The President of Germany reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
(provided by Fixed Reference: snapshots of Wikipedia from

President of Germany

Watch videos on African life
Germany: Coat of Arms

This article is part of the series
Politics of Germany
Federal Government
Federal Council
Federal Assembly
Constitutional Court
Federal Ministers
States of Germany
Political Parties:
   Greens | FDP | PDS

The President of Germany (German: Bundespräsident) is the head of state of Germany. The office today is largely ceremonial, and to prevent the problems that occurred with the Weimar Republic, the Basic Law carefully limits the President's power.

Table of contents
1 Powers
2 Selection
3 Impeachment
4 History
5 Office holders
6 See also


In international relations, the president's duties include signing treaties, representing Germany abroad, and receiving foreign dignitaries. In the domestic sphere, the president has largely ceremonial functions. Although this official signs legislation into law, grants pardons, and appoints federal judges, federal civil servants, and military officers, each of these actions requires the countersignature of the chancellor or the relevant cabinet minister. The president formally proposes to the Bundestag a chancellor candidate and formally appoints the chancellor's cabinet members, but the president follows the choice of the Bundestag in the first case and of the chancellor in the second. If the government loses a simple no-confidence vote, the president dissolves the Bundestag, but here, too, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) limits the president's ability to act independently. In the event of a national crisis, the emergency law reforms of 1968 designate the president as a mediator who can declare a state of emergency.

There is disagreement about whether the president, in fact, has greater powers than the above description would suggest. Some argue that nothing in the Basic Law suggests that a president must follow government directives. For instance, the president could refuse to sign legislation, thus vetoing it, or refuse to approve certain cabinet appointments. As of now, no president has ever taken such action, and thus the constitutionality of these points had never been tested. However, in some cases, the president signed a law whilst asking that the political parties should refer the case to the Federal Constitutional Court which should check whether the law agrees with the German constitution. The most recent case of this was the highly debated "passing" of the immigration law in the Bundesrat which was declared null and void as a consequence; not because of its content, but because of the manner of its "passing".


The president is selected by secret ballot at a Federal Convention (Bundesversammlung) that includes all Bundestag members and an equal number of delegates chosen by the Land legislatures. This assemblage, which totals more than 1,000 people, is convened every five years on May 23rd, the date of the foundation of the Bundesrepublik in 1949. It may select a president for a second, but not a third, five-year term. The authors of the Basic Law preferred this indirect form of presidential election because they believed it would produce a head of state who was widely acceptable and insulated from popular pressure, while at the same time not giving the President the popular legitimacy which could be used to attack other institutions. Candidates for the presidency must be at least forty years old.

The Basic Law did not create an office of vice president. If the president is outside the country or if the position is vacant, the president of the Bundesrat fills in as the temporary head of state. If the president dies in office, a successor is elected within thirty days. This has never happened as of yet. As with many other provisions of the Basic Law, this provision was drafted in response to a weakness in the Weimar Constitution in which the Chancellor would act as President in his absence. This allowed Adolf Hitler to combine the two offices and make himself dictator.

Usually chosen as candidate by the party(s) that command a majority of votes in the Bundesversammlung, the president nonetheless is expected to be nonpartisan after assuming office. All presidents as of now have let their party membership rest dormant during their 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 does choose to make a statement, it is perceived as a something to take note of. There have been a number of occasions when certain presidential speeches have dominated the German political debate for a year or more.


The Federal President can be impeached by the Bundestag for willfully violating German law. Once the Bundestag impeaches the President, the Federal Constitutional Court decides whether to remove him from office. No such case has yet occurred.


During the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), the Reichspräsident was elected by popular vote and intended to be a figurehead. However, in the later years of the republic, the difficulty in creating a workable parliamentary majority allowed President Paul von Hindenburg to rule by decree, bypassing the Reichstag (parliament).

In 1934, after the death of Hindenburg, Adolf Hitler, who had previously been appointed Reichskanzler (Chancellor) by Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, solidified his hold on power by merging the offices of Chancellor and President to form a new office called Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor; see Gleichschaltung). After Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, days before World War II formally ended in Germany, the Presidency was briefly held by Karl Dönitz, who surrendered Germany to the Allies on May 8.

During the first four years of Allied occupation of Germany there was no active German President or Head of State. When the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was created from the Western occupied territory in 1949 Theodor Heuss was chosen as the first President. The office once again assumed the largely figurehead status that had existed under President Hindenburg until about 1929, albeit with clarified and in some cases more limited constitutional powers. Most of the Federal Presidents were people perceived to be a moral authority, most were active Christians. When the East and West Germanies were united in 1990 the new united country continued to operate under the Presidency created for the Federal Republic.

Office holders

Weimar Republic (Reichspräsident)

11 February 1919 - 28 February 1925 Friedrich Ebert
28 February - 12 March 1925 Hans Luther (acting)
12 March - 12 May 1925 Walter Simons (acting)
12 May 1925 - 2 August 1934 Paul von Hindenburg

Nazi Era (Führer/Reichspräsident)

1934-1945 Adolf Hitler (Führer)
1945 Karl Dönitz (Reichspräsident)

Federal Republic of Germany (Bundespräsident)

1949 Karl Arnold (CDU, as president of the Bundesrat, acting)
1949-1959 Theodor Heuss (FDP)
1959-1969 Heinrich Lübke (CDU)
1969-1974 Gustav Heinemann (SPD)
1974-1979 Walter Scheel (FDP)
1979-1984 Karl Carstens (CDU)
1984-1994 Richard von Weizsäcker (CDU)
1994-1999 Roman Herzog (CDU)
1999-2004 Johannes Rau (SPD)
from July 1, 2004 Horst Köhler (CDU)

See also