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Germany

Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany is a federalist system with a national government and 16 Laender. The Laender have authority to legislate on matters within the concurrent legislative powers, which are defined in the Basic Law. The Bundestag and Bundesrat constitute the legislative branch of government. Whereas the Bundestag is made up of deputies of the German people who are elected for four years, the Bundesrat is not a directly elected organ, but comprises ministers, senators and prime ministers from the Laender-Parliaments. The Federal President and the Federal Cabinet are responsible for executive tasks. However, where the Cabinet is charged with the conduct of government business, the President as head of state has a more representative and integrative role. He formally represents Germany in its international relations. On the suggestion of the Chancellor he appoints and dismisses Cabinet ministers. If a motion of no confidence in the Federal Chancellor is carried by the Bundestag, he may, upon the proposal of the Federal Chancellor, dissolve the Bundestag. The head of government is the Chancellor, elected by the Bundestag. He forms the Cabinet and chooses his ministers by nominating them for appointment (or dismissal) by the Federal President. He determines the number of Ministers and defines their range of responsibility. The Chancellor also gives the general guidelines of government policy. The Cabinet as whole deals with important interministerial issues such as the federal budget or tax reforms and takes joint decisions on them. Their decisions are based on majority rule, the Chancellor often having the role of a mediator. Ministers lead their ministry independently and on their own responsibility.

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Legislative process

The Federal Government, the Bundesrat - the organ through which the Länder participate in the legislation and administration of the Federation - and the Members of the Bundestag themselves have the right to introduce bills to be deliberated on by the Bundestag (right of initiative). Bills tabled by Members must be signed by at least 5 per cent of Members (i.e. 34 at present) or by a parliamentary group. In the other two cases the organ concerned - the Federal Government or the Bundesrat - must take a decision to this effect. A Bill must go through three Bundestag readings, and as a rule is referred to the relevant committee once. A Bill is passed if it gets a majority of votes in the Bundestag. However, in cases defined by by the Basic Law, the formal approval of the Bundesrat is required for a Bill to become law. This is the case of about 60 per cent of all laws, especially those concerning the financial or administrative sovereignty of the Laender. In other cases for which the approval of the Bundesrat is not mandatory, the Bundesrat has the right of objection, though this can be over-ruled by the Bundestag. If the Bundestag and the Bundesrat cannot reach agreement, a mediation committee composed of members of both the chambers is convened. If approved, the law needs to be signed by the Chancellor, the relevant minister and the President, before being in force.

Judicial system

Judicial authority is independent and judges subject only to the law. Judges are elected by boards, with special procedures applying for the election of judges of the Supreme Courts and the Constitutional Court. Judicial power is exercised by the Federal Constitutional Court, the Federal Courts and the courts of the Laender. The court system consists of five branches with a Supreme Court for each of the five major jurisdictions (general, administrative, employment law, social and fiscal jurisdiction). The general jurisdiction, the "ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit", comprises civil and criminal jurisdiction. The courts in the jurisdiction, in descending order of seniority, are the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), Oberlandesgerichte (OLG), Landesgerichte (LG) and Amtsgerichte (AG). In addition, the Federal Constitutional Court has the exclusive responsibility to decide on questions of constitutional law. It is not a court of appeal; its task is to interpret the Basic Law with final binding force, and to monitor that all governental organs observe the constitution. The Constitutional Court has a prominend position in the structure of the state: it is at the same time a court and the supreme constitutional organ, and is independent of all other constitutional organs. On the Laender level, Landesverfassungsgerichte have jurisdiction over their State Constitutions (Landesverfassung).

Constitution

Germany’s legal and political system is grounded in the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz). It guarantees the main basic rights which constitute directly applicable law, and are founded on the human rights as basis for any society, of peace and justice. The dignity of the human being, its protection and respect by the state organs is the highest principle of the constitution. All state power and all governmental activities are thus bound to the fundamental rights as directly valid right, and no law or Land-Constitution can be in contradiction with them.

The constitution was promulgated on the 23 May 1949, and amended by the Unification Treaty of 31 August 1990 and Federal Statute of 23 September 1990. The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, or BVerfG) is (see judicial system) essentially the "Guardian of the Constitution". Changes in the Constitution can only be undertaken with a qualified two-thirds majority in the Bundestag and in the Bundesrat. The basic rights can in this respect be amended, but are as principles of human right untouchable.

Legal System

The law of Germany is predominantly written law, about 75% of which is federal law. It is a Civil Law system with indigenous concepts, which applies to the federal and the Laender level. The German Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure and the Code of Criminal Procedure have been in force since the end of the 19thcentury. The ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit, literally translated, is the ‘ordinary jurisdiction’, but is in reality two jurisdictions: the civil jurisdiction (Zivilgerichtsbarkeit), including all private and commercial law and non-contentious litigation (matters relating to the land register, guardianship, estates, and the like), and the criminal jurisdiction (Strafgerichtsbarkeit). The ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit is by far the largest jurisdiction.

In addition there are four specialised fields of law. The Verwaltungsgerichtbarkeit is the general administrative jurisdiction, covering all public law disputes of a non-constitutional nature. These courts afford the individual protection vis-à-vis administrative authorities. The Arbeitsgerichtsbarkeit is the employment law jurisdiction, and includes trade union disputes. The Sozialgerichtsbarkeit is the 'social' jurisdiction, covering public law disputes relating to state welfare payments and the like. The Finanzgerichtsbarkeit is the fiscal jurisdiction, taking in public law disputes relating to taxation.

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Germany is:

  • OSCE Participating State since 25 June 1973

  • Member State of the United Nations since 18 September 1973

  • Member State of the Council of Europe since 13 July 1950

  • Member State of the European Union since 25 March 1957


Status of Ratification of the Main International Human Rights Treaties, Conventions and other instruments

08 February 2008
International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2007)
14 June 2006
Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2003)
14 June 2006
Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (2004)
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