Cabinet of Germany
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The Cabinet of Germany (German: Bundeskabinett or Bundesregierung) is the chief executive body of the Federal Republic of Germany. It consists of the Chancellor and the cabinet ministers. The fundamentals of the cabinet's organization as well as the method of its election and appointment as well as the procedure for its dismissal are set down in articles 62 through 69 of the Grundgesetz (the Basic Law).
In contrast to the system under the Weimar Republic, the Bundestag may only dismiss the Chancellor with constructive vote of no-confidence (electing a new Chancellor at the same time) and can thereby only choose to dismiss the Chancellor with his or her entire cabinet and not simply individual ministers. These procedures and mechanisms were put in place by the authors of the Basic Law to both prevent another dictatorship and to ensure that there will not be a political vacuum left by the removal of Chancellor through a vote of confidence and the failure to elect a new one in his or her place, as had happened during the Weimar period with the Reichstag removing Chancellors but failing to agree on the election of a new one.
If the Chancellor loses a simple confidence motion (without the election of a new Chancellor by the Bundestag), this does not force him or her out of office, but allows the Chancellor, if he wishes to do so, to ask the President of Germany for the dissolution of the Bundestag, triggering a snap election within 60 days (this happened in 1972, 1983 and 2005), or to ask the President to declare a legislative state of emergency, which allows the cabinet to use a simplified legislative procedure, in which bills proposed by the cabinet only need the consent of the Bundesrat (as yet, this has never been applied). The President is however not bound to follow the Chancellor's request in both cases.
The Chancellor is elected by the federal parliament (Bundestag) after being proposed by the President with a majority of all members of the Bundestag (Chancellor-majority). However, the Bundestag is free to disregard the President's proposal (which has, as of 2017, never happened), in which case the parliament must within 14 days elect another individual, which the parties in the Bundestag can now propose themselves, to the post with the same so called Chancellor-majority, whom the President is then obliged to appoint. If the Bundestag doesn't manage to do so, on the 15th day after the first ballot the Bundestag must hold one last ballot: If an individual is elected with the Chancellor-majority, the President is obliged to appoint him or her. If not, the President is free to either appoint the individual, who received a plurality of votes on this last ballot, as Chancellor or to dissolve the Bundestag.
Following the election, the Chancellor is appointed by the President. The ministers are appointed (and dismissed) by the President upon proposal of the Chancellor. On taking office the Chancellor and ministers swear an oath in front of the parliament.
The Chancellor is Germany's chief executive leader. Therefore, the whole cabinet's tenure is linked to the Chancellor's tenure: The Chancellor's (and the cabinet's) term automatically ends, if a newly elected Bundestag sits for the first time, or if he or she is replaced by a constructive vote of no confidence, resigns or dies. Nevertheless, apart from the case of a constructive vote of no confidence, which by nature instantly invests a new Chancellor (and a new cabinet), the Chancellor and his or her ministers stay in office as an acting cabinet on the Presidents request, until the Bundestag has elected a new Chancellor. An acting cabinet and its members have (theoretically) the same powers as an ordinary cabinet, but the Chancellor may not ask the Bundestag for a motion of confidence or ask the President for the appointment of new ministers. If an acting minister eventually leaves the cabinet, another member of government has to take over his or her department.
The Chancellor is responsible for guiding the cabinet and deciding its political direction (Richtlinienkompetenz). According to the principle of departmentalization (Ressortprinzip), the cabinet ministers are free to carry out their duties independently within the boundaries set by the Chancellor's political directives. The Chancellor may at any time ask the President to dismiss a minister or to appoint a new minister; the President's appointment is only a formality, he may not refuse a Chancellors request for dismissal or appointment of a minister. The Chancellor also decides the scope of each minister's duties and can at his own discretion nominate ministers heading a department and so called ministers for special affairs without an own department. He can also lead a departmend himself, if he decides so. The Chancellors freedom to shape his cabinet is only limited by some constitutional provisions: The Chancellor has to appoint a Minister of Defence, a Minister of Economic Affairs and a Minister of Justice and is implicitly forbidden to head one of these departments himself, as the constitution invests these ministers with some special powers: The Minister of Defence is commander-in-chief during peacetime (only in wartime the Chancellor becomes supreme commander), the Minister of Economic Affairs may veto decisions by the Federal Cartel Office and the Minister of Justice appoints and dismisses the Public Prosecutor General. If two ministers disagree on a particular point, the cabinet resolves the conflict by a majority vote (Kollegialprinzip or principle of deference) or the Chancellor decides the case himself. This often depends on the Chancellor's governing style.
The Chancellor has to appoint one of the cabinet ministers as Vice Chancellor, who may deputise for the Chancellor in his or her absence. In coalition governments the Vice Chancellor is usually the highest ranking minister of the second biggest coalition party. If the Chancellor dies or is unwilling or unable to act as Chancellor after the end of his or her term, until a new Chancellor has been elected, the Vice Chancellor becomes Acting Chancellor until the election of a new Chancellor by the Bundestag, who than has to form a new government (as yet, this has happened once: On 7 May 1974 Chancellor Willy Brandt resigned and declared his refusal to act as Chancellor until his successors election. Vice Chancellor Walter Scheel was appointed as Acting Chancellor and served until the election of Helmut Schmidt on 16 May).
The Chancellor is in charge of the government's administrative affairs, which are usually delegated to the Chief of staff of the Chancellery, who is usually also appointed as minister for special affairs. Details are laid down in the government's rules for internal procedures (Geschäftsordnung). These state, for example, that the cabinet is quorate only if at least half of the ministers including the chair (the Chancellor or in his or her absence the Vice Chancellor) are present. The cabinet regularly convenes Wednesday mornings in the Chancellery.
According to established practice, decisions on important armaments exports are made by the Federal Security Council (Bundessicherheitsrat), a cabinet committee chaired by the Chancellor. Pursuant to its (classified) rules of procedure, its sessions are confidential. According to practice, the Federal Government presents an annual report on arms exports, which contains statistical information on export permits issued and gives figures for the types of arms concerned as well as their destination. As a general rule, the Federal Government, if asked, is required to inform the Bundestag that the Federal Security Council has approved a given armaments export transaction or not.
Present German cabinet (acting)
The current and 23rd federal cabinet of Germany is in office since 17 December 2013. Its term has ended with the constitution of the 19th Bundestag on 24 October 2017, but the cabinet will stay in office as an acting cabinet on the Presidents request, until a new Chancellor is elected. An acting cabinet has theoretically the same powers as an ordinary cabinet, but the Chancellor is not allowed to ask for a motion of confidence or to ask the President for the appointment of a new minister. The cabinet currently consists of the following ministers:
- Council of Ministers (Ministerrat) of the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany)
- Federal Constitutional Court of Germany
- German federal election, 2013
- List of ministers of the Federal Republic of Germany — an alphabetical list of former ministers
- List of Federal Republic of Germany governments
- [2 BvE 5/11, Judgment of 21 October 2014: Right of Bundestag Members to be Informed of Exports of Military Equipment After the Federal Security Council Grants Permits] Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, Press Release No. 91/2014 of 21 October 2014.