1 July 2005, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder asked for a vote of confidence, which was defeated.[11]

Promulgation of the law[edit]

All federal laws must, after counter-signature, be signed by the president before they can come into effect.[12] 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 or she has the right (and, some[vague] argue, the duty) to refuse to sign the law. This has happened rather rarely.

Foreign relations[edit]

The president represents Germany in the World (Art. 59 Basic Law), holds 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[edit]

The president may grant pardons if the person concerned had been convicted under federal jurisdiction and also confers decorations and honours.

State of legislational emergency[edit]

In the event of a national crisis, the Basic Law designates the president as a mediator. If the Bundestag rejects a motion of confidence, but neither a new chancellor is elected 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[edit]

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 role of president is partly 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, the power of daily politics in Germany is concentrated in the position of the Chancellor of Germany, with the president acting more as the guardian of the political system, moral authority and identification figure.[13]

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.

Reserve powers[edit]

Some[who?] 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,[citation needed] thus vetoing it, or refuse to approve a cabinet appointment.[citation needed] 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, 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, when the delegates of Brandenburg failed to come up with the unanimous vote that the Basic Law requires of each Land's delegation in the Bundesrat. 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) temporarily assumes the powers of the president until a successor is elected without assuming the office of president as such. While doing so, he or she does not continue to exercise the role of chair of the Bundesrat. If the president dies, resigns or is otherwise removed from office, a successor is to be elected within thirty days. This process was triggered for the first time on May 31, 2010, when Horst Köhler resigned the office, as all his predecessors (with the exception of Heinrich Lübke, who announced in 1968 that he would resign the following year, his resignation taking effect after the regular election of his successor and just three months before the scheduled end of his term of office) had served their terms in full. Jens Böhrnsen, Mayor of Bremen and at the time President of the Bundesrat, assumed the powers and duties of head of state.[14]

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.[citation needed]

Impeachment and removal[edit]

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. While to date no president has ever been impeached, the Hanover State's Attorney requested for the removal of Wulff's immunity due to alleged credit fraud shortly before his resignation.

Presidential standard[edit]

The standard of the President of Germany as used from 1921 to 1933 and since 1950

The standard of the President of Germany was adopted on 11 April 1921, and used in this design until 1933. A slightly modified version also existed from 1926, that was used in addition to the 1921 version. In 1933, these versions were both replaced by another modified version, that was used until 1935.

The Weimar-era presidential standard from 1921 was adopted again as presidential standard by a decision by President Theodor Heuss on 20 January 1950, when he also formally adopted other Weimar-era state symbols including the coat of arms. The eagle (Reichsadler, now called Bundesadler) in the design that was used in the coat of arms and presidential standard in the Weimar Republic and today was originally introduced by a decision by President Friedrich Ebert on 11 November 1919.


Weimar Republic[edit]

The position of President of Germany was first established by the Weimar Constitution, which was drafted in the aftermath of World War I and the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1918. In Germany the new head of state was called the Reichspräsident.

Friedrich Ebert (SPD) served as Germany's first president, followed by Paul von Hindenburg. The office effectively came to an end upon Hindenburg's death in 1934 and its powers merged with those of Chancellor. Adolf Hitler now ruled Germany as "Führer und Reichskanzler", combining his previous positions in party and government. The office however was not abolished and briefly revived at the end of the Second World War when Hitler appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor as President of Germany. Dönitz signed the surrender to the Allies and was arrested a few days later.[15]

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.[16] 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.

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. This led to eight Reichstag elections taking place in the 14 years of the Republic's existence; only one parliamentary term, that of 1920-1924, was completed without elections being held early.


De jure, the German Reich did not cease to exist in 1945, but after four years of Allied occupation, three German states were formed inside of Germany as a whole in 1949: the Federal Republic of Germany (then commonly known as West Germany) in the former U.S., and British zones of occupation, the Saar in French zone, until 1957, when it joined the FRG, and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in the former Soviet Zone. There continued to be two states on German soil until reunification in 1990.

East Germany[edit]

East Germany established the office of a head of state with the title of President of the Republic (German: Präsident der Republik) in 1949, but abandoned the office with the death of the first president, Wilhelm Pieck, in 1960 in favour of a collective head of state. All government positions of the GDR, including the presidency, were appointed by the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany.

Federal Republic of Germany[edit]

With the promulgation of the Basic Law (a new German constitution) in 1949, the office of President (in German: Bundespräsident) was created in West Germany. Since the reunification of Germany in 1990 this head of state has presided over the whole of Germany.

Under the Basic Law the president was to be elected by a specially convened body called the Federal Convention (Bundesversammlung) to serve a five-year term.[17][18] 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. This is in part due to concerns about the misuse of presidential power which frequently occurred under the Weimar constitution.

List of presidents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The current official title is "Federal President of the Federal Republic of Germany" (German: Bundespräsident der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, German pronunciation: [ˈbʊndəsprɛziˈdɛnt deːɐ̯ ˈbʊndəsʁepuˌbliːk ˈdɔʏtʃlant]).


  1. ^ "Wulff kassiert 199 000 Euro pro Jahr bis zum Lebensende". 18 December 2011.  (German)
  2. ^ Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany (1990). German Institutions. Terminological Series issued by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. Volume 3. de Gruyter. p. 28. ISBN 0-89925-584-1. 
  3. ^ Website of the Federal President of Germany [1] Retrieved April 13th 2014
  4. ^ "Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany". Retrieved 2012-11-22. 
  5. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 56. 
  6. ^ [2][dead link]
  7. ^ Website of the Federal President of Germany [3] Retrieved April 13th 2014
  8. ^ "Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany". Retrieved 2012-11-22. 
  9. ^ a b Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (in German). Article 67. 
  10. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (in German). Article 60.1. 
  11. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (in German). Articles 67 and 68. 
  12. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (in German). Article 82. 
  13. ^ "Das Amt des Bundespräsidenten und sein Prüfungsrecht" (in (German)). Retrieved 2012-11-22. 
  14. ^ "Interview zum Köhler-Rücktritt: "Das hat es noch nicht gegeben"". Retrieved 2012-11-22. 
  15. ^ Reichgesetzblatt part I. Berlin: Reich Government. 1 August 1934. p. 747. Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  16. ^ "The Constitution of the German Federation of 11 August 1919". Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  17. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Berlin: Deutscher Bundestag - Verwaltung. 2005. Article 54.1. 
  18. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 54.2. 

External links[edit]