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Chancellor of Germany
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Chancellor of Germany

The Chancellor of Germany is the head of government of Germany. The official title in German is Bundeskanzler(-in) (literally, Federal Chancellor), often shortened to Kanzler(-in).

In German politics the Chancellor is equivalent to that of a Prime Minister in many other countries. The German term directly equivalent of Prime Minister, Ministerpr sident, is used for the heads of government of most German states (referred to in German as L nder, literally "countries") as well as foreign countries.

The current Chancellor is Angela Merkel, who was re-elected in 2009 after her first election in 2005. She is the first female Chancellor. In German she is thus known as Bundeskanzlerin. That particular word was never used officially before Merkel, but it is a grammatically regular formation of a noun denoting a female.

The modern office of Chancellor evolved from the position created for Otto von Bismarck in the North German Confederation in 1867; the Confederation evolved into a German nation-state with the 1871 Unification of Germany. The role of the Chancellor has varied greatly throughout Germany's modern history. Today, the Chancellor is widely considered to be the country's effective leader.


Historical overview

The office of Chancellor has a long history, stemming back to the Holy Roman Empire. The title was at times used in several states of German-speaking Europe. The modern office of Chancellor was established with the North German Confederation, of which Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor in 1867. After the Unification of Germany in 1871, the office became known in German as Reichskanzler (lit. Imperial Chancellor), although it continued to be referred to as Chancellor in English. With Germany's constitution of 1949, the title Bundeskanzler was revived in German.

During the various eras, the role of the Chancellor has varied. From 1871 to 1918, the Chancellor was only responsible to the Emperor. With the constitutional reform in 1918, the Parliament was granted the right to dismiss the Chancellor. According to the Weimar Constitution of 1919, the Chancellor was appointed by the President and responsible to Parliament. After the death of President Hindenburg, the Weimar Constitution was effectively set aside during the Nazi dictatorship. The 1949 constitution gave the Chancellor greater powers than during the Weimar Republic, while diminishing the role of the President. Germany is today often referred to as a "chancellor democracy", reflecting the de facto role of the Chancellor as the country's chief executive.

Since 1867, 33 individuals have served as heads of government of Germany or its predecessor, the North German Confederation, most of them with the title Chancellor. Due to his administrative tasks, the head of the clerics at the chapel of an Imperial palace during the Carolingian Empire was called Chancellor (from ). The chapel's college acted as the Emperor's chancery issuing deeds and capitularies. Since the days of Louis the German, the Archbishop of Mainz was ex officio German Archchancellor, a position he held until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, while de jure the Archbishop of Cologne was Chancellor of Italy and the Archbishop of Trier of Burgundy. These three Prince-Archbishops were also Prince-electors of the Empire electing the King of the Romans. Already in medieval times the German Chancellor had political power like Archbishop Willigis (Archchancellor 975 1011, regent for King Otto III of Germany 991 994) or Rainald von Dassel (Chancellor 1156 1162 and 1166 1167) under Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

In 1559 Emperor Ferdinand I established the agency of an Imperial chancellery (Reichshofkanzlei) at the Vienna Hofburg Palace, headed by a Vice-Chancellor under the nominal authority of the Mainz archbishop. Upon the 1620 Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II created the office of an Austrian Court Chancellor in charge of the internal and foreign affairs of the Habsburg Monarchy. From 1753 onwards, the office of an Austrian State Chancellor was held by Prince Kaunitz. The Imperial chancellery lost its importance, and from the days of Maria Theresa and Joseph II merely existed on paper. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince Metternich served as State Chancellor of the Austrian Empire (1821-1848), likewise Prince Hardenberg acted as Prussian chancellor (1810-1822).

From 1867 to 1871 the title Bundeskanzler (federal chancellor) was again used in the German language, during the time of the North German Confederation. From 1871 to 1945, the office was named Reichskanzler (Imperial Chancellor). Since 1949 the formal title of the office in the German language is once again Bundeskanzler.

In the now defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), which existed from 7 October 1949 to 3 October 1990 (when the territory of the former GDR was reunified with the Federal Republic of Germany), the position of Chancellor did not exist. The equivalent position was called either Minister President (Ministerpr sident) or Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the GDR (Vorsitzender des Ministerrats der DDR). (See Leaders of East Germany.)

Chancellor of the North German Confederation (1867 1871)

The head of the federal government of the North German Confederation, which was created on 1 July 1867, had the title Bundeskanzler. The only person to hold the office was Otto von Bismarck, the Prime Minister of Prussia.

The King of Prussia was crowned as German Emperor at the Palace of Versailles on 18 January 1871, however, the North German Confederation did not cease to exist until the 1871 Constitution of Germany went into force on 16 April. Bismarck hence remained Chancellor of the Confederation until that date. During these months, the North German Confederation was also referred to as the German Confederation, after the South German states (excluding Austria) had joined the confederation.

The Chancellor was appointed by the King of Prussia in his capacity as President of the North German Confederation. His role and powers were very similar to that of the office of Chancellor of Germany from 1871.

Chancellor of the German Empire (1871 1918)

In the 1871 German Empire, the Chancellor served both as the Emperor's first minister, and as presiding officer of the Bundesrat, the upper chamber of the German parliament. He was neither elected by nor responsible to Parliament (the Reichstag). Instead, the Chancellor was appointed by the Emperor.

The Federal Government consisted of

  • a federal council (Bundesrat), consisting of representatives of the federal states and presided over by the King of Prussia
  • a parliament, called the Reichstag
  • a rudimentary federal executive, led by the Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck as Federal Chancellor in a personal union.

Technically, the foreign ministers of the empire's states instructed their states' deputies to the Federal Council (Bundesrat) and therefore outranked the Chancellor. For this reason, Bismarck continued to serve as both prime minister and foreign minister of Prussia for virtually his entire tenure as chancellor of the empire, since he wanted to continue to exercise this power. Since Berlin controlled 17 votes in the Bundesrat, Bismarck could effectively control the proceedings by making deals with the smaller states.

The term Chancellor signalled the seemingly low priority of this institution compared to the governments of the states, because the new Chancellor of the Federation should not be a fully fledged prime minister, in contrast to the heads of the federal states. The title of Chancellor additionally symbolized a strong monarchic-bureaucratic and ultimately antiparliamentary component, as in the Prussian tradition of for instance von Hardenberg.

In both of these aspects, the executive of the Federation resp. the Empire as it was formed in 1867/71 was deliberately different from the Imperial Ministry of the revolutionary years 1848/49, which had been led by a Prime Minister, who was elected by the National Assembly.

In 1871, the concept of the federal chancellor was transferred to the executive of the newly formed German Empire, which now also contained the South German states. Here too, the terms of Chancellor and Federal Agency (as opposed to Ministry or Government) suggested an (apparent) lower priority of the federal executive as compared to the governments of the federal states. For this reason, neither the Chancellor nor the leaders of the imperial departments under his command used the title of Minister until 1918.

The constitution of Germany was amended on 29 October 1918, when the Parliament was given the right to dismiss the Chancellor. However, the change could not prevent the outbreak of the revolution a few days later.

Revolutionary period (1918 1919)

On 9 November 1918, Chancellor Max von Baden handed over his office to Friedrich Ebert. Ebert continued to serve as Head of Government during the three months between the end of the German Empire in November 1918 and the first gathering of the National Assembly in February 1919, but did not use the title of Chancellor.

During that time, Ebert also served as Chairman of the Council of the People's Delegates, until 29 December 1918 together with the Independent Social Democrat Hugo Haase.

Chancellor of the Weimar Republic (1919 1933)

The office of Chancellor was continued in the Weimar Republic. The Chancellor was appointed by the President and was responsible to the Reichstag.

Under the Weimar Republic, the Chancellor was a fairly weak figure. Much like his French counterpart, he served as little more than a chairman. Cabinet decisions were made by majority vote. In fact many of the Weimar governments depended highly on the cooperation of the President, due to the difficulty of finding a majority in Parliament.

Chancellor of the Third Reich (1933 1945)

Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, a point which historians agree marks the beginning of the Third Reich. Upon taking office Hitler immediately began accumulating power and changing the nature of the Chancellor. After only two months in office, and following the burning of the Reichstag building, the Reichstag body passed the Enabling Act which gave the Chancellor full legislative powers for a period of four years the Chancellor could introduce any law without consulting Parliament. The Chancellorship grew greater still in August 1934 when the incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg died. Hitler used the Enabling Act to merge the office of Chancellor with that of President to create a new office, F hrer; although the offices were merged, Hitler continued to be addressed as "F hrer und Reichskanzler" indicating that the Head of State and Head of Government were still separate positions albeit held by the same man. This separation was made more evident when in April 1945 Hitler gave instruction that upon his death the office of F hrer would dissolve and there would be a new President and Chancellor. On 30 April 1945, Hitler committed suicide and was briefly succeeded as Chancellor by Joseph Goebbels, as dictated in Hitler's Last Will and Testament. With Goebbels following Hitler's suicide with his own, the reins of power passed to Grand Admiral Karl D nitz as President of Germany. D nitz in turn appointed non-partisan conservative Count Schwerin von Krosigk as head of government with the title Leading Minister. D nitz and Schwerin von Krosigk negotiated the surrender to the Allies.

Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (since 1949)

The 1949 German constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), invests the Chancellor (German, Bundeskanzler) with broad powers to initiate government policy. For that reason, some observers refer to the German political system as a "chancellor democracy". Whichever major party (CDU/CSU or SPD) does not hold the chancellorship usually calls its leading candidate for the federal election "chancellor-candidate" (Kanzlerkandidat). The Federal Government (Bundesregierung) consists of the Chancellor and his or her cabinet ministers.

The Chancellor's Office in Berlin

The chancellor's authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law and in practice from his or her status as leader of the party (or coalition of parties) holding a majority of seats in the Bundestag (federal parliament). With the exception of Helmut Schmidt, the chancellor has usually also been chairman of his or her own party. This was the case with Chancellor Gerhard Schr der from 1999 until he resigned the chairmanship of the SPD in 2004.

The German Chancellor is officially addressed as "Herr Bundeskanzler" if the Chancellor is a man. The current female Chancellor Angela Merkel is officially addressed as "Frau Bundeskanzlerin", the female form of the title. Use of the mixed form "Frau Bundeskanzler" was deprecated by the government in 2004 because it is regarded as impolite.[1]

See also

  • List of Chancellors of Germany


  1. "Frau Bundeskanzler" oder ... "Frau Bundeskanzlerin"?

Further reading


  • Klein, Herbert, ed. 1993. The German Chancellors. Berlin: Edition.
  • Padgett, Stephen, ed. 1994. The Development of the German Chancellorship: Adenauer to Kohl. London: Hurst.


  • Harlen, Christine M. 2002. "The Leadership Styles of the German Chancellors: From Schmidt to Schr der." Politics and Policy 30 (2 (June)): 347 371.
  • Helms, Ludger. 2001. "The Changing Chancellorship: Resources and Constraints Revisited." German Politics 10 (2): 155 168.
  • Mayntz, Renate. 1980. "Executive Leadership in Germany: Dispersion of Power or 'Kanzler Demokratie'?" In Presidents and Prime Ministers, ed. R. Rose and E. N. Suleiman. Washington, D.C: American Enterprise Institute. pp. 139 71.
  • Smith, Gordon. 1991. "The Resources of a German Chancellor." West European Politics 14 (2): 48 61.

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