Prime Minister of Lower Saxony
|Minister President of Lower Saxony
Ministerpräsident des Landes Niedersachsen
Coat of arms of Lower Saxony
|Appointer||Legislative Assembly of Lower Saxony|
|Term length||Pending resignation or the election of a successor|
|Inaugural holder||Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf|
|Formation||1 November 1946|
|Salary||regulated by legislation (€13521, as of 2011)|
The Minister President of Lower Saxony (German: Ministerpräsident des Landes Niedersachsen), also referred to as Premier or Prime Minister, is the head of government of the German state of Lower Saxony. The position was created in 1946, when the states of Brunswick, Oldenburg, Schaumburg-Lippe and the State of Hanover were merged to form the state of Lower Saxony. The current Prime Minister is Stephan Weil, heading a coalition government between the Social Democrats and the Greens. Weil succeeded David McAllister following the 2013 state election.
The state of Lower Saxony sees itself in the tradition notably of the Kingdom of Hanover, having adopted many of its symbols. For the predecessor office in the Kingdom of Hanover, see Privy Council of Hanover. The head of the Privy Council held the title Prime Minister.
The German title Ministerpräsident may be translated literally as Minister-President, although the state government frequently uses the title "Prime Minister" in English as well. Further, some third parties refer to the position in this fashion.
An alternate and politically more accurate English translation is Premier, the title given to heads of state governments in other federal systems such as Australia, Canada and South Africa.
Origin of the Office
After the Second World War, the states of Brunswick, Oldenburg, Schaumburg-Lippe and the State of Hanover were administered as part of the zone allocated to the British military administration. With the passage of time, the British government began to back the advocates of a merger of the states. Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf, who went on to become Lower Saxony's first Minister President, was a fervent advocate of the merger towards the British military authorities. On 23 October 1946, the British administration announced that they would support a merger of the states, as proposed by Kopf.
Consequently, the four states were merged to form the state of Lower Saxony via Ordinance No. 55 of 1 November 1946. Article 3 of the Ordinance created the position of Minister President:
- "Subject to the provisions of any legislation which may be enacted pursuant to this Ordinance, the executive authority of Lower Saxony shall be exercised by a Cabinet, the Head of which shall be known as 'Ministerpräsident'"
Article 4 of Ordinance No. 55 stipulated the appointment of the Minister President by the military government, until the holding of free Legislative Assembly elections in 1947. The British military administration then appointed Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf, the erstwhile Minister President of the former State of Hanover, to serve as the first Minister President of Lower Saxony.
Election and Removal
The Minister President is elected by the Legislative Assembly, by a majority of its members in a secret ballot. However, unlike his counterpart in North-Rhine Westphalia, for instance, he does not have to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly. The only restriction is that the Prime Minister may not be a Member of the Bundestag. Before assuming his duties, the Prime Minister-elect takes the following oath before the Members of the Legislative Assembly:
- „I swear that I will devote my strength to the people and the state, preserve and defend the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany and the constitution of Lower Saxony as well as the laws, perform my duties conscientiously and exercise justice towards all people." (The oath may be taken with or without the affirmation "So help me God")
Upon election, the Minister President then appoints his Cabinet which requires subsequent confirmation by the Legislative Assembly. In practical terms, the confirmation of the cabinet is an essential requirement for the Prime Minister to govern, as until then the cabinet departments would be run by the (possibly defeated) predecessors. The Minister President can be removed by the Legislative Assembly, through a constructive vote of no confidence - namely the election of a successor. To this day, no vote of no-confidence has succeeded in the Lower Saxony Legislative Assembly, with the last attempt being made in November 1988.
Powers and Status
According to the Lower Saxony Constitution, the Minister President is the effective leader of the State Government, being responsible for the determination and formulation of policy guidelines. In this context, he chairs the cabinet meetings and may cast a tie-breaking vote in case of a stalemate between the ministers. Additionally, the Minister President also represents the State of Lower Saxony externally and exercises the right of clemency in individual criminal cases. In titular terms, the Minister President is also regarded as head of the state of Lower Saxony, thereby taking precedence over officials like the Speaker of the Lower Saxony Legislative Assembly.
The Minister President, like the other members of the State Government, is not a civil servant—his salary is regulated by law. Like his ministers, the Minister President is subject to the Lower Saxony Ministers Act, which regulates matters of salary, confidentiality and ethics. Furthermore, the Minister President signs treaties made by the State of Lower Saxony and has to be consulted by other cabinet members prior to the start of any negotiations. The Minister President is also authorized to appoint one of his cabinet members as his deputy in case of absence or illness. The only currently known instance of a Deputy Prime Minister taking over the duties of Prime Minister was in July 2010, when Jörg Bode (FDP) served as Acting Minister President in the interval between Christian Wulff's election as President of Germany and David McAllister's confirmation as Minister President on 1 July 2010. Meetings of the Cabinet traditionally take place in the guesthouse of the Lower Saxony Government, located close to the Hanover Zoological Gardens.
The Role of the State Chancellery
The Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, like his fellow Minister President in their respective states, has the staff of the State Chancellery at his disposal. The State Chancellery assists the Minister President in the preparation of draft legislation, the management of day-to-day government business and the coordination of media policy for the entire state. Additionally, it is responsible for relations to the other states in Germany and the European Union.
The State Chancellery, by convention, is headed by a state secretary appointed by the Minister President. The current incumbent is Jörg Mielke. Under the McAllister administration, the State Chancellery was divided into four overall departments (Department 1: Policy Guidelines, Department 2: Legal/Administration/Media, Department 3: Europe/International Cooperation, Department 4: Lower Saxony Representation to the Federal Government). While each of these departments is headed by a separate section head, the Press and Information Office is under the direct purview of the Minister President.
Role in German Politics
As the leader of one of Germany's territorially largest and most populous states, the Minister President of Lower Saxony has traditionally been a major player in federal politics: The state's first Prime Minister, Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf often used the Bundesrat as a forum to oppose the policies of the Adenauer government. Alfred Kubel, one of Kopf's successors, played a major role in negotiating a compromise between all German states on the creation of a national fiscal transfer mechanism (Länderfinanzausgleich). Minister President Ernst Albrecht, contrary to prevailing majority opinion in his own party, advocated and voted for the ratification of the treaties around which Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik was centred.
Ernst Albrecht was a candidate for the CDU nomination for President in 1979 and Chancellor in 1980, Gerhard Schröder became Chancellor of Germany in 1998, his successor Sigmar Gabriel is the current SPD chairman and Christian Wulff was elected President of Germany in 2010. Examples of Lower Saxony's influence on policy debates in federal politics include Ernst Albrecht's advocacy of financial transfers from other states and Gerhard Schröder's usage of Lower Saxony's Bundesrat votes in matters of fiscal and tax policy.
The Prime Ministers of Lower Saxony
|Prime Ministers of Lower Saxony|
|No.||Name||Photo||Born-Died||Party affiliation||Start of Tenure||End of Tenure|
|1||Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf||1893–1961||SPD||1946||1955|
|3||Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf||1893–1961||SPD||1959||1961|
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