Skip to main content

About this book

This provides authoritative coverage as well as wide-ranging and integrated analysis of politics and policy in Germany today and of its role in Europe and the wider world. Bringing together extensively revised and updated chapters by leading authorities, it will be essential for students and anyone interested in European politics.

Table of Contents


This new fourth edition of Developments in German Politics coincides with a critical juncture in the European economy and politics in which Germany occupies centre stage. The eurozone crisis of 2010–11 was stabilized by the pledge of the European Central Bank to do ‘whatever it takes’ to save the euro and its actions in buying distressed eurozone members’ sovereign bonds. Many of the underlying problems, however, remain unresolved. Growth in the southern periphery countries remains low; public and private debt is still too high; and the disparity in competitiveness between north and south is undiminished. The eurozone is thus at a crossroads. The problems are complex, and there are no straightforward solutions, but most are agreed that without decisive action the eurozone faces an uncertain future of muddling through from crisis to crisis as distressed economies struggle with debt.
Stephen Padgett, William E. Paterson, Reimut Zohlnhöfer

Chapter 1. Government at the Centre

According to Article 65 of the German Constitution — the Basic Law — the federal government consists of the federal chancellor and the federal ministers: together they form the political apex of the federal executive. The provisions of the Constitution and political conventions as they have developed since the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949 have placed the government firmly at the centre of the German political system. Konrad Adenauer’s election as the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic on 15 September 1949 (with the narrowest of majorities) might, at the time, have seemed like a throwback to the Weimar Republic, the democratic state that had come into being in 1919 and which had been liquidated by the Nazi regime in 1933. Not only were there parallels between the Weimar Constitution and the Basic Law in respect of the definition of the powers and responsibilities of the chancellor, but the person of Adenauer himself — who, at the time of taking office, was already 73 — seemed to point to the past, for Adenauer’s political career had begun during the Wilhelmine Empire.
Christian Stecker, Klaus H. Goetz

Chapter 2. The Reform of German Federalism

Since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949, the highly consensual or ‘cooperative’ nature of the German federal system had widely been viewed as a central part of the country’s political stability and economic success. However, widespread political malaise and pessimism in the 2000s was increasingly focused on the federal system, which was regarded as too inflexible to deal with the cumulative challenges of German unification, globalization, Europeanization and demographic change. As a result, over the past decade, Germany has undertaken the largest and most complex reform of its federal system. Changes made to the federal constitution in 2006 sought to reallocate political responsibilities within the federal system, strengthen policy autonomy at the Land level and streamline the decision-making process; further changes implemented in 2009 tightened budgetary controls, regulating public debt levels across both the Federal government and the Länder.
Charlie Jeffery, Carolyn Rowe

Chapter 3. Partisan Dealignment and Voting Choice

Herr and Frau Schneider had grown up in post-war Germany. They have very distinct images of the parties, and especially the two large Volksparteien. The Christian Democrats (CDU) had brought peace and prosperity to Germany, and they strongly agreed with the CDU on economic and religious issues as upper-middle-class Christians. In contrast, they see the Social Democrats (SPD) as untrustworthy and too close to the communists; they would never vote SPD. Thus both Schneiders have a strong political attachment to the CDU and vote consistently for the party.
Russell J. Dalton

Chapter 4. Parties and the Party System

Political parties could be defined as ‘any group, however loosely organized, seeking to elect governmental officeholders under a given label’ (Epstein, 1979: 9). Building on Key’s (1964) fundamental distinction, Katz and Mair (1993) propose to observe party organizations at three organizational levels: the ‘party on the ground’, ‘in central office’ and ‘in public office’. One further dimension of our subject, ‘parties in the electorate’, has already been covered in Chapter 3. Our focus will be the most important organizational features of political parties and their role in the German party system. A party system is more than the sum of the parties in a country or a legislature. It is ‘the system of interactions resulting from inter-party competition. That is, the system in question bears on the relatedness of parties to each other, on how each party is a function … of the other parties and reacts, competitively or otherwise, to the other parties’ (Sartori, 1976: 44).
Margret Hornsteiner, Thomas Saalfeld

Chapter 5. Political Leadership

Recent developments in the discipline of comparative politics have included a notable rise in political leadership studies (see Helms, 2012). This trend is particularly pronounced in the academic study of German politics, with a remarkable number of contributions focusing on political leadership in Germany or even more often on German leadership in Europe (see, for example, Paterson, 2008; Chandler, 2010; Jones, 2010; Schild, 2012). These developments in academia echo the widespread realization by political actors and the wider public alike that, given the turbulent times that the world has been experiencing since the close of the first decade of the twenty-first century, democratic regimes are in desperate need of leadership. This is not to say that leadership is necessarily about sticking to one’s guns at any price. Many recent conceptions of political leadership emphasize ‘power-sharing’ and ‘post-heroism’ as defining features of a type of leadership considered appropriate to democratically advanced regimes (Kane and Patapan, 2012: 171). To students of German politics this sounds familiar. Domestic political leadership in the Federal Republic has virtually always been marked by strong elements of consensus-seeking and attempts to accommodate a wealth of different interests.
Ludger Helms

Chapter 6. The Politics of Social Protest

Views on the development of social and political protest movements in Germany during the last ten years differ widely. Some observers argue that protest has declined significantly and, as a consequence, lost much of its former capacity for shaping society and politics. Others take the opposite view, stressing the continuing or even increasing vitality and impact of protest movements, especially when considering the period from 2010 onwards. In the absence of systematic and reliable data, proponents of these diverging views each point to some empirical examples to undergird their position. The sceptics tend to take the huge mass demonstrations of the new social movements in the 1970s and 1980s as a yardstick for their diagnosis of a relative demobilization in more recent years. Their counterparts highlight the political awakening of a politicized citizenry as epitomized by the so-called Wutbürger (angry citizen) — a term that was introduced with a clearly derogative slant (Kurbjuweit, 2010). Allegedly, the rise of the Wutbürger has characterized the bulk of recent conflicts, most notably the massive and enduring resistance against ‘Stuttgart 21’, the project to build a new railway station in Stuttgart (Ohmke-Reinicke, 2012; Brettschneider and Schuster, 2013). In the wake of the debate around the Wutbürger, a series of journalistic and scholarly books were published, mostly sympathizing with the politicized citizenry (see Leggewie, 2011; Roth, 2011; Rudolf et al., 2011; Kessler, 2013).
Dieter Rucht

Chapter 7. The German Model in Transition

Over the last decade, the German model has seen a remarkable transformation and comeback. At the turn of the century, calls for a radical reform of the German market economy were heard everywhere. The change of government in 1998 was followed by the short boom and bust of the new economy, leaving the country in a most miserable situation. Unemployment reached five million in 2005 and Germany violated the deficit threshold of the European Stability and Growth Pact for several years in the early 2000s. The need for reform was ubiquitous in newspaper headlines, expert commissions and the international press. The country was constantly criticized for its failure to meet the challenges of reunification, globalization and demographic changes. ‘Citizen’ campaigns put newspaper adverts in German papers to call for reforms. Federal President Roman Herzog lamented, in a well-received speech in 1997, the mental depression that had befallen Germany and called for a Ruck (a sudden jerk) to liberalize the country. Germany had become the sick man of Europe (Hassel and Williamson, 2004).
Anke Hassel

Chapter 8. Economic Policy

Germany has weathered the storm of recent crises comparatively well: the financial crisis that began in 2007/08, the economic crisis that followed it, and the current euro crisis. The OECD (2012a: 10) as well as academic observers (e.g. Reisenbichler and Morgan, 2012) have even talked about a ‘miracle’ with regard to the recent German labour market performance. Indeed, the German economic performance has been quite impressive since around 2007: unemployment has fallen substantially in the past half-decade while it increased in most other countries; and the public finances seem to be in a much better shape than in most other developed democracies, too (see Tables 8.1 and 8.2).
Reimut Zohlnhöfer

Chapter 9. Germany and the European Union

Germany’s European vocation was a constant in its European policy from the early days of the Federal Republic. This policy was associated with a ‘reflexive multilateralism’ (a fixed preference for supranational methods) and a reluctance to base policy explicitly on national interest discourse. In exercising its European vocation of ‘more Europe’ as the default position, the Federal Republic operated through the Franco-German relationship. This policy had brought Germany great prosperity and was a key facilitator of German unity. In recent years the 2004 eastern enlargement of the EU and France’s weakening economic position has eroded the traction of the Franco-German relationship. Generational change has greatly modified the instinctive affinity of the political elite with the EU. The key game changer however has been the onset of the crisis in the eurozone, a crisis which has propelled Germany as the principal creditor into the leadership position in the eurozone and placed great strains on the EU founding myth that in some sense all the member states are equal.
William E. Paterson

Chapter 10. Germany and the Euro

The introduction of the common currency — the euro — in initially 11 member states of the EU was the biggest single step of supranational integration since the beginning of that process in the 1950s. While there were big hopes about the positive economic and political consequences of that step (ranging from reduced transaction costs and increased economic growth to benefits for European identity and a weightier role in global economic politics), sceptical voices could also be heard warning of reduced flexibility for national economic policy — especially in the cases of asymmetric shocks — and the dangers of a single monetary policy that might not be appropriate for the diverging needs of member states.
Andreas Busch

Chapter 11. Foreign and Security Policy

The last ten years have witnessed significant changes in the international system with the rise of new powers, the impact in Iraq and Afghanistan of the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the USA, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, and gradual changes in how defence is organized in Europe and beyond. Yet Germany has displayed a remarkable degree of continuity in foreign and security policy in response to new international pressures. The beginning of Gerhard Schröder’s time as chancellor was marked by Germany’s involvement in Operation Allied Force (OAF) in 1999 and German leadership in international efforts to bring an end to the Kosovo crisis (Miskimmon, 2009b). Germany’s involvement in OAF did not set a trend for its greater involvement in military crisis management. As Schröder’s time in office progressed he became more cautious in foreign policy and openly opposed George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, making it part of his re-election campaign in 2002. German foreign policy is now confronted with an array of challenges which have demanded a response from the country’s foreign policy-makers. Whereas the immediate post-Cold War period was dominated by the need to stabilize Europe, the challenges facing contemporary German foreign and security policy are increasingly more global in character.
Alister Miskimmon

Chapter 12. Welfare State Reform and Social Policy

During the 1990s and early 2000s Germany was perceived by many observers to be the ‘sick man of Europe’. Slow economic growth and high unemployment were said to be the result of an overregulated and too generous welfare state. Subsequent reforms of the unemployment and old-age social insurance schemes emphasized a greater degree of private provision and self-reliance. For some observers the reforms were crucial for the turnaround in labour market and overall economic performance since 2005. Critics, however, highlight the social costs associated with these reforms that have led to processes of recommodification, i.e. the significant increase in low-paid and other atypical forms of employment as well as income inequality. Furthermore, employment-oriented family policies have been significantly expanded, as they are understood to be a social investment into the future of the German economy. As the duration of the economic crisis was relatively brief in Germany, the economy weathered the storms of the great recession of 2008 quite well without having to resort to policies of welfare state retrenchment. After giving a brief historical overview, this chapter will explore key recent welfare state reforms and their political drivers.
Martin Seeleib-Kaiser

Chapter 13. Energy and Climate Protection Policy

Energy policy is conventionally understood in terms of the pursuit of three objectives:
  • Energy security involves managing the supply of primary energy from domestic and external sources, maintaining the reliability of the energy infrastructure, and ensuring that energy companies are able to meet demand.
  • Economic efficiency requires that energy prices should be affordable to both industrial and domestic consumers.
  • Sustainability means using energy in a way that does not prejudice the well-being of future generations either by depleting limited resources or by damaging the environment.
Stephen Padgett

Chapter 14. Citizenship, Migration and Cultural Pluralism

German immigration and citizenship policy is characterized by a striking paradox. On the one hand, Germany is one of the primary destinations for immigration in the developed world. It has by far the largest absolute number of non-nationals in the EU living within its territory, and more citizens from outside the EU (so-called third country nationals), who are principally affected by immigration regulations, than any other EU member state. This non-national population is moreover very well settled: in 2010, almost two-fifths had been resident in the country for at least 20 years.
Simon Green
Additional information