I wanted to know what the separation of powers were, if any. I did some research on Wikipedia and could only find that the Chancellor of Germany essentially runs the country, but is appointed by the President. Is the President of Germany essentially like the Vice President in United States terms?

  • 5
    Wikipedia exists. Why don't you use it? Nov 19, 2014 at 12:20
  • I did after I posted the question. Receive some additional information, but not everything I need. Nov 19, 2014 at 12:23
  • 6
    Then please edit your question to clarify what information you are missing. As it is, the question "shows no research effort". Nov 19, 2014 at 14:03

3 Answers 3


As well as for some other Parliamentary Republics, in Germany the President is a guarantee figure who has been committed by the Constitution to monitor that the political activities go ahead in respect of all the citizen rights, independently by each different political opinion.

The President must assume a neutral standpoint, from a ideological point of view, and he must put himself in an equal distance from the Parties, to guarantee that every different voice will be heard. This is required by the Constitution.

The President nominates the Chancellor, and he bases his choice on the elections results. The Chancellor nominee is then voted by the Parliament (Bundestag) which is the final organ that will guarantee the Chancellor the power for his/her government action. The Chancellor is the real Government "director", the figure with the power.

Once voted by the Parliament the Chancellor proposes the ministers list to the President who nominates (or revoke) their mandate.

The President has, as in many other Parliamentary Republics, the power to dissolve the Bundestag so that new elections can take place.

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    You forgot about another very important power of the German President. He/she has to sign any law before it becomes effective, and can refuse to do so when he/she believes that either the legislative process wasn't followed correctly or it is blatantly unconstitutional (however, they must not do so just because of political reasons).
    – Philipp
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:37

In concrete terms, the president has a very limited role. He or she (until now, always “he”) has some powers and a role during the change of government but even those are mostly formal.

He does not really have the power to dissolve the Bundestag (the lower chamber of parliament) when he sees fit, he can only do that if the parliament fails to agree on a chancellor or after a failed vote of confidence. (Incidentally, there are some legal debates on what exactly the role of the president is in those case especially when the failed vote of confidence was actually engineered by the chancellor and his or her majority to provoke new elections.)

The president also signs the laws before they are enacted and could in theory exercise a kind of “veto” that would need to be resolved in one way or another. But he can only do it under limited conditions (see comments) and seldom uses that to exert influence in practice. It does however happen (mostly the president indicates his concern and the law does not make it to his desk). Presidents have also referred statutes to the federal constitutional court.

Beyond the formal competences defined in the constitution, the president is expected to be politically neutral. The current president's outspoken views is a strong break from tradition. Even the fact that he merely voiced an opinion about a coalition in one of the federated states has been criticized.

I am therefore not sure how the idea of “separation of powers” applies here. Both the chancellor and president can be regarded as part of the executive branch but the chancellor and the government effectively have almost all executive powers and an important role in preparing legislation too.

If you must draw an analogy, the chancellor could (with lots of caveats) be considered as the counterpart of US or French presidents (when they have a parliamentary majority, which has not always been the case in those countries) and of course like the prime minister in constitutional monarchies (the UK, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, etc.). Like in other parliamentary republics (Ireland, Portugal, Italy), the president does have some modest role but the title should not mislead you in thinking it is in any way similar to the president of the US.

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    Is the president's role more akin to the role of the Queen in the UK, then (i.e. to basically serve as a figurehead and a symbol of the country)?
    – cpast
    Nov 19, 2014 at 15:46
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    @cpast Yes, with the caveat that each of them did, once or twice, refuse to sign a statute, which many kings and queens in Europe never do (the king of Belgium was even temporarily deemed unfit to rule to allow him not to sign a law).
    – Relaxed
    Nov 19, 2014 at 16:10
  • Please keep in mind that the President of Germany is voted in and has term limits. Nov 19, 2014 at 20:02
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    You should maybe clarify that the president is not allowed to veto a law just because he doesn't like it. He is only allowed to do so when the legislative process wasn't followed properly or when the law is blatantly unconstitutional.
    – Philipp
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:44
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    Also, the presidential veto can be canceled by the Bundesverfassungsgericht (supreme court) when they rule that the law and how it was decided was constitutional.
    – Philipp
    Nov 25, 2014 at 20:51

The Bundespräsident (president) has no head of government power but a representing role. Of course he is member of a party but he has to stay unpartisan in his job which is nominating the chancellor at the beginning of this legislation, representing Germany abroad and give advice to the government.

But his prime duty is to block unconstitutional laws, which the government could issue. Every new law must be signed by the president. If the new law is unconstitutional he doesn't sign and it will not become law. So basicly the Bundespräsident could block the governments work. This only happened a few times in history of the federal republic of Germany, but it did.

With a 1/3 majority, the parliament can declaire a Präsidentenklage which means that the Bundesverfassungsgericht, which is the highest German court, will examine the Präsidentenklage and may withdraw his duty. So the power of the Bundespräsident is very limited.

The Bundeskanzler (chancellor) is de facto the head of the government. Even if de jure he is only #3 underneath the Bundespräsident and the president of the Bundestag. He is what other countries call Premier minister or President. The Bundeskanzler is elected by the Bundestag (lower chamber of parliament) and commonly is member of the biggest governmental (non-oppositional) party, which means SPD or CDU.

The Bundeskanzler determine the ministers and leads the government.

Only in case of national defence, the Bundeskanzler is the leader of the Bundeswehr (army). In normal case this is the Verteidigungsminister (minister of defence).

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