As an example, in Germany the President appoints and dismisses the remaining members of the Federal Government upon the proposal of the Chancellor. The President doesn't have a say in the process and must always approve the candidate. Other examples I know include the UK (the Queen cannot overrule anything in practice), the Commonwealth states and Czech Republic.

But what's the point of having the President approve candidates (or the government in general) in the first place, if he doesn't really have a choice in the process? Couldn't it be simply done automatically without the President's involvement then?

  • I am not sure the German president - an office that has purposefully been designed to be mostly decorative as a response to lessons from German history - is useful as an example (also while the German president typically does not meddle with the choice of cabinet posts there is no law that would stop him from doing so. The constitution/"Grundgesetz" does not make provisions regarding that question). Could you perhaps add more, or more representative, examples ? – Eike Pierstorff Jun 30 '17 at 7:15
  • @EikePierstorff It's quite representative of a number of parliamentary democracies (including those with an hereditary monarch). – Relaxed Jun 30 '17 at 7:19
  • As a side note: To my knowledge there has been at least one incident where the German president refused to sign a law, stalling it a for a short while... (google "Horst Köhler verweigert Unterschrift") But I am pretty sure he could not have done so ad infinitum. – DrCopyPaste Jun 30 '17 at 8:06
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    @DrCopyPaste there have been several - Heuss in 1951, Lübke in 1960, Heinemann in 1969, Weizsäcker in 1991, Köhler in 2006. Also Rau in 2002 signed off changes to the immigration law, but suggested that it should be referred to the Constitutional Court (which promptly decided against the law). The president must not sign a law that he deems unconstitutional (which was the given reason in each of the incidents), so that's really not that unusual. – Eike Pierstorff Jun 30 '17 at 8:21
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    @EikePierstorff done – JonathanReez Jun 30 '17 at 8:25
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The German version of Wikipedia elaborates on this:

Der Bundespräsident ernennt die vom Bundeskanzler Vorgeschlagenen zu Bundesministern und Staatssekretären. Inwieweit der Bundespräsident dabei personelle Auswahlkompetenzen besitzt, ist im Grundgesetz nicht geregelt. In der traditionell gelebten Verfassungsrealität hat der Bundespräsident ein formales Prüfungsrecht, also bspw. bezüglich der Frage, ob der Vorgeschlagene den formalen Anforderungen des Amtes entspricht (bspw. ob er Deutscher ist, das Mindestalter erfüllt etc.). Ein weitergehendes materielles oder personelles Prüfungsrecht ist zwar im Grundgesetz keineswegs ausgeschlossen, hat sich aber in der Verfassungswirklichkeit nicht entwickelt. Die heutige Tradition, dass sich der Bundespräsident in die Personalpolitik des Bundeskanzlers nicht einmischt, geht zurück auf ein diesbezügliches Ansinnen von Theodor Heuss, der sich vor der Ernennung der Minister des ersten Kabinetts Adenauer eine Ministerliste vorlegen lassen wollte. Adenauer wies diese Forderung jedoch zurück, Theodor Heuss gab nach und etablierte so die seither geübte Vorgehensweise, die auch bei der Entlassung eines Ministers oder Kabinetts angewendet wird.

A minor detail is that the president is supposed to check whether the candidates meet formal requirements like being a German citizen or meeting age requirements.

More importantly, none of this is clearly defined in the constitution but stems from a tradition established around the time the current constitution was enacted. The framers of the constitution might have intended for the president to have a more active role and there is nothing formally preventing it.

In fact, in 1949, Theodor Heuss asked Konrad Adenauer to provide a list of candidates from which he would choose the ministers himself but ultimately had to cave in and name the people Adenauer wanted. But the president could still, in principle, refuse to name someone and the chancellor would typically seek informal contact beforehand to avoid that. Case in point, in 1953, Heuss forced Adenauer not to (re)nominate Thomas Dehler as justice minister and this time, it's Adenauer who caved in.

This shows that avoiding open conflict and, to this date, always following the advice of the chancellor does not mean the president has absolutely no influence in the process. At the same time, breaking with tradition is not risk-free and that means such a prerogative can only be used in really serious cases.

Generally speaking, it's not uncommon for the details of a constitutional framework to be elaborated over time and to differ sometimes markedly from what the letter of the constitution seem to suggest (the role of the president in the third French Republic is another example). But going back to amend the text is just a lot of trouble and typically not considered necessary.

Beyond that, it means two people are involved. I have no idea whether that was the original intent but it might provide some sort of safety mechanism in times of crisis (say a minister is about to take some important decision, the chancellor cannot just prevent that from happening by dismissing the minister, he or she must wait for the president to formally act on the recommendation for it to be legally effective).

  • It's strange that so much is left up for interpretation in that system when compared to the American one, where there are exact procedures on appointments and dismissals. – JonathanReez Jun 30 '17 at 8:00

As is often true of the UK constitution, theory and practise have diverged over time. In theory, all executive power rests with the Queen; but as a result of a slow and gradual transfer of power from the monarchy to Parliament and the government, in practise, (almost) all executive actions are carried out by the government, in the Queen's name - to the extent that the Queen herself can only carry out official actions that are sanctioned by the government.

So when it comes to government appointments, the Queen still retains the de jure power, while the government holds the de facto power. Hence the Queen formally appoints ministers - but strictly on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. (The Prime Minister is usually appointed on the recommendation of the outgoing PM).

As this system of parliamentary government first evolved in the UK, it has been used as a model for parliamentary states around the world. Where monarchs have been replaced with presidents, the now-mostly ceremonial role of the head of state has often been retained, even where there is no tradition associated with it as there is in the UK.

Couldn't it be simply done automatically without the President's involvement then?

Absolutely, and there is at least one country where the head of state is not involved: Sweden, where Parliament elects the Prime Minister, and it is the Speaker who confirms the appointment on behalf of Parliament, not the monarch. The PM then appoints ministers, without the monarch's involvement.

  • Another example is the Netherlands (but only since a few years, interestingly). – Relaxed Jul 1 '17 at 0:24
  • @Relaxed Incorrect, the King is still involved for top-level appointments. For the PM and other ministers, see Dutch constitution article 43: "De minister-president en de overige ministers worden bij koninklijk besluit benoemd en ontslagen." – Sjoerd Jul 5 '17 at 0:43
  • @Sjoerd Surely, you're aware of the recent changes so if you were less busy playing know-it-all, you would recognise what I was referring to. He uses to choose the informateur but no more. So his involvement has become purely ceremonial and implying otherwise by citing the constitution without explaining that is more misleading than glossing over the details. – Relaxed Jul 5 '17 at 5:31
  • @Relaxed Nice diversion. As a comment on an answer talking about PM and Ministers, you point at the informateur without mentioning it. Besides, the King is still head of the Raad van State, and the King speaks with the PM every week (and with other ministers whenever the King wants to). The King's role is not purely ceremonial yet, although that informateur thingy was a step towards that goal. – Sjoerd Jul 6 '17 at 22:32
  • @Sjoerd What other change could I be referring to? That was until recently the king's most important role and a substantial contribution to the formation of the government. If anything is a diversion, it's your discussion of the day-to-day business of government and other ceremonial purposes when the whole discussion was about appointing the cabinet. I did not see any need to elaborate because I thought it would have obvious to people who knew the system, irrelevant to the rest, and something anybody with a bit of intelligence and honesty could figure out easily when reading my comment… – Relaxed Jul 7 '17 at 6:04

It is simply an attempt to add meaning to otherwise meaningless position. Country wants to have an official head to add social decorum to state actions and procedures, like e.g. giving orders, performing speeches or appointing people to offices. Of course orders could be awarded by an administrative decision and send by post, but having head of state handing the order during official ceremony have its own value.

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    Do you have any evidence to back up this view? – Steve Melnikoff Jun 30 '17 at 12:50
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    The process also provides some limited transparency as the actions of the President or monarch are usually public and centralized with an active corps of journalists covering the head of state's actions. This makes a secret appointment of a person to a position requiring this approval impossible and provides a source not reasonably subject to question from which the name of the current incumbent in the post can be determined if the fact that an appointment was made is disputed. This isn't the only way to accomplish this goal, but it does accomplish this goal. – ohwilleke Jun 30 '17 at 21:07

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