How can I remove a Prime Minister?

The Office

Jörn Fischer

To person

holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Cologne. His main research interests are ministers and volunteer services. [email protected]

The terms of office of federal ministers begin and end. Which paths do they take to get to their office, which recruitment patterns are recognizable? And under what circumstances do ministers leave office again? Are resignations the rule or the exception? [1]

"The Federal Ministers are appointed and dismissed by the Federal President on the proposal of the Federal Chancellor." This is what the Basic Law provides in Article 64 (1). This short sentence already exhaustively describes the formal procedure that stands at the end of a selection or deselection process. However, the mechanisms preceding an appointment or dismissal are not covered by this standard. The Federal Ministers Act regulates the end of the term of office of a minister in Article 9, Paragraph 2 in only a little more detail than the constitution: "The office of the individual Federal Ministers also ends with their dismissal. The Federal Ministers can be dismissed at any time and demand their dismissal at any time." Unlike some state constitutions, there is no provision for a vote of no confidence in individual members of the government. The Federal President, to whom the formal appointment and dismissal of Federal Ministers is reserved "on the proposal of the Federal Chancellor", is in principle obliged to appoint the persons proposed by the Federal Chancellor.

The question of the existence of a right to refuse preoccupied constitutional lawyers, political scientists and state practice in the 1950s and 1960s. In practice, however, the Federal President's public attempt to reject a candidate for ministerial for political or personal reasons is highly unlikely today. The same applies to the case of dismissal: The Federal President must comply with the Federal Chancellor's proposal for dismissal and cannot leave a minister in office against the will of the head of government.

The bottom line is that the formal rules for selection and deselection are extremely sparse. This leaves scope for informal rules both in the process of forming a cabinet and in the event of termination of office. The high degree of autonomy that the Chancellor is granted, at least de jure, is de facto limited by numerous hurdles. This will be shown in the following.

The Chancellor has limited room for maneuver

Which criteria do politicians have to meet to be selected as Federal Minister? Normative standards of judgment for politicians can be created on the basis of functional requirements or derived theoretically, but a federal government composed of ideal politicians according to normative criteria is unthinkable in practice. In addition to the lack of availability of ideal politicians, complex strategic considerations, such as how to deal with potential rivals or the need to represent certain groups, prevent the head of government from composing a cabinet of the perfect. And even if the Chancellor wanted to fill the government with what she saw as perfect ministers, informal restrictions prevent her from allocating staff according to her own taste. So who or what decides whether or not to belong to a cabinet in Germany?

According to the political scientist Thomas Saalfeld, the parties in Germany are "the most important screening mechanisms for parliamentary and ministerial candidates". [2] Compared to other European democracies, they control access to government offices particularly tightly. This ex-ante control mechanism, which subjects ministerial candidates to extensive casting, is intended to prevent the selection of unsuitable candidates.

In addition to the party state, the structural principle of coalition democracy restricts the Chancellor's formal freedom of choice. The most important unwritten rule in the selection of ministerial staff is as follows: Each ruling party has extensive autonomy in filling the ministries assigned to it. With this, the Chancellor loses the decision-making authority over the composition of the group of people who should implement government policy. Only in severe cases of extreme political or personal incompatibility is the factual assignment of staff to the coalition partner's departments reduced by a right of refusal.

But even within her own party, the head of government can by no means freely decide on the distribution of ministerial posts. Although personnel decisions are generally made without formal participation by the parliamentary group and party, their various demands and interests must be taken into account. It is important to ensure the representation of the multitude of currents and thus also the willingness to follow in the government. The Chancellor sees herself confronted with the demands of these currents, whose demands she can ignore, the stronger their power and prestige in the parliamentary group and party. [3]

In connection with the technical qualifications of federal ministers, Helmut Schmidt is ascribed the following saying: "With a little above-average intelligence you can do it." [4] This underlines the low importance of technical expertise for the management of a ministry. Nowadays, the idea of ​​the Federal Minister as a generalist prevails. In the meantime, even the agriculture department, which was in the hands of agricultural experts for over 50 years, is no longer an expert domain. The last Minister of Agriculture with a corresponding background was SPD politician Karl-Heinz Funke (1998 to 2001). Only in the Ministry of Justice still seems to be essential - although there is never a shortage of lawyers in the cabinet.

More recent research underlines that the professionalism for a certain department is irrelevant for the question of whether a "ministrabler" will actually later be appointed to the ministry for which he was once considered a candidate in the cabinet formation process. Exception: He was previously federal minister in this department. [5]

Bundestag and state governments as recruitment pools

At the national level, the Bundestag is the entry point for ambitious young politicians. According to the socialization theory, parliaments function as a socialization and learning space for politicians with ambitions for ministerial office. [6] You acquire political skills and can develop a profile in a specific political field. In doing so, they also become visible to the top politicians in their party or faction, who act as selectors in the cabinet-building process. The Bundestag is thus an arena in which ministers to be in spe first Can prove their political talent and in the Secondly their political positions come to light. The screening, the observation in the Bundestag, acts as a "quality control" and prevents the appointment of unsuitable ministers who could only be recalled from the cabinet at high costs.

Between 1949 and February 2017, 212 people were appointed to the federal cabinet as ministers. 152 of them (72 percent) were members of the Bundestag before their first appointment. Unless they belonged to the rare species of political career changers, their political socialization took place on other levels - mostly on the state level. Regarding the Bundestag: The ministerial ordinations are mostly reserved for those MPs who have previously performed functions that have been highlighted in their parliamentary groups, namely in the parliamentary group executive committee. The selection and socialization function of the parliamentary groups became particularly clear in the 1960s and 1980s with the change from opposition to government roles. [7] However, contrary to what many assumed when it was introduced in 1967, the role of Parliamentary State Secretary is not an important step on the career ladder. While a third of the parliamentary state secretaries appointed until 1977 were later appointed federal ministers, [8] the trend then abruptly broke off. [9]

In addition to the Bundestag, the state governments are another recruiting pool. After all, 45 federal ministers (21 percent) were previously members of a state government, either as prime minister (or mayor in the city-states) or as minister (senator). In view of the network character of German federalism, this is no surprise, after all, the Prime Ministers of the federal states are constantly involved in the political processes that are ongoing at the federal level. Many of them acquire a profile throughout Germany and, as head of a state government, exert considerable influence on federal politics, especially through the Bundesrat.

A clear trend in recruiting practice has hardly been discernible over the decades. In the meantime, the importance of the state governments as recruiting centers in the Schröder I and II and Merkel I cabinets had increased, while that of the parliamentary groups had decreased. This trend has not been confirmed. If a pattern is recognizable, former members of state governments are mainly used in the first cabinets of a chancellorship.

The European level can be neglected. Only three heads of department have been members of the European Parliament before their ministerial office since 1979, the year direct elections were introduced.

For most ministers, the path to government office begins with a seat in the Bundestag, but membership in a state government can also serve as a stepping stone. These two career paths are by no means mutually exclusive: 14 people (seven percent) had even belonged to both the Bundestag and a state government before the ministerial office at the federal level. Conversely, 29 people (14 percent) had neither a past in the Bundestag nor in a state government.