I first saw the following line in Politico's April 13, 2022 Zelenskyy’s Steinmeier snub triggers backlash in Germany referring to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz:
While (president) Steinmeier is head of state, his role is rather symbolic. Executive power lies with Scholz as chancellor.
The first few paragraphs of Wikipedia's President of Germany explains the duties of the president, including:
- has far-reaching ceremonial obligations, but also the right and duty to act politically
- can give direction to general political and societal debates
- (has) some important "reserve powers" in case of political instability
- holds the prerogative to grant pardons on behalf of the federation.
- represents the Federal Republic of Germany in matters of international law
- concludes treaties with foreign states on its behalf
- accredits diplomats
- may veto a law if they believe it to violate the constitution
- actions and public appearances represent the state itself, its existence, legitimacy, and unity
What I found interesting is that the introduction goes on to say:
The president's role is integrative and includes the control function of upholding the law and the constitution. It is a matter of political tradition – not legal restrictions – that the president generally does not comment routinely on issues in the news, particularly when there is some controversy among the political parties. This distance from day-to-day politics and daily governmental issues allows the president to be a source of clarification, to influence public debate, voice criticism, offer suggestions and make proposals. In order to exercise this power, they traditionally act above party politics.
To me this reads like "A good president should..." advisory, and I immediately wonder how an extreme, clever, manipulative and outspoken opportunist could exploit what looks to me like a fairly unconstrained job description.
Having seen how easy it was for a recent US president to simply ignore norms and guidelines, e.g. The Washington Post's All the times Trump said the constitution lets him do whatever he wants I now wonder:
Question: What guardrails are there against the German president from "going rogue"; making a power-grab, violating norms and guidelines and unilaterally making and/or blocking foreign policy decisions?
Yes, there is of course President of Germany; Impeachment and removal. And of course as the presidential impeachments of the US example cited above show us, these are always 100% effective the first time in removing a president who violates norms and guidelines and (allegedly) laws - I'm being humorous/sarcastic - impeachment is a purely political process and is subject to all manner of influences and complications.