Germany: Governing a ‘Semi-sovereign State’

  • Ludger Helms


The relationship between executives and legislative assemblies under parliamentary government has long been among the least understood subjects of German political science. At least two reasons for this weird phenomenon may be given. First, until recently parliamentary government had no deep roots in German political and constitutional history. Although the Weimar Republic may be classified as a ‘parliamentary democracy with presidential dominance’ (Steffani, 1995: 538), neither the constitution nor the constitutional practice in Weimar Germany did much to foster the idea of parliamentary government. Until the breakdown of the Weimar Republic it remained unclear what exactly ‘parliamentary responsibility’ (as stipulated in Article 54 of the Weimar Constitution) was meant to include (Gusy, 1997: 134). The second structural hindrance to a proper understanding of parliamentary government among a large quarter of the young discipline of German political science had much to do with the biographical background of some of the most influential figures in the field. Many early German ‘political scientists’ were trained public lawyers whose perspectives on the political process had an inevitably strong legal bias. The dominant interpretation of the German post-war parliamentary democracy was that of a ‘balanced system’, which implied notions of a reasonable independence of the executive and the legislative branch from each other.


Federal Republic European Central Bank Veto Player German Government Opposition Parti 
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  1. 11.
    According to Küpper (1985: 238), the true motives for appointing no fewer than four ‘Sonderminister’ (ministers without portfolio), in 1953 were related to coalition arithmetics.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    As Saalfeld (1999: 157) has argued, ‘the homogeneity of the FDP’s parliamentary organisation and its dominance vis-à-vis the extra-parliamentary organisation’ had the additional effect of facilitating the management of the Christian-Liberal coalition throughout its existence.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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