Germany: Chancellor Dominance and Coalition Rule

  • Ludger Helms


From a British perspective, the conditions necessary to become German chancellor may appear to be exceptionally rigid and inflexible. However, while there is in fact a strong element of formality in the official nomination process leading up to the appointment of a candidate by the federal president, both the wider selection process of candidates and the constitutional qualifications of the office are more rather than less flexible than in Britain. Article 63 of the Basic Law stipulates that a candidate must secure an absolute majority in the first ballot before being appointed by the federal president,1 but to be eligible, candidates are neither required constitutionally to hold a seat in the Bundestag nor to be the formal leader of the strongest party in parliament. Unlike in most other West European systems, neither the chairs of the parties nor those of the parliamentary party groups (Fraktionen) in the Bundestag represent natural candidates for the office of chancellor. Both leadership positions are to be distinguished from the position of ‘chancellor candidate’, for which each party specifically nominates a candidate in the run-up to a Bundestag election. Until 1993, when the SPD introduced a set of formal rules for electing its chancellor candidate, neither of the two major parties had established any specific nomination procedure, and even the Social Democrats did not follow the formal procedure when nominating Gerhard Schröder as the party’s chancellor candidate in 1998.2


Foreign Policy Leadership Style Foreign Minister Domestic Policy Coalition Partner 
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  1. 20.
    There is no consensus as to whether the ‘Kressbronn circle’ may properly be described as a ‘subsidiary government’. Knorr (1975: 227) characterized the ‘Kressbronn circle’ as the ‘collective holder of the policy guidelines competence’, which the Basic Law assigns to the chancellor. By contrast, a recent case study on core executive decision-making under Kiesinger highlights the body’s limited authority to produce final and politically binding decisions (Schneider, 1999: 95–6).Google Scholar
  2. 22.
    While the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 did not lead to the creation of a genuine war cabinet, as they did both in the United States and in Britain, there were some temporary repercussions of the international crisis on the German core executive. Regular ‘crisis meetings’ were called, sometimes as often as several times a day, to discuss the next steps. These gatherings included Schröder, Scharping, Schily, Fischer, and the chief of the Chancellor’s Office, Steinmeier (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 18 September 2001).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ludger Helms 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ludger Helms
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GovernmentLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceUK

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