Structure and tasks

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The Chancellor chaired the meeting of the new Cabinet

Members of the Federal Government at the Cabinet Table.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler

1. Government mandate issued by the people

Democracy means rule of the people by the people. The people exercise government power in elections and have the last word in monitoring the activities of key government institutions. These are the five "constitutional bodies", i.e. the Bundestag and Bundesrat with responsibility for legislation (constituting the legislative branch of government), the Federal Constitutional Court with responsibility for supreme court decisions (constituting the judicial branch of government), and finally the Federal President and the Federal Cabinet with responsibility for executive tasks (constituting the executive branch of government). The Cabinet is responsible for the conduct of government business.

2. Cabinet

It is made up of the Chancellor and the Federal Ministers.

3. Role of the Chancellor

The Chancellor has a prominent position in the government. He or she is, as it were, the "captain" of the ship of state. The Chancellor determines who will be in the government, since he or she alone has the right to form the Cabinet. The Chancellor chooses his ministers and makes a proposal that is binding for the Federal President with regard to their appointment (or dismissal). He or she determines the number of Ministers and defines their terms of reference. The Chancellor determines the general guidelines of government policy ("principle of Chancellor policy guidelines").

4. Role of the Ministers

Although the Chancellor has the right to issue orders to his ministers, the constitution emphasises the right of Ministers to conduct their affairs autonomously and on their own responsibility within the limits set by the Chancellor's guidelines ("principle of ministerial autonomy"). Many Ministers have been able to create a strong position for themselves on the basis of professional competence, skilful handling of public relations, and strong parliamentary or extra-parliamentary backing.

5. Interplay of government powers: the Chancellor and the Cabinet

The fifty-year history of the Federal Republic has shown that despite the Chancellor's strong position the ability of the government to act cannot be guaranteed by him or her alone. Even though the Chancellery makes it possible to impose central management and coordination, a non-hierarchical relationship between the Chancellor and her or his Ministers plays an important role in government practice. In this context the Cabinet deals with important interministerial issues such as the federal budget or tax reform and takes joint decisions on them ("principle of joint Cabinet decision-making"). In a government coalition the Chancellor is also bound by the terms of the coalition agreement and has to adhere to these terms to avoid straining the coalition.

6. Three important principles of government

The "principle of Chancellor policy guidelines" means that the Chancellor lays down general policy guidelines and bears responsibility for them. Stated more precisely, she or he conducts the business of government. The basis for this is provided by the Federal Government Rules of Procedure as adopted by the Federal Cabinet and approved by the Federal President.

7. "Principle of Chancellor policy guidelines"

The Basic Law distinguishes three important principles of government. These are the "principle of Chancellor policy guidelines", the "principle of joint Cabinet decision-making", and the "principle of ministerial autonomy". They regulate interaction and division of labour in the government.

8. "Principle of joint Cabinet decision-making"

The "principle of joint Cabinet decision-making" means that the Chancellor and the Ministers decide jointly on matters of general political importance. When there are differences of opinion between Ministers the Chancellor mediates (as a "primus inter pares"). Cabinet decisions are based on majority rule.

9. "Principle of ministerial autonomy"

The "principle of ministerial autonomy" means that each Minister conducts the affairs of his or her ministry independently and on his own responsibility. This means that the Chancellor cannot automatically intervene in his or her Ministers' areas of responsibility. At the same time Ministers must see to it that the decisions they take remain within the limits.