The Chancellor of Germany
The federal government consists of the chancellor and his or her cabinet ministers. As explained above, the Basic Law invests the chancellor with central executive authority. For that reason, some observers refer to the German political system as a “chancellor democracy.” The chancellor’s authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law and from his or her status as leader of the party or coalition of parties holding a majority of seats in the Bundestag. Every four years, after national elections and the seating of the newly elected Bundestag members, the federal president nominates a chancellor candidate to that parliamentary body; the chancellor is elected by majority vote in the Bundestag.
The Basic Law limits parliament’s control over the chancellor and the cabinet. Unlike most parliamentary legislatures, the Bundestag cannot remove the chancellor simply with a vote of no-confidence. In the Weimar Republic, this procedure was abused by parties of both political extremes in order to oppose chancellors and undermine the democratic process. As a consequence, the Basic Law allows only for a “constructive vote of no-confidence.” That is, the Bundestag can remove a chancellor only when it simultaneously agrees on a successor. This legislative mechanism ensures both an orderly transfer of power and an initial parliamentary majority in support of the new chancellor. The constructive no-confidence vote makes it harder to remove a chancellor because opponents of the chancellor not only must disagree with his or her governing but also must agree on a replacement.
As of 1995, the Bundestag had tried to pass a constructive no-confidence vote twice, but had succeeded only once. In 1972 the opposition parties tried to replace Chancellor Willy Brandt of the SPD with the CDU party leader because of profound disagreements over the government’s policies toward Eastern Europe. The motion fell one vote shy of the necessary majority. In late 1982, the CDU convinced the FDP to leave its coalition with the SPD over differences on economic policy and to form a new government with the CDU and the CSU. The constructive no-confidence vote resulted in the replacement of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt with Helmut Kohl, the CDU party leader. Observers agree that the constructive no-confidence vote has increased political stability in Germany.
The chancellor also may make use of a second type of no-confidence vote to garner legislative support in the Bundestag. The chancellor can append a simple no-confidence provision to any government legislative proposal. If the Bundestag rejects the proposal, the chancellor may request that the president dissolve parliament and call new elections. Although not commonly used, this procedure enables the chancellor to gauge support in the Bundestag for the government and to increase pressure on the Bundestag to vote in favor of legislation that the government considers as critical. Furthermore, governments have employed this simple no-confidence motion as a means of bringing about early Bundestag elections. For example, after Kohl became chancellor through the constructive no-confidence vote in August 1982, his government purposely set out to lose a simple no-confidence provision in order to bring about new elections and give voters a chance to validate the new government through a democratic election.
Article 65 of the Basic Law sets forth three principles that define how the executive branch functions. First, the “chancellor principle” makes the chancellor responsible for all government policies. Any formal policy guidelines issued by the chancellor are legally binding directives that cabinet ministers must implement. Cabinet ministers are expected to introduce specific policies at the ministerial level that reflect the chancellor’s broader guidelines. Second, the “principle of ministerial autonomy” entrusts each minister with the freedom to supervise departmental operations and prepare legislative proposals without cabinet interference so long as the minister’s policies are consistent with the chancellor’s larger guidelines. Third, the “cabinet principle” calls for disagreements between federal ministers over jurisdictional or budgetary matters to be settled by the cabinet.
The chancellor determines the composition of the cabinet. The federal president formally appoints and dismisses cabinet ministers, at the recommendation of the chancellor; no Bundestag approval is needed. According to the Basic Law, the chancellor may set the number of cabinet ministers and dictate their specific duties. Chancellor Ludwig Erhard had the largest cabinet, with twenty-two ministers, in the mid-1960s. Kohl presided over seventeen ministers at the start of his fourth term in 1994.
The power of the smaller coalition partners, the FDP and the CSU, was evident from the distribution of cabinet posts in Kohl’s government in 1995. The FDP held three ministries–the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry for Economics. CSU members led four ministries–the Ministry of Finance, Ministry for Health, Ministry for Post and Telecommunications, and Ministry for Economic Cooperation.
The staff of a cabinet minister is managed by at least two state secretaries, both of whom are career civil servants responsible for the ministry’s administration, and a parliamentary state secretary, who is generally a member of the Bundestag and represents the ministry there and in other political forums. Typically, state secretaries remain in the ministry beyond the tenure of any one government, in contrast to the parliamentary state secretary, who is a political appointee and is viewed as a junior member of the government whose term ends with the minister’s. Under these top officials, the ministries are organized functionally in accordance with each one’s specific responsibilities. Career civil servants constitute virtually the entire staff of the ministries.
The British Prime Minister
The power of the British Prime Minister can be institutional, political, and personal, which means depending on his or her personality. The institutional powers derive from his or her duties; so the prime minister:
Is the Head of Government
Is the Chairman of the cabinet
Chooses Cabinet ministers
Nominates other government’s members (ministers that don’t belong to the Cabinet)
Can reshuffle ministers
Has the power of dismissal for both Cabinet and government ministers
Is the one responsible for his nation in its domestic and international affairs
Has patronage to elect people in several public, judicial, and ecclesiastic offices
Is the head of the Civil Service
Can dismiss the parliament and call for political elections.
For how it concern political powers, a Prime Minister is chosen by his or her party and so he or she is also the leader of the majority party within the Parliament. This means that no one can become Prime Minister without a given party support and without a relatively long parliamentary career. Therefore, the strength of the Prime Minister depends on how high it is his control over his party. The strongest he is as the party leader, the more authoritative he is being the Prime minister and vice versa.
In reality, prime ministers do not exercise power in the same way: some of them may be decisive and innovators while others may prefer a more conciliating approach. The flexibility of the British parliamentary system allows strong premierships to merge and govern.
According to Almond, “a Prime Minister is chosen by his or her party for an indefinite term and is thus vulnerable to losing office if its confidence wanes” (168). The British prime minister can be forced to resign because of health or political reasons, and just in the second after war this happened seven times: in 1955 Winston Churchill resigned for Anthony Eden; in 1957 Anthony Eden resigned for Macmillan; in 1963 Alec Douglas-Home replaced Macmillan; in 1976 Callaghan replaced Wilson; in 1990 Major took the place of Margaret Thatcher; in 2007 Tony Blair resigned for Gordon Brown whose place was took in 2010 by David Cameron.
Therefore, the Prime Minister isn’t a priori guaranteed to be stable while in charge. His stability depends on his capacity to maintain control over the parliamentary majority and over the Cabinet, but it’s just a political capability, not a position acquired by his office or by an electoral legitimacy (like for example in Italy). In fact, the Prime Minister is not chosen by the electorate but by his or her party. Conservative and Labor party have different rules to revoke “their” Prime Minister: the conservative party needs the 15% of signatures of the parliamentary group to propose a no-confident vote while the labor needs the 20% plus other rigid protections.