Government continues as acting government

Provisions of German Basic Law or constitution Government continues as acting government

On Tuesday Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier presented the Chancellor and the Cabinet ministers of the outgoing coalition with their certificates of discharge. The Cabinet will nevertheless continue as acting government until a new government is formed. Earlier in the day the 19th German Bundestag met for its constituent session.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier discharges the outgoing Cabinet ministers.

Certificates of discharge are issued at Schloss Bellevue: the Cabinet is now the acting government until a new coalition is formed.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Zahn

The constituent session of the newly elected Bundestag on Tuesday marked the end of the term of office of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Cabinet ministers. The Cabinet will nevertheless continue as acting government until a new government is formed. The Federal President formally requested that the Chancellor continue as acting Chancellor.

On Tuesday, 30 days after the parliamentary elections, the German Bundestag sat for the first time, as laid out in Article 39 of the German Basic Law or constitution. Article 69 of the Basic Law stipulates that the term of office of the Chancellor and Cabinet ministers ends with the constituent session of the newly elected Bundestag.

The first job of the new Bundestag was to elect the Bundestag President and his Vice-Presidents. A large majority voted for former Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble, who will now take up the post of Bundestag President. On Tuesday the Bundestag elected the following Vice-Presidents: Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU), Thomas Oppermann (SPD), Wolfgang Kubicki (FDP), Petra Pau (Die Linke), Claudia Roth (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen).

Overview of the plenary chamber of the German Bundestag

The 709 members of the 19th German Bundestag represent six political parties.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Election of the Chancellor and formation of a government

The new Bundestag is also responsible for electing the Chancellor. Under the provisions of Article 63 of the Basic Law, the Bundestag elects the Chancellor on the basis of a proposal of the Federal President and without debate. More than half of the members of the German Bundestag must vote for the proposed person – this is termed the "Chancellor majority".

The first session of the new Bundestag - Where do we go from here?

24.10.2017 - The Basic Law (constitution) stipulates:

The new Bundestag shall meet 30 days after the election (Article 39)
Until a new government is formed, the outgoing government shall be requested by the Federal Present to remain in office as acting government (Article 69)
The acting government has the same rights and authority as before.

To achieve this majority, several parties can join forces and form a coalition. Frequently the negotiations needed to forge a coalition are not completed before the constituent session of the Bundestag. This is the case for the 19th legislative period, meaning that the Chancellor is no longer in office although no successor has yet been determined.

For this case, Article 69 of the Basic Law stipulates that the outgoing Chancellor will be asked by the Federal President to continue in office as acting Chancellor until a successor can be appointed. This was the request that the Federal President made of the Chancellor on Tuesday.

Acting government

The Cabinet ministers too are obliged to remain as acting ministers if so requested by the Chancellor or the Federal President. In this way the former government with its ministers can remain in place from now until the election of the new Chancellor.

An acting government has the same authority as a "regular" government in office. It has, however, been standard practice to date that during this period no far-reaching decisions are made that would bind the following government. This covers far-reaching financial and personnel-related decisions, but also the adoption of legislation.

In any case the German government remains fully able to act until a new government is formed.

Principle of discontinuity
The principle of discontinuity covers all draft legislation in the Bundestag pipeline at the time of a parliamentary election. This means that all draft legislation introduced into the outgoing Bundestag is deemed to be finished business at the end of that legislative period. The principle of discontinuity does not apply to the second chamber of the German parliament, the Bundesrat. This chamber can make decisions needed to get legislation onto the statute books even after the Bundestag’s legislative period has ended.