Germany | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Germany's civil liberties rating improved from 2 to 1 due to changes in the survey methodology.


Gerhard Schroeder won reelection as chancellor, just after his Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens won a parliamentary majority. As an EU member-state, Germany was obliged to implement telecommunications reforms that severely delimit personal freedoms. Human rights groups continued to be concerned about the rise in anti-Semitic behavior and the ill-treatment of minorities at the hands of the police. Germany's Constitutional Court rejected a controversial immigration law that would have allowed more foreign skilled workers into the country.

Germany was divided into Soviet, U.S., British, and French occupation zones after World War II. Four years later, the Allies helped to establish the democratic Federal Republic of Germany, while the Soviets oversaw the formation of the Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). The political division of Berlin was reinforced by the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall. After the collapse of Erich Honecker's hardline GDR regime in 1989 and the destruction of the wall in 1990, citizens voted in the GDR's first free parliamentary election, in which parties supporting rapid reunification prevailed.

In September, the SPD-Green coalition won a narrow parliamentary victory. Then, after vowing not to let Germany participate in a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, Schroeder was reelected as Germany's chancellor on October 22. Parts of the Schroeder-led 2000 tax reform, the most radical since World War II, had to be postponed to help offset the cost of the ballooning deficit and the devastating August floods that caused 15 billion euros (US$14.7 billion) worth of damage.

The European euro became Germany's national currency in January.

A sharp rise in racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic behavior in Western Europe followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. In Germany, synagogues and individual Jews were attacked in Berlin and other cities in 2002. In July, a German court jailed three youths for firebombing an asylum seeker's home in December 2001.

The European Parliament amended the 1997 European Community Directive on privacy in telecommunications in May, obliging member states to retain all telecommunications data for one to two years and to provide the relevant authorities unrestricted access to these data to assist law enforcement officials in eradicating crime. Human rights groups attacked this move as an assault on privacy and civil liberties.

Schroeder's center-left government was dealt a blow in December when Germany's Constitutional Court rejected a controversial immigration law. The legislation would have allowed a controlled number of skilled workers from outside the European Union for the first time in three decades. Conservatives argued that allowing more foreign workers into the country would hurt Germany's four million unemployed workers. The government is expected to revive the bill in 2003. Advocates of the new law argue that it is a necessary response to the declining birth rate in Germany which, economists predict, will lead to shortages of skilled people, particularly in the computer and other high-technology fields.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Germans can change their government democratically. The national legislature is a bicameral parliament. The Bundestag (lower house) has 662 members (328 directly elected from individual constituencies; 334 elected through party lists in each state so as to obtain proportional representation). Parties must win at least 5 percent of the national vote, or three constituency seats, to gain representation. The Bundesrat (upper house) consists of members nominated by the 16 state governments. The head of state is the federal president, elected for a maximum of two five-year terms by the Federal Assembly, which consists of members of the Bundestag and representatives of the state legislatures. Each state has an elected legislature and considerable autonomy. The federal government is led by the chancellor elected by the Bundestag on the nomination of the federal president. The judiciary is independent.

The German press and broadcast media are free and independent, offering pluralistic views. However, Nazi propaganda and statements endorsing Nazism are illegal, with violators facing fines or jail terms of up to three years. In December 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals outside Germany who post Nazi propaganda aimed at Internet users inside Germany could be prosecuted under German law. However, it is unlikely that the ruling can be enforced in practice.

Freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed. However, public rallies and marches require official permits, which are routinely denied to right-wing radicals. Individuals are free to form political parties and to receive federal funding if the parties are democratic in nature. In January, the federal government canceled hearings, on procedural grounds, on a petition it had filed at the Federal Constitutional Court in January 2001 to ban the fringe, far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which advocates pro-German policies, opposes immigration, and has been blamed for inciting violence against foreigners.

The basic law (constitution) guarantees religious freedom. Church and state are separate, although the state collects membership taxes from members of religious communities (public law corporations) and subsidizes affiliated institutions, such as church-run schools and hospitals. Scientologists, who claim 30,000 adherents in Germany, have been at the center of a heated debate over the group's legal status. Major political parties exclude Scientologists from membership, claiming that the group does not constitute a religion, but rather an antidemocratic, for-profit organization. Antiterror measures adopted in November 2001 lifted the constitutional protection of religious organizations-- they can now be banned if suspected of inciting violence or undermining democracy.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruled in January 2002 that Muslim butchers could apply for animal-protection-law waivers when slaughtering animals ritually. Without the waiver, animals must be stunned before slaughter. The Jewish community already has a waiver to slaughter animals by kosher procedures.

Under the basic law, descendants of a German mother or father can receive German citizenship, as can former German citizens or their descendants who were deprived of their German nationality by the National Socialist government. To harmonize Germany's citizenship and nationality law with European standards, as of January 2000, under certain conditions, children born in Germany to foreign nationals may receive citizenship, as may adults who have lawfully resided in Germany for eight years and have an adequate command of the German language.

Germany's crime prevention laws, effective December 1994, now target extremist organizations and anti-foreigner violence with new criminal laws, the toughening of existing penalties, and the expediting of criminal prosecution.

Amnesty International voiced concern over unresolved cases of alleged police brutality against minorities. Police brutality allegedly resulted in the death of Stephan Neisius in May 2002. Doviodo Adekou, a Togolese asylum seeker, lost the sight in his right eye in October 2001, and Denis Mwakapi, originally from Kenya, had his arm fractured in December 2001. Police ill-treatment was allegedly responsible for both incidents.

Transparency International ranked Germany 18th on its 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index, ninth among the 15 EU-member states.

Labor, business, and farming groups are free, highly organized, and influential. Trade union federation membership has dropped sharply in recent years, however, as a result of the collapse of industry in the east and layoffs in the west.

Under threat of class-action lawsuits, Germany agreed in 2000 to create a DM10 billion (US$4.6 billion) fund to compensate the 1.5 million Nazi-era slave laborers forced to work for German manufacturers. Industry and government will each contribute one-half the total.

Trafficking in women is a serious problem, according to the International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights. Nearly 90 percent of victims come from Eastern and Central Europe. Laws against trafficking were modified to address the problem more effectively; they currently provide penalties of up to 10 years in prison. In October 2001, parliament approved a law improving the status of prostitutes. The law removed some of the penalties linked to prostitution, as well as giving an estimated 400,000 prostitutes new rights, including entitlement to pensions and health and unemployment insurance. Since August 2001, same-sex partnerships have been legally recognized.