Germany is a representative democracy with a vibrant political culture and civil society. Political rights and civil liberties are largely assured in law and practice. The political system is influenced by the country’s totalitarian past, with constitutional safeguards designed to prevent authoritarian rule. Although Germany has generally been stable since the mid-20th century, political tensions have grown in recent years following an influx of asylum seekers into the country, and the growing popularity of right-wing populist movements.
- Free and fair federal elections held in September resulted in the formation of a new coalition government of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Green Party, and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). Following the elections, the SPD’s Olaf Scholz won the chancellorship, replacing former chancellor Angela Merkel; Merkel, of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had served four consecutive terms as chancellor and chose not to contest the September elections.
- In May 2020, the Federal Constitutional Court (BVerfG) ruled that provisions of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) Act were unconstitutional, in part because they impinged on the privacy of journalistic sources. A revised bill was passed in March, though Reporters Without Borders (RSF) criticized the new bill, saying that it still offered insufficient protections for journalists.
- Beginning in March, a number of CDU and Christian Social Union (CSU) officials resigned their positions after being implicated in various high-profile corruption cases. Investigations into corruption allegations against government officials, including suspected cases of bribery in arranging the sale of COVID-19-related face masks to the state, continued throughout the year.
- Large demonstrations protesting Germany’s COVID-19 restrictions were held throughout the year. Many of these protests turned violent: Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) anti-lockdown protesters physically assaulted several journalists and violently clashed with police numerous times.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Germany’s head of state is a largely ceremonial president, chosen by the Federal Convention, a body formed jointly by the Bundestag (Federal Parliament) and state representatives. The president can serve up to two five-year terms. Former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD was elected president in February 2017.
The federal chancellor—the head of government—is elected by the Bundestag and serves for the duration of a legislative session, unless the Bundestag votes to elect a replacement in a “constructive vote of no confidence.” Incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel, who had served four consecutive terms in the role, did not contest the September 2021 Bundestag elections. In December, the Bundestag elected former finance minister Olaf Scholz to the chancellorship. Scholz, of the center-left SPD, leads a coalition government composed of three parties: the SPD, the Green Party, and the liberal FDP.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The parliament includes a lower house (Bundestag), and an upper house, the 69-seat Federal Council (Bundesrat), which represents the country’s 16 federal states. The Bundestag is elected at least every four years through a mixture of proportional representation and single-member districts, which can lead the number of seats to surpass the minimum of 598. The number of lower-house representatives increased from 709 to 736 following the September 2021 Bundestag elections. The September elections were competitive, and deemed free and fair by local and international election monitors.
The SPD won 206 seats, gaining a narrow majority over the center-right CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU. The CDU-CSU won 196 seats—a nearly 9 percent decline from the 2017 elections, and the party’s worst result since 1949. The Greens won a record 118 seats, and the FDP won 92; following the elections, both parties entered a coalition government with the SPD. The right-wing populist AfD took 83 seats, and the far-left party the Left, widely viewed as a successor to the East German communists, took 39. One representative from the Danish minority party South Schleswig Voters’ Committee (SSW), also entered the Bundestag.
In Germany’s federal system, state governments have authority over matters such as education, policing, taxation, and spending. State governments appoint Bundesrat members, and in this manner can influence national policies.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Germany’s electoral laws and framework are fair and impartial. German voters cast two ballots—one for a candidate in their constituency and another for a party, with the latter vote determining the seat share a party receives in the Bundestag. If a party wins more seats in the first vote than are permitted by results of the second, it gets to keep these “overhang seats”—yet to avoid distorting the results of the second vote, all other parties receive “balance seats.” With 736 lower-house members, Germany has the world’s second-largest national parliament, after China.
In order to curtail the increasing size of the Bundestag, its members voted to adopt a two-step electoral reform plan in October 2020. The first step took effect ahead of the 2021 elections, and includes a requirement that one party must gain more than three overhang seats in order for balance seats to be allocated to the other parties. The second step will reduce the number of constituencies, lowering the number of candidates able to win overhang seats in future elections.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
While CDU-CSU and SPD have historically dominated German politics, other parties have increased their support in recent years. Parties do not face undue restrictions on registration or operation. Under electoral laws that, for historical reasons, are intended to restrict the far-left and far-right, a party must receive either 5 percent of the vote or win at least three constituency seats directly to gain representation in the parliament. The constitution makes it possible to ban political parties, although a party must be judged to pose a threat to democracy for a ban to be legal, and no party has been successfully banned since 1956.
Support for the AfD has risen in recent years, as the party has moved further to the radical right. The AfD held seats in the Bundestag and all state parliaments in 2021. While its popularity has shaken the German political system, most parties oppose the AfD and eschew coalitions that include it.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties in Germany have a realistic opportunity to increase their support and gain power through elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
The German government is democratically accountable to the voters, who are free to throw their support behind their preferred candidates and parties without undue influence.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution gives all citizens age 18 or older the right to vote, to stand for election, and to hold public office. However, some groups are politically underrepresented. Women hold only 34.92 percent of Bundestag seats. Some 11.3 percent of Bundestag members are from immigrant backgrounds, having at least one parent born without German citizenship. In February 2021, Green Party member Tareq Alaows became the first refugee to run for the Bundestag; he withdrew his candidacy nearly two months later, citing concerns for the safety of his family after receiving numerous death threats.
Naturalization rates are low, leading to large numbers of long-term residents who cannot vote in federal elections. About 8.7 million foreign-born permanent residents were unable to vote in the 2021 federal elections, due in part to restrictive citizenship and voting laws.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Democratically elected representatives decide and implement policy without undue interference.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||4.004 4.004|
While Germany generally maintains strong and effective corruption safeguards, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) regularly criticizes Germany for its opaque party-financing regime and for a lack of lobbying regulations. In an effort to increase transparency, the SPD and CDU-CSU coalition government introduced a lobby registry in March 2021, which will require individuals representing interest groups to register before contacting officials in the federal government.
The June 2020 collapse of payment processing firm Wirecard brought scrutiny on the German financial regulatory system. Wirecard filed for bankruptcy after its accounting firm refused to sign off on financial statements over evidence of fraud. Its chief executive was arrested over fraud and embezzlement charges, and remained in pretrial custody throughout 2021.
A number of CDU-CSU officials resigned their positions in early 2021 after being implicated in bribery and corruption cases. Several who stepped down were under investigation for allegedly receiving kickbacks for arranging the sale of face masks to the state after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Others resigned following allegations that they had accepted bribes to make political decisions that benefited the government of Azerbaijan.
Germany is obligated to enhance legal protections for whistleblowers under an EU directive issued in 2019. In December 2020, justice minister Christine Lambrecht presented a draft whistleblower protection law; the bill, which exceeded the EU requirements in its scope, faced significant resistance from members of the CDU-CSU, who claimed it posed “a threat to businesses.” The bill failed to pass in the Bundestag in April 2021.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
The government is held accountable for its performance through open parliamentary debates. In 2018, the government introduced question time, in which the chancellor answers questions from the parliament three times per year. However, transparency is limited by an overburdened bureaucracy and inconsistent state-level standards.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, and the media are largely free and independent. Hate speech, such as racist agitation or antisemitism, is punishable by law. It is illegal to advocate for Nazism, deny the Holocaust, or glorify the ideology of Hitler.
Journalists sometimes face harassment and abuse, especially via social media, as well as physical attacks when reporting on right-wing demonstrations. Such attacks were common in 2021, especially against journalists reporting on Querdenken demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions.
The privacy of communications between journalists and their sources has been affected by surveillance provisions in the BND Act, ruled unconstitutional in 2020. A revised bill was passed by the Bundestag and Bundesrat in March 2021. However, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says the bill still offers insufficient protections for journalists, and announced they would again appeal to the BVerfG.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of belief is legally protected. However, eight states have passed laws prohibiting schoolteachers from wearing headscarves, while Berlin and the state of Hesse have adopted legislation banning headscarves for civil servants.
Antisemitism in Germany has been on the rise in recent years. The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) recorded nearly 2,000 criminal offenses against Jewish individuals and organizations during 2021, warning that the number of unreported cases was many times higher. In September, a 16-year-old was arrested for allegedly planning to attack a synagogue in Hagen; he remained in custody at year’s end. Querdenken protesters regularly invoked antisemitic conspiracy theories throughout 2020 and 2021.
Islamophobia also remains a concern: German police recorded 662 politically motivated attacks against Muslim individuals and institutions during 2021.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected, though legal prohibitions on extremist speech are enforceable in educational settings.
In late 2020, university employees—disadvantaged by a newly adopted 12-year time limit on fixed-term contracts—launched a grassroots initiative seeking a solution to precarious working conditions in academia. In 2021, the topic was taken up for discussion in the Bundestag, and the Greens, the SPD, and the Left all advocated for increased funding to extend permanent positions in academia.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Private discussion and internet access are generally unrestricted, but recent developments have prompted concern about government surveillance. In June 2021, the government passed new legislation allowing the federal police and intelligence services to use spyware to surveil encrypted online messaging services like WhatsApp when conducting criminal investigations. Critics have called the legislation unconstitutional, and several German media rights organizations have filed lawsuits asking the courts to prevent the intelligence services from secretly surveilling the private communications of individuals who are not suspected of criminal activity.
Watchdogs continue to express concern about a controversial 2015 data-retention law that requires telecommunication companies to store users’ telephone and internet data for 10 weeks. Critics view the law as a threat to general privacy and to whistleblowers, who could be punished under a section detailing illegal data handling. The law was later suspended and found to be incompatible with EU law by several German courts; the advocate general of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a legal opinion confirming those findings in November 2021.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in the constitution and is generally respected in practice, except in the case of outlawed groups, such as those advocating Nazism or opposing democratic order. Assembly rights were restricted under COVID-19 measures, but an April 2020 BVerfG ruling upheld rights for protesters adhering to social-distancing requirements.
Several large demonstrations against COVID-19 measures were held in 2020 and 2021, some of which turned violent. Far-right Querdenken protesters assaulted several journalists and repeatedly clashed with police throughout 2021.
In May 2021, Amnesty International and other human rights groups released a joint report finding that assembly rights had been unfairly curtailed during the pandemic by restrictions on demonstrations.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Germany has a vibrant sphere of NGOs, which operate freely. In December 2020, the parliament passed a revised tax law that explicitly allowed more NGOs operating in areas including climate change and LGBT+ issues to claim tax-exempt status.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Trade unions, farmers’ groups, and business confederations are generally free to organize, and play an important role in shaping Germany’s economic model.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is independent, and generally enforces the rights provided by Germany’s laws and constitution.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
The rule of law prevails in Germany. Civil and criminal matters are treated according to legal provisions and with due process. However, under “preventive detention” practices, those convicted of certain violent crimes can be detained after serving their full sentence if they are deemed to pose a danger to the public.
In 2019, the ECJ ruled that German prosecutors were not allowed to issue European arrest warrants because of their dependence on state-level justice ministers. In January 2021, the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV) proposed a draft law that would strengthen the independence of Germany’s public prosecutors.
In recent years, several state governments adopted laws that increased the surveillance powers of law enforcement. These laws have been criticized for enabling police to take preemptive action if they believe there is an “impending danger,” a vaguely defined term could allow for abuses according to critics.
The professionalism of law-enforcement officers has come into question following the 2018 discovery of a neo-Nazi network within the Frankfurt police. Since then, police in several cities and states have been accused of espousing extremist and discriminatory sentiments. An investigation into the issue was launched by the federal Ministry of the Interior in October 2020, and is expected to last three years.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
Politically motivated crimes against public officials and politicians have increased in recent years. The political establishment was notably shaken by the 2019 murder of Hesse politician Walter Lübcke at the hands of a far-right extremist. According to a June 2021 report, the BKA registered 3,365 politically motivated violent crimes in 2020, an increase from 2,832 in 2019.
Attacks on refugees and refugee housing continued to decline from a peak of 3,500 in 2016. In 2019, nearly 1,750 such attacks were reported. In the first half of 2021, 461 assaults were recorded, a significant decrease from the 879 attacks reported during the same period in 2020.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution guarantees equality and prohibits discrimination on the basis of origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation. However, a number of obstacles stand in the way of equal treatment of all segments of the population. Race-based discrimination is commonplace, including continued discrimination against Roma and Sinti people. Women, meanwhile, face a gender-based pay gap, while men are likelier to hold full-time employment. Women earned on average 18 percent less per hour than men in 2020. The differences were significantly higher in West Germany than in East Germany.
In 2018, restrictive new asylum and migration policies were passed, which include building camps along Germany’s international borders to hold and deport asylum seekers who had previously applied for asylum in another EU countries. The implementation of these policies thus far has been slow. Due to the dramatic deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan, Germany indefinitely suspended deportations to the country in August 2021.
New legal guidelines governing blood donation were enacted in September, lifting some of the regulations that had previously prevented gay and bisexual men from donating blood. However, LGBT+ activists say that the new eligibility requirements still contain discriminatory restrictions.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of movement is legally protected and generally respected, although the refugee crisis and security concerns related to activity by the Islamic State (IS) militant group have led to some restrictions on travel. In 2015, the government introduced legislation allowing the confiscation of identity documents from German citizens suspected of terrorism to prevent them from traveling abroad, particularly to Iraq and Syria.
COVID-19-related restrictions on movement, including the imposition of lockdowns and curfews, were periodically introduced in several states throughout 2020 and 2021 in response to coronavirus outbreaks and rising case numbers.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
The rights to own property and engage in commercial activity are respected.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
The government generally does not restrict social freedoms. Women’s rights are protected under antidiscrimination laws. However, a considerable gender wage gap persists, with women earning approximately 18 percent less per hour in gross wages than men according to 2020 statistics. A law requiring large German companies to reserve at least 30 percent of nonexecutive-board seats for women took effect in 2016, but this law affects a limited number of companies. A similar law went into effect in August 2021, requiring the executive boards of stock market–listed companies to include at least one woman; additionally, if the federal government holds majority ownership of a company, 30 percent of that company’s board seats must be reserved for women.
Adoption and tax legislation passed in 2014 gave equal rights to same-sex couples in these areas. The government legalized same-sex marriage in 2017.
In December 2021, the justice minister announced he would introduce legislation to fully revoke a Nazi-era law banning doctors from providing information on abortion services.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
According to both BKA reports and the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, migrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia are persistently targeted for sex trafficking and forced labor, and ethnic Roma are notably vulnerable to sex trafficking and to other forms of sex work. Germany has seen an increase in prosecutions and convictions of suspected traffickers in recent years.
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Global Freedom Score94 100 free
Internet Freedom Score77 100 free