Chancellor of Germany
The chancellor of Germany, officially the federal chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundeskanzler(in) der Bundesrepublik Deutschland), is the head of government and chief executive of Germany, as well as the commander in chief of the German Armed Forces during wartime. The chancellor is elected by the Bundestag on the proposal of the federal president and without debate (Article 63 of the German Constitution).
|Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Bundeskanzlerin der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
|Executive branch of the Government|
|Style||Madam Chancellor (Normal)|
Her Excellency (diplomatic)
|Status||Head of Government|
|Seat||Federal Chancellery, Berlin (primary)|
Palais Schaumburg, Bonn (secondary)
|Nominator||President of Germany|
|Term length||corresponds to the legislative period of the Bundestag, renewable|
|Constituting instrument||German Basic Law (German Constitution)|
|Deputy||Vice Chancellor of Germany|
|Salary||251,448 € annually|
The current officeholder is Angela Merkel, who was elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, 2013 and 2018. She is the first woman to be elected chancellor.
History of the office
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The office of Chancellor has a long history, stemming back to the Holy Roman Empire, when the office of German archchancellor was usually held by Archbishops of Mainz. The title was, at times, used in several states of German-speaking Europe. The modern office of chancellor was established with the North German Confederation, of which Otto von Bismarck became Bundeskanzler (meaning "Federal Chancellor") in 1867. With the enlargement of this federal state to the German Empire in 1871, the title was renamed to Reichskanzler (meaning "Chancellor of the Realm"). With Germany's constitution of 1949, the title of Bundeskanzler was revived.
During the various eras, the role of the chancellor has varied. From 1867 to 1918, the chancellor was the only responsible minister of the federal level. He was installed by the federal presidium (i.e. the Prussian king; since 1871 called Emperor). The Staatssekretäre were civil servants subordinate to the chancellor. Besides the executive, the constitution gave the chancellor only one function: presiding over the Federal Council, the representative organ of the states (together with the parliament the law maker). But in reality, the chancellor was nearly always installed as minister president of Prussia, too. Indirectly, this gave the chancellor the power of the Federal Council, including the dissolution of parliament.
Although effective government was possible only on cooperation with the parliament (Reichstag), the results of the elections had only an indirect influence on the chancellorship, at most. Only in October 1918 was the constitution changed: it required the chancellor to have the trust of the parliament. Some two weeks later, Chancellor Max von Baden declared the abdication of the emperor and ceded power illegally to the revolutionary Council of People's Delegates.
According to the Weimar Constitution of 1919, the chancellor was head of a collegial government. The chancellor was appointed and dismissed by the president, as were the ministers, upon proposal by the chancellor. The chancellor or any minister had to be dismissed if demanded by parliament. As today, the chancellor had the prerogative to determine the guidelines of government (Richtlinienkompetenz). In reality this power was limited by coalition government and the president.
When the Nazis came to power on 30 January 1933, the Weimar Constitution was de facto set aside. After the death of President Hindenburg in 1934, Adolf Hitler, the dictatorial party leader and chancellor, took over the powers of the president. The new official title became Führer und Reichskanzler (meaning "Leader and Reich Chancellor").
The 1949 constitution gave the chancellor much greater powers than during the Weimar Republic, while strongly diminishing the role of the president. Germany is today often referred to as a "chancellor democracy", reflecting the role of the chancellor as the country's chief executive.
Since 1867, 33 individuals have served as heads of government of Germany, West Germany, or Northern Germany, nearly all of them with the title of Chancellor.
Due to his administrative tasks, the head of the clerics at the chapel of an imperial palace during the Carolingian Empire was called chancellor (from Latin: cancellarius). The chapel's college acted as the Emperor's chancery issuing deeds and capitularies. From the days of Louis the German, the archbishop of Mainz was ex officio German archchancellor, a position he held until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, while de jure the archbishop of Cologne was chancellor of Italy and the archbishop of Trier of Burgundy. These three prince-archbishops were also prince-electors of the empire electing the King of the Romans. Already in medieval times, the German chancellor had political power like Archbishop Willigis (archchancellor 975–1011, regent for King Otto III of Germany 991–994) or Rainald von Dassel (Chancellor 1156–1162 and 1166–1167) under Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
In 1559, Emperor Ferdinand I established the agency of an imperial chancellery (Reichshofkanzlei) at the Vienna Hofburg Palace, headed by a vice-chancellor under the nominal authority of the Mainz archbishop. Upon the 1620 Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II created the office of an Austrian court chancellor in charge of the internal and foreign affairs of the Habsburg Monarchy. From 1753 onwards, the office of an Austrian state chancellor was held by Prince Kaunitz. The imperial chancellery lost its importance, and from the days of Maria Theresa and Joseph II, merely existed on paper. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince Metternich served as state chancellor of the Austrian Empire (1821–1848), likewise Prince Hardenberg acted as Prussian chancellor (1810–1822). The German Confederation of 1815–1866 did not have a government or parliament, only the Bundestag as representative organ of the states.
In the now defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), which existed from 7 October 1949 to 3 October 1990 (when the territory of the former GDR was reunified with the Federal Republic of Germany), the position of chancellor did not exist. The equivalent position was called either Minister President (Ministerpräsident) or Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the GDR (Vorsitzender des Ministerrats der DDR). (See Leaders of East Germany.)
Chancellor of the North German Confederation (1867–1870)
The head of the federal government of the North German Confederation, which was created on 1 July 1867, had the title Bundeskanzler. The only person to hold the office was Otto von Bismarck, the prime minister of Prussia. The king, being the bearer of the Bundespräsidium, installed him on 14 July.
Under the constitution of 1 January 1871, the king had additionally the title of Emperor. The constitution still called the chancellor Bundeskanzler. This was only changed in the new constitution of 16 April 1871 to Reichskanzler. The office remained the same, and Bismarck was not even re-installed.
Chancellor of the German Reich
Under the Emperor (1871–1918)
In the 1871 German Empire, the Reichskanzler ("Imperial Chancellor") served both as the emperor's first minister and as presiding officer of the Bundesrat, the upper chamber of the German parliament. He was neither elected by nor responsible to Parliament (the Reichstag). Instead, the chancellor was appointed by the emperor.
The federal level had four organs:
- the king of Prussia in his federal constitutional role as bearer of the Bundespräsidium, since 1871 with the title of emperor
- the federal council (Bundesrat), consisting of representatives of the federal states and presided over by the chancellor
- the parliament, called der Reichstag
- the federal executive, first led by Otto, Fürst von Bismarck, the Minister-President of Prussia, as chancellor.
Technically, the foreign ministers of the empire's states instructed their states' deputies to the federal council (Bundesrat) and therefore outranked the chancellor. For this reason, Prince Bismarck (as he was from 1871 onwards) continued to serve as both prime minister and foreign minister of Prussia for virtually his entire tenure as chancellor of the empire, since he wanted to continue to exercise this power. Since Prussia controlled seventeen votes in the Bundesrat, Bismarck could effectively control the proceedings by making deals with the smaller states.
The term chancellor signalled the seemingly low priority of this institution compared to the governments of the German states, because the new chancellor of the federal empire should not be a full-fledged prime minister, in contrast to the heads of the states. The title of chancellor additionally symbolized a strong monarchist, bureaucratic, and ultimately antiparliamentary component, as in the Prussian tradition of, for instance, Hardenberg.
In both of these aspects, the executive of the federation, and then empire, as it was formed in 1867 and 1871, was deliberately different from the Imperial Ministry of the revolutionary years 1848/49, which had been led by a prime minister elected by the National Assembly.
In 1871, the concept of the federal chancellor was transferred to the executive of the newly formed German Empire, which now also contained the South German states. Here too, the terms of “chancellor” and "federal agency" (as opposed to "ministry" or "government") suggested an (apparent) lower priority of the federal executive as compared to the governments of the federal states. For this reason, neither the chancellor nor the leaders of the imperial departments under his command used the title of Minister until 1918.
The constitution of Germany was altered on 29 October 1918, when the parliament was given the right to dismiss the chancellor. However, the change could not prevent the outbreak of a revolution a few days later.
Revolutionary period (1918–1919)
On 9 November 1918, Chancellor Max von Baden handed over his office of chancellor to Friedrich Ebert. Ebert continued to serve as head of government during the three months between the end of the German Empire in November 1918 and the first gathering of the National Assembly in February 1919, but did not use the title of chancellor.
Weimar Republic (1919–1933)
Under the Weimar Republic, the chancellor was a fairly weak figure. Much like his French counterpart, he was usually more the cabinet's chairman than its leader. Cabinet decisions were made by majority vote. In fact, many of the Weimar governments depended highly on the cooperation of the president, due to the difficulty of finding a majority in the parliament.
Nazi Germany (1933–1945)
Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 by Paul von Hindenburg. Upon taking office, Hitler immediately began accumulating power and changing the nature of the chancellorship. After only two months in office, and following the burning of the Reichstag building, the parliament passed the Enabling Act giving the chancellor full legislative powers for a period of four years – the chancellor could introduce any law without consulting Parliament. Powers of the chancellor continued to grow until August 1934, when the incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg died. Hitler used the Enabling Act to merge the office of chancellor with that of the president to create a new office, "the leader" (or Führer). Although the offices were merged, Hitler continued to be addressed as "Führer und Reichskanzler" indicating that the head of state and head of government were still separate positions, albeit held by the same man. This separation was made more evident when, in April 1945, Hitler gave instruction that upon his death the office of leader would dissolve and there would be a new president and chancellor. On 30 April 1945, when Hitler committed suicide, he was briefly succeeded as chancellor by Joseph Goebbels, as dictated in Hitler's will and testament. When Goebbels followed Hitler's suicide by taking his own life, the reins of power passed to Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as President of Germany. Dönitz, in turn, appointed Count Schwerin von Krosigk as head of government with the title “Leading Minister”.
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (since 1949)
The 1949 German constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), invests the chancellor (German, Bundeskanzler) with broad powers to initiate government policy. For that reason, some observers refer to the German political system as a "chancellor democracy". Whichever major party (CDU/CSU or SPD) does not hold the chancellorship usually calls its leading candidate for the federal election "chancellor-candidate" (Kanzlerkandidat). The federal government (Bundesregierung) consists of the chancellor and cabinet ministers.
The chancellor's authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law and in practice from their status as leader of the party (or coalition of parties) holding a majority of seats in the Bundestag (federal parliament). With the exception of Helmut Schmidt, the chancellor has also been chairman of their own party. This was the case with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder from 1999 until he resigned the chairmanship of the SPD in 2004.
The German chancellor is officially addressed as "Herr Bundeskanzler" if the chancellor is a man. The current holder of this office, Angela Merkel, considered to be the planet's most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine, is officially addressed as "Frau Bundeskanzlerin", the feminine form of the title. Use of the mixed form "Frau Bundeskanzler" was deprecated by the government in 2004 because it is regarded as impolite and was seen as a way of acknowledging Merkel's future leadership. In international correspondence, the chancellor is referred to as "His/Her Excellency the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany" ("Seine/Ihre Exzellenz der/die Bundeskanzler/in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland").
Germany's 1949 constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), invests the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) with central executive authority. Since the 1961 election, the two major parties (CDU/CSU and SPD) call their leading candidates for the federal election "chancellor-candidate" (Kanzlerkandidat), although this is not an official term and any party can nominate a Kanzlerkandidat (even if that party has no chance at all of leading or even becoming part of a government coalition). The Federal Government (Bundesregierung) consists of the Federal Chancellor and their cabinet ministers, called Bundesminister (Federal Ministers).
The chancellor's authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law and from their status as leader of the party (or coalition of parties) holding a majority of seats in the Bundestag ("Federal Diet", the lower house of the German Federal Parliament). With the exception of Helmut Schmidt, Gerhard Schröder (from 2004 to 2005) and Angela Merkel (since 2018) the chancellor has usually also been chairman of their own party.
The first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, set many precedents that continue today and established the chancellorship as the clear focus of power in Germany. Under the provisions of the Basic Law giving him the power to set guidelines for all fields of policy, Adenauer arrogated nearly all major decisions to himself. He often treated his ministers as mere extensions of his authority rather than colleagues. While his successors have tended to be less domineering, the chancellor has acquired enough ex officio authority (in addition to his/her constitutional powers) that Germany is often described by constitutional law experts as a "chancellor democracy".
The chancellor determines the composition of the Federal Cabinet. The president formally appoints and dismisses cabinet ministers, on the recommendation of the chancellor; no parliamentary approval is needed. According to the Basic Law, the chancellor may set the number of cabinet ministers and dictate their specific duties. Chancellor Ludwig Erhard had the largest cabinet, with 22 ministers, in the mid-1960s. Helmut Kohl presided over 17 ministers at the start of his fourth term in 1994; the 2002 cabinet, the second of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, had 13 ministers, and the Angela Merkel cabinet as of 22 November 2005 had 15.
Article 65 of the Basic Law sets forth three principles that define how the executive branch functions:
- The "chancellor principle" makes the chancellor responsible for all government policies; this is also known as the Richtlinienkompetenz (roughly translated as "guideline setting competence"). Any formal policy guidelines issued by the chancellor are legally binding directives that cabinet ministers must implement. Cabinet ministers are expected to introduce specific policies at the ministerial level that reflect the chancellor's broader guidelines.
- The "principle of ministerial autonomy" entrusts each minister with the freedom to supervise departmental operations and prepare legislative proposals without cabinet interference so long as the minister's policies are consistent with the chancellor's broader guidelines.
- The "cabinet principle" calls for disagreements between federal ministers over jurisdictional or budgetary matters to be settled by the cabinet.
List of chancellors (since 1949)
|Previous office||Term of office||Political party||Vice Chancellor||Cabinets|
|Took office||Left office||Time in office|
|President of the Parliamentary Council (1948–1949)||15 September 1949||16 October 1963
|14 years, 31 days||CDU||Franz Blücher (1949–1957)
Ludwig Erhard (1957–1963)
|Vice Chancellor of Germany (1957–1963)
Federal Minister for Economic Affairs (1949–1963)
|16 October 1963||1 December 1966
|3 years, 46 days||CDU||Erich Mende (1963–1966)
Hans-Christoph Seebohm (1966)
|3||Kurt Georg Kiesinger
|Minister President of Baden-Württemberg
|1 December 1966||22 October 1969||2 years, 325 days||CDU||Willy Brandt (1966–1969)||Kiesinger|
|Vice Chancellor of Germany (1966–1969)
Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs (1966–1969)
|22 October 1969||7 May 1974
|4 years, 197 days||SPD||Walter Scheel (1969–1974)||Brandt I|
|Walter Scheel (acting)||7 May 1974||17 May 1974||9 days||FDP||Brandt II|
|Federal Minister of Finance (1972–1974)||16 May 1974||1 October 1982
replaced by a
of no confidence
|8 years, 138 days||SPD||Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1974–1982)
Egon Franke (1982)
|Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate (1969–1976)||1 October 1982||27 October 1998||16 years, 26 days||CDU||Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1982–1992)
Jürgen Möllemann (1992–1993)
Klaus Kinkel (1993–1998)
|Minister President of Lower Saxony (1990–1998)||27 October 1998||22 November 2005||7 years, 26 days||SPD||Joschka Fischer (1998–2005)||Schröder I|
|Federal Minister for the Environment,
Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (1994–1998)
|22 November 2005||Incumbent||15 years, 209 days||CDU||Franz Müntefering (2005–2007)
Frank-Walter Steinmeier (2007–2009)
Guido Westerwelle (2009–2011)
Philipp Rösler (2011–2013)
Sigmar Gabriel (2013–2018)
Olaf Scholz (2018–present)
Living former chancellors
- a newly elected Bundestag meets for the first time,
- if the chancellor dies or resigns.
The chancellor's election is one of the few cases in which a vote in the Bundestag requires a majority of all elected members, not just a majority of those assembled at the time, the so called Kanzlermehrheit ("chancellor majority"). It is also one of the few occasions in which the Bundestag holds a vote via secret ballot. The process begins with the president of Germany proposing a candidate to the Bundestag (usually a candidate on which the majority parties have agreed beforehand), who is then voted upon without debate ("1st voting phase"). If the president's nominee is not elected, the parliamentary groups in the Bundestag may, during the following 14 days, propose their own nominees, who also have to be elected with the "chancellor-majority" ("2nd voting phase"). If no chancellor has been elected within this period, the Bundestag will hold one last ballot on the 15th day after the first ballot, to which (like in the 2nd voting phase) the parliamentary groups may put forward candidates ("3rd voting phase"): If a candidate reaches the "chancellor majority", the President of Germany must appoint them. If not, the president may either appoint as chancellor the candidate who received a plurality of votes (de facto allowing the formation of a minority government) or call new elections for the Bundestag within 60 days.
Another possibility to vote a new chancellor into office is the Constructive vote of no confidence, which allows the Bundestag to replace a sitting chancellor, if it elects a new chancellor with the "chancellor-majority" (see below).
As of 2020, all chancellors of the federal republic have been (re-)elected on proposal of the president of Germany on the first ballot with the sole exception of Helmut Kohl, who was elected to his first term via a constructive vote of no confidence against Helmut Schmidt.
Unlike in other parliamentary legislatures, the Bundestag cannot remove the chancellor with a traditional motion of no confidence. Instead, the removal of a chancellor is only possible if a majority of the Bundestag members agree on a successor, who is then immediately sworn in as new chancellor. This procedure is called "constructive motion of no confidence" (konstruktives Misstrauensvotum) and was created to avoid the situation that existed in the Weimar Republic, when it was easier to gather a parliament majority willing to remove a government in office than to find a majority capable of supporting a new stable government.
In order to garner legislative support in the Bundestag, the chancellor can also ask for a motion of confidence (Vertrauensfrage, literally "question of trust"), either combined with a legislative proposal or as a standalone vote. If such a vote fails, the chancellor may ask the president for the dissolution of the Bundestag.
The chancellor must appoint one of the cabinet ministers as vice chancellor, who may deputise for the chancellor, if they are absent or unable to perform their duties. Although the chancellor is theoretically free to choose any cabinet minister as vice chancellor, in coalition governments the vice chancellor is usually the highest-ranking minister of the second biggest coalition party.
If the chancellor's term in office ends or if they resign, the Bundestag has to elect a new chancellor. The president of Germany may ask the former chancellor to act as chancellor until a new office holder is elected, but if they are unwilling or unable to do so, the president may also appoint the vice chancellor as acting chancellor until a successor is elected. This has happened once: On 7 May 1974 Chancellor Willy Brandt resigned as a consequence of the Guillaume Affair, an espionage scandal. In his letter of resignation to President Gustav Heinemann he requested, to be not asked to remain in office in an acting capacity and instead to appoint the vice chancellor as acting chancellor. President Heinemann followed the request. Vice Chancellor Walter Scheel was appointed acting chancellor and served for nine days until the election of Helmut Schmidt on 16 May 1974.
List of vice chancellors (since 1949)
Since 2001, the official residence of the Chancellor is the Federal Chancellery (Berlin) (Bundeskanzleramt). The former seat of the Federal Chancellery, the Palais Schaumburg in the former capital Bonn, now serves as a secondary official seat. The Chancellor's country retreat is Schloss Meseberg in the state of Brandenburg.
Style of address
The correct style of address in German is Herr Bundeskanzler (male) or Frau Bundeskanzlerin (female). Use of the mixed form "Frau Bundeskanzler" was deprecated by the government in 2004 because it is regarded as impolite.
Holding the third-highest state office available within Germany, the chancellor of Germany receives €220,000 per annum and a €22,000 bonus, i.e. one and two thirds of Salary Grade B11 (according to § 11 (1) a of the Federal Law on Ministers – Bundesministergesetz, BGBl. 1971 I p. 1166 and attachment IV to the Federal Law on Salaries of Officers – Bundesbesoldungsgesetz, BGBl. 2002 I p. 3020).
- List of chancellors of Germany
- List of chancellors of Germany by time in office
- List of chancellors of Germany by age
- Prime minister
- Religious affiliations of chancellors of Germany
- "Ratgeber für Anschriften und Anreden" (PDF). Bundesministerium des Innern – Protokoll Inland. p. 40. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- "Angela Merkels Gehalt: So viel verdient Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel". orange.handelsblatt.com.
- Parliamentary Council of the Federal Republic of Germany. "Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany". Wikisource. Wikimedia. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
- Merkel's third re-election followed the 2017 German federal election. Due to the long government formation process, the chancellor's election took place not until March 2018.
- ""Frau Bundeskanzler" oder ... "Frau Bundeskanzlerin"? – n-tv.de". Archived from the original on 17 January 2009.
- Meyers Taschenlexikon Geschichte vol.2 1982
- Dear Mr. President, I take the political responsibility for mishandlings in context of the espionage affair "Guillaume" and declare my resignation from the office of Chancellor. At the same time, I ask you to accept my resignation immediately and to appoint my deputy, Federal Minister Scheel, as Acting Chancellor, until a successor is elected. Sincerely, Willy Brandt. https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/handschriftliche-r%C3%BCcktrittserkl%C3%A4rung-von-bundeskanzler-news-photo/545935043 [dead link]
- ""Frau Bundeskanzler" oder ... "Frau Bundeskanzlerin"? – n-tv.de". Archived from the original on 17 January 2009.
- Klein, Herbert, ed. 1993. The German Chancellors. Berlin: Edition.
- Padgett, Stephen, ed. 1994. The Development of the German Chancellorship: Adenauer to Kohl. London: Hurst.
- Harlen, Christine M. 2002. "The Leadership Styles of the German Chancellors: From Schmidt to Schröder." Politics and Policy 30 (2 (June)): 347–371.
- Helms, Ludger. 2001. "The Changing Chancellorship: Resources and Constraints Revisited." German Politics 10 (2): 155–168.
- Mayntz, Renate. 1980. "Executive Leadership in Germany: Dispersion of Power or 'Kanzler Demokratie'?" In presidents and Prime Ministers, ed. R. Rose and E. N. Suleiman. Washington, D.C: American Enterprise Institute. pp. 139–71.
- Smith, Gordon. 1991. "The Resources of a German Chancellor." West European Politics 14 (2): 48–61.