As a country in the middle of Europe, Germany has the highest number of neighbours on the Continent. Out of the nine states with which Germany shares a border, eight are member states of the European Union (EU). For Germany, European integration is the basis for peace, security and prosperity.
The Federal Republic of Germany is a parliamentary democracy and a federal state. Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, the country has been composed of 16 Länder (the individual states).
With a population of 83.1 million, Germany is the most populous member state of the European Union. Its head of state is Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (since 2017) and the head of government (since 2005) is Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The German capital city, Berlin, is also the country’s largest city, with 3.6 million inhabitants. Additionally, it is a separate Land in its own right.
Renowned for its high-technology and research, as well as for its excellent conditions for business, including for start-up companies, Germany presents an attractive offer – including as a place to study. As an export-orientated centre of commerce and industry, companies in Germany cultivate close international relationships and create thousands of jobs through their corporate spin-off companies – including in other countries. Small and medium-sized enterprises form the backbone of the German economy. Through multiple training activities, they contribute towards addressing skills shortages. For many young people from other EU member states, the opportunities for work and training are enticing.
The parliament, i.e. the legislative body, of the Federal Republic of Germany is the German Bundestag, which is based in Berlin. Germany is a parliamentary democracy. In general elections, its citizens vote for a politician to represent their electoral district in the Bundestag. They cast a second ballot directly for a political party. Only parties receiving at least five per cent of the total votes cast may enter the Bundestag. The Bundestag currently has 709 seats. The seats are allocated according to the number of votes cast for each political party. In the German political system, the Bundestag is the only constitutional body of the Federal Republic of Germany elected directly by its citizens.
The head of government is Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. A physicist, Merkel is the first woman to hold this post. She has been in office since 2005 and is consequently the second-longest serving Chancellor in the post-war period. The proportion of women serving in the Cabinet of Federal Chancellor Merkel is presently 44%.
Germany is a federal state or Land – in the Bundesrat, the Länder (federal states) collaborate in the legislative and administrative processes of the Federal Republic of Germany as well as in European Union affairs. Each Land is represented in the Bundesrat by members of its Land Government.
The “Parliament of the Land Governments” has 69 delegates. They represent Germany’s 16 Bundesländer: Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein und Thuringia.
The 16 Bundesländer provide for a balance of power, since the Länder can decide upon questions relating to matters at both the federal and European levels. Each Bundesland has its own constitution and is autonomous in terms of its internal organisation. The Federal Government and the Bundestag cannot take decisions on certain matters without the approval of the Bundesrat.
Founding of the State and Reunification
The Basic Law (Grundgesetz), Germany’s constitution, entered into force on 23 May 1949, with human dignity at the centre of its unamendable articles governing fundamental rights. The foundation for post-war German parliamentary democracy was thus laid.
Shortly after the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, the Federal Government reached out to its European neighbours, with a view to forging economic and diplomatic relations that would ensure peace and stability across the entire continent. In 1951, Germany was one of the founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and, in 1957, it signed the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) together with France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Out of this Community, the European Union was founded in 1992. Similarly, in 1949, the “German Democratic Republic” (GDR) was founded in the eastern part of the country which subsequently became a member of the Warsaw Pact. The GDR erected border fences, fitted with automatic anti-personnel weapons, in order to prevent its own population from escaping and, in 1961, it constructed the Berlin Wall. This became a symbol of the East-West conflict during the Cold War. It fell after the peaceful revolution of the GDR citizens on 9 November 1989.
On 3 October 1990, the GDR joined the Federal Republic of Germany. This Day of German Unity has been a national holiday ever since. This year, Germany is celebrating the 30th anniversary of German Unification.
German foreign policy is committed to fostering peace and security worldwide and advocates a multilateral approach and a rules-based international order. In this respect, Germany’s membership of the United Nations Security Council, as a non-permanent member for 2019 and 2020, plays an important role.
Germany is conscious of its historic responsibility for the crimes committed during the National Socialist period and works consistently to maintain a systematic culture of remembrance. In Germany itself, not only memorials but also other hints in everyday life serve as a reminder of the victims of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime. For example, the “Stolpersteine” (“Stumbling Stones”) are small commemorative brass plaques laid in the pavement in front of the former homes of Nazi victims. The name and date of birth, deportation and death of the victims are engraved in these. They serve to remind us of the fate of the persons who were persecuted, deported or murdered during the National Socialist period. Hence, whenever citizens walk along a street, they will be reminded that history – and the lessons to be drawn from it – are still relevant to our lives today.
Germany is discussing the Holocaust, the genocide of the Sinti and Roma, memorial sites, Holocaust education, antisemitism and antiziganism within the framework of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance IHRA. Germany holds the Presidency of the IHRA in 2020 and 2021. This also includes promoting and maintaining memorials to the victims of the Holocaust.
Culture and Europe
With diverse landscapes, from the Alps in the south to the wide sandy beaches of the Baltic and North Seas, as well as many lakes, mountains and castles, there is plenty on offer for holiday travellers.
Germany is home to 46 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and UNESCO World Nature Sites, such as Wadden Sea (Wattenmeer) in the North Sea.
In all of the Bundesländer, culture enthusiasts will find an extensive range of museums, concert halls, theatres and cultural productions of all kinds. The club scene in Berlin and other cities beckons to lovers of music and dance and conveys a special flair.
Germany also hosts various EU institutions: the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) are located in Frankfurt am Main and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is based in Cologne. Other institutions participate in EU projects as organisational centres, such as the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, or the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, where the crew members are trained for European flights into space.
During the past thirty years, the population of Germany has become more European.The number of people from other countries who have relocated to Germany in order to pursue their professional careers has doubled during this period. The majority of the immigrants were from the EU.
The German economy is primarily export-driven (the most important export goods are cars, machinery and chemicals). In 2019, Germany’s GDP was €3.4 trillion and, from 2004 to 2020, Germany had an average unemployment rate of 5%. The Bundesländer have differing economic strengths. By means of the financial equalisation system, the Länder with stronger economies contribute to equalising the living conditions in all Länder.
The COVID-19 pandemic
Like most countries in the European Union, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has affected the German people and their economy. The member states of the European Union are doing everything in their power to jointly cushion the worst blow to their national economies since the Second World War.
Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union began on 1 July 2020. Fighting the Coronavirus pandemic and its consequences will be a central theme. The programme for the six-month Presidency contains measures to fight the impact of the pandemic in all areas of the economy, the environment, and health, as well as in the field of international cooperation.