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  #1  
Old 02-04-2011, 07:32 PM
CheeseDonkey CheeseDonkey is offline
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German Chancellor vs. President

In Germany, what is the difference between the chancellor and president? Who has more power? What are the roles of each?
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  #2  
Old 02-04-2011, 07:38 PM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is online now
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The chancellor is the head of government and has the real political power - equivalent to the Prime minister in Britain . The president is thehead of state, but has little political power.
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Old 02-04-2011, 10:00 PM
friedo friedo is online now
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To expand upon Northern Piper's answer, in most democracies, the roles of head of state and the head of government are generally filled by two different people. If you have a parliament, you generally have a prime minister to run the government while the head of state may be a monarch (as in Britain and many Commonwealth countries) or a president (as in Germany and Israel, for example.) Or some other title.

The United States is actually quite unusual amongst democracies in that the head of government and head of state are the same office.
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Old 02-04-2011, 11:33 PM
thelurkinghorror thelurkinghorror is offline
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The United States is not unusual. Most countries in say, South America, have a President and only a president. No Prime Minister or Chancellor to be found.

Parliamentary systems generally have a semi-powerful Prime Minister and a President who is a figurehead. Some countries, most notably France and Russia, are semi-presential, and have a Prime Minister and a President, but the majority of power is actually held by the latter.
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Old 02-04-2011, 11:36 PM
joebuck20 joebuck20 is offline
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
The chancellor is the head of government and has the real political power - equivalent to the Prime minister in Britain . The president is thehead of state, but has little political power.
This. From what I understand the President in a lot of European republics is sort of like the Queen of England in that they're head of state, but their responsibilities consist mainly of ribbon cuttings, accepting diplomatic credentials and various other ceremonial functions, while the prime minister handles the nitty gritty of running the government.
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Old 02-05-2011, 02:02 PM
Fish Cheer Fish Cheer is offline
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Originally Posted by joebuck20 View Post
This. From what I understand the President in a lot of European republics is sort of like the Queen of England in that they're head of state, but their responsibilities consist mainly of ribbon cuttings, accepting diplomatic credentials and various other ceremonial functions, while the prime minister handles the nitty gritty of running the government.
And much like the Queen, the Federal President in Germany is expected to be politically neutral, even though they usually were party politicians before assuming office.
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Old 02-05-2011, 03:32 PM
Baron Greenback Baron Greenback is offline
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Originally Posted by thelurkinghorror View Post
Parliamentary systems generally have a semi-powerful Prime Minister
In the UK a Prime Minister with a decent majority has more personal power in the running of the country than anything other than an outright dictatorship.
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  #8  
Old 02-05-2011, 03:44 PM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is online now
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Originally Posted by joebuck20 View Post
This. From what I understand the President in a lot of European republics is sort of like the Queen of England in that they're head of state, but their responsibilities consist mainly of ribbon cuttings, accepting diplomatic credentials and various other ceremonial functions, while the prime minister handles the nitty gritty of running the government.
AFAIK the President of France is the only Western European president* who has real power and isn't expected to act like a apolitical figurehead. Alot of ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe are modeled after France and split power between a President & Prime Minister.



*Spain (which is a monarchy) has a "President of the Government", but it's just another term for Prime Minister. Italy has both a "President of the Republic" (figurehead of state) and a "President of the Council (of Ministers)" which again is just another term for Prime Minister.
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Old 02-05-2011, 05:36 PM
Ximenean Ximenean is offline
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Originally Posted by Baron Greenback View Post
In the UK a Prime Minister with a decent majority has more personal power in the running of the country than anything other than an outright dictatorship.
I've seen that idea put forward a few times (I think it dates back to the "elective dictatorship" criticism of the British system in the seventies) and it always makes me wonder what people who are now British citizens but once lived under an actual dictatorship think of it. I bet they laugh at the idea.
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Old 02-05-2011, 07:09 PM
pancakes3 pancakes3 is offline
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Originally Posted by Baron Greenback View Post
In the UK a Prime Minister with a decent majority has more personal power in the running of the country than anything other than an outright dictatorship.
i've heard it explained that the French President has the most power since he appoints judges, is the Head of Government like the US president AND he gets to appoint the prime minister, with the ability to remove the PM at the President's discretion.

furthermore, if either the french pres or the british prime ministers ever lose that majority backing in parliament, the POTUS becomes more valuable, with his veto power.

anyway, as for the OP - the difference is that the Chancellor has more power (with a majority) than the pres in terms of implementing policy. He can pipeline legislation, like say health care. however, if he loses that majority backing, the chancellor is no more "powerful" than the PotUS.
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  #11  
Old 02-05-2011, 09:18 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Originally Posted by friedo View Post
The United States is actually quite unusual amongst democracies in that the head of government and head of state are the same office.
This is a common misconception. In the American system there us actually no equivalent to the head if government in a parliamentary system. The British parliament -- and by extension, the prime minister --'essentially controls all aspects of government.

In the American system, government power -- notably legislative and executive/administrative power -- is divided among three independent co-equal branches. So there is no single head of government.

It's also my view that the U.S. also has no single person who is head of state, but that's a distinctly minority view.

Last edited by Acsenray; 02-05-2011 at 09:20 PM..
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  #12  
Old 02-07-2011, 12:34 PM
Mops Mops is offline
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Originally Posted by joebuck20 View Post
This. From what I understand the President in a lot of European republics is sort of like the Queen of England in that they're head of state, but their responsibilities consist mainly of ribbon cuttings, accepting diplomatic credentials and various other ceremonial functions, while the prime minister handles the nitty gritty of running the government.
In the case of Germany at least this understates the President's role quite a bit. The German President can be (and has been at times) quite influential through:
  • the bully pulpit that comes with the office's stature. If used wisely (without overreaching) this can do much to shape public debate. For example the legendary speech that President Richard von Weizsäcker held on 8 May 1985 at last brought the centre-right into the fold of those who consider Germany losing WW II a Good Thing. Another example: it was widely noted that the current incumbent, Christian Wulff, noted in his German Unity Day speech that Islam definitely belongs to Germany, and a short time later, adressing the parliament of Turkey, that Christianity definitely belongs to Turkey.
  • reserve powers, to be used very infrequently. German laws must be signed by the President, and the President has only refused to sign eight times since 1949 - every time the public and the legislature have sat up and taken notice. (This is not a legislative veto that can be used to advance a political agenda, but a safety brake in case of unconstitutionality that the President considers too obvious to be left alone until the Constitutional Court decides on a challenge).
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Old 02-09-2011, 12:26 PM
A. Gwilliam A. Gwilliam is offline
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Originally Posted by acsenray View Post
This is a common misconception. In the American system there us actually no equivalent to the head if government in a parliamentary system. The British parliament -- and by extension, the prime minister --'essentially controls all aspects of government.

In the American system, government power -- notably legislative and executive/administrative power -- is divided among three independent co-equal branches. So there is no single head of government.

It's also my view that the U.S. also has no single person who is head of state, but that's a distinctly minority view.
US executive policy is in the hands of the president. The president chooses his "ministers". The president conducts relations with foreign governments. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Given that there's nobody higher up the food chain with these powers, that sounds to me like a head of state.

These important powers are held in reality by the British prime minister. Additional important powers held de facto by the prime minister are that of dissolving parliament and of dictating parliament's legislative programme. One of those doesn't exist in anyone's hands under the US constitution, and I'm guessing the other only exists to an attenuated extent (depending on the relevant strength of the parties in the two houses, and on the relations between them and the president). But the house majority leaders don't direct executive policy either, and don't appoint anyone, so they don't count as head of government. As such, it seems to me that it's entirely appropriate to refer to the president as both "head of state" and "head of government".

Of course the president's hands can be tied by one or other of the two houses, but then that can apply in the British system. A head of government is still head of government even if he or she can't really get the things done that they want to, and even if there's someone else around with considerable influence on those things.
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Old 02-09-2011, 12:31 PM
Baron Greenback Baron Greenback is offline
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Originally Posted by Ximenean View Post
I've seen that idea put forward a few times (I think it dates back to the "elective dictatorship" criticism of the British system in the seventies) and it always makes me wonder what people who are now British citizens but once lived under an actual dictatorship think of it. I bet they laugh at the idea.
I agree, but then I wasn't myself comparing his role to an actual dictator.
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Old 02-09-2011, 12:33 PM
Baron Greenback Baron Greenback is offline
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Originally Posted by pancakes3 View Post
furthermore, if either the french pres or the british prime ministers ever lose that majority backing in parliament, the POTUS becomes more valuable, with his veto power.
If a British prime minister loses the majority backing, there's usually a new prime minister soon after.
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Old 02-09-2011, 01:03 PM
Giles Giles is online now
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In a parliamentary system, the prime minister is in complete control as long as he or she has a majority in the lower house -- but that's an important caveat, because losing that control in between elections can happen. And, in a parliamentary system there's always a leader of the opposition ready and willing to step into the PM's jackboots, and there are usually two or three sitting next to the PM on the government front bench who would not mind trying those jackboots for size. That means that anything the PM does is weighed against the chance of losing that lower-house majority, either with a intra-party (or intra-coalition) revolution, or at the next election.

Last edited by Giles; 02-09-2011 at 01:04 PM..
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Old 02-09-2011, 01:37 PM
constanze constanze is offline
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Originally Posted by acsenray View Post
This is a common misconception. In the American system there us actually no equivalent to the head if government in a parliamentary system. The British parliament -- and by extension, the prime minister --'essentially controls all aspects of government.

In the American system, government power -- notably legislative and executive/administrative power -- is divided among three independent co-equal branches. So there is no single head of government.
I'm not an expert for the British system, but you make it sound as if only the US has a division of powers. If that's what you mean, you surely are mistaken, because dividing the powers into the seperate branches of legislative, executive and judiscative is one important part of all modern democracies.
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Old 02-09-2011, 01:49 PM
Giles Giles is online now
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Originally Posted by constanze View Post
I'm not an expert for the British system, but you make it sound as if only the US has a division of powers. If that's what you mean, you surely are mistaken, because dividing the powers into the seperate branches of legislative, executive and judiscative is one important part of all modern democracies.
Separating the judicial branch is important, even if it's called something else (like, "independence of the judiciary"). However, in the Westminster system the legislative and executive branches are very closely linked, especially in the person of the prime minister, who is de facto in charge of both the executive and the legislature. (Even if the sovereign/viceroy/president is nominally in charge of the executive, and the speaker is nominally in charge of the lower house of the legislature.)

Last edited by Giles; 02-09-2011 at 01:50 PM..
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Old 02-09-2011, 02:17 PM
A. Gwilliam A. Gwilliam is offline
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Originally Posted by constanze View Post
I'm not an expert for the British system, but you make it sound as if only the US has a division of powers. If that's what you mean, you surely are mistaken, because dividing the powers into the seperate branches of legislative, executive and judiscative is one important part of all modern democracies.
Well... it's not been formally considered an aspect of British constitutional theory until very recently (if then).

Up until 2009 the highest court in the land for most purposes was the House of Lords (ie. one of the two parliamentary chambers). Certain senior judges were also members of the House of Lords in its legislative capacity, with exactly the same formal capacity to speak or vote as any other parliamentary peer. And until this century the Lord Chancellor, a politically-appointed cabinet minister, was also head of the judiciary in England and Wales, and the speaker of the House of Lords.

The executive still retains an absolute legal capacity to prorogue or dissolve Parliament.

And of course Parliament has the legal capacity to alter "constitutional law" by way of ordinary legislation.
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Old 02-09-2011, 02:25 PM
A. Gwilliam A. Gwilliam is offline
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Originally Posted by Giles View Post
Separating the judicial branch is important, even if it's called something else (like, "independence of the judiciary"). However, in the Westminster system the legislative and executive branches are very closely linked, especially in the person of the prime minister, who is de facto in charge of both the executive and the legislature. (Even if the sovereign/viceroy/president is nominally in charge of the executive, and the speaker is nominally in charge of the lower house of the legislature.)
At least in the UK's version of the Westminster system, the Speaker of the House of Commons is not "nominally in charge", except in the sense of making sure that the House's various rules and procedures are complied with.
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