Germany

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Germany

On October 3, 1990, the states of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) shed their last ties to their Soviet created structure and joined the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The 23rd article of West Germany's 1949 constitution, the Basic Law, had been drafted specifically to allow for such an arrival from the East. But as the 1980s drew to a close, few Germans on either side of the border expected it to be used in their lifetime. Yet, in less than a year the beginning of an upsurge of popular protest came together against the communist regime in East Germany and the formal unification of Germany on West German terms.

At a simple level, the constitution may be seen as a representation of the traditional German desire for clarity and order, applied to the rights and duties of the individual. It can also be described as a way of ensuring that the events of the 1930s, particularly the rise of facism and dictatorship, will never recur.

As a result of historical roots in West Germany and past abuses by central government, Germany is a federation. The powers of the states cannot be reduced. Each of the federal states and Berlin has its own constitution, a democratically elected Parliament, a government, administrative agencies and independant courts. However, states are binding to the federal constitution, the federal constitution is binding upon the states and the federal parliament is responsible for major legislation and policy. The state parliaments main responsibility is in two major policy areas: education, and law and order. Administration of federal legislation is mainly the responsibility of the states, allowing for greater consideration of local needs and issues. This system of government ia also intended to bring government closer to the people. In many cases, state powers are delegated further to local authorities.

A further area of responsibility for the states arives from the parliamentary structure. The legislative body is the Bundestag, but the Bundesrat (anupper house representing )the states must approve most legislation.

Each state has between three and five votes in the Bundesrat, depending on the size of its population. Members of the Bundesrat are appointed by the state governments for their duration within the state government. Since state elections are held continually during the term of federal parliament, the members of the upper house may alter during the life of a federal government. The approval of the Bundesrat is required for certain types of legislation, Particularly the budget and those affecting the states. Differences are usually overcome by a joint committee from the two houses.

The lower house, or the Bundestag, consists of a minimum of 656 deputies. The Bundestag has a speaker, or president, usually elected from among the largest parliamentary group. It has three main tasks: to act as the legislative body, to elect the federal chancellor, and to control government activity. Any changes to the Basic Law requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament. Thus the opposition parties can prevent amendments to the constitution through their representation in either the Bundestag or Bundesrat. The electoral system, finalized in 1956, is designed to both provide a government representing the wishes of the people and proportional representation. Candidates are elected by a majority vote in 328 constituencies of roughly equal size. Each state is allocated a quota of MPs for each party, derived from the second, or party vote. The difference between these numbers and the numbers of directly elected representatives is then made up from party lists. A party can win more seats on the directly elected segment of the vote than the number given by the party list results, in which event the size of the lower house is enlarged. This provision was used in 1990, with the addition of six seats.

To prevent fragmentation, a party must secure either...
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