Germany | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2010

2010 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Parliamentary elections in September 2009 resulted in the formation of a majority coalition consisting of the two major center-right parties, the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). The CDU’s Angela Merkel was reelected as chancellor. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), part of the previous grand coalition with the CDU/CSU, experienced the greatest decline in voter support of any party in German federal elections in 60 years.

Modern Germany emerged in 1871, when the patchwork of German states united under Prussian leadership following the Franco-Prussian war. After Germany’s defeat in World War I, the German Empire was replaced in 1919 by the Weimar Republic, which gave way in 1933 to Nazism and led to World War II. Following its defeat in World War II, Germany was divided into two states—the capitalist and democratic Federal Republic in the west and the communist German Democratic Republic in the east—during the ensuing Cold War. The Berlin Wall, which had kept East Berliners from fleeing west, was opened in 1989, and East Germany was absorbed into the Federal Republic the following year. Despite nearly two decades of massive subsidies, the federal states of former East Germany remain considerably poorer than the rest of the country. The economic situation has contributed to greater support for extremist political groups in the east.
After 16 years of rule by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and a coalition of his center-right Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) and the socially liberal, market-oriented Free Democratic Party (FDP), Germans in 1998 elected the so-called “red-green coalition,” consisting of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party, with the SPD’s Gerhard Schroeder as chancellor. The red-green coalition won a narrow victory in the 2002 election, despite sluggish economic growth in its first term. In its second term, the Hartz I-IV labor market reforms were enacted, which aimed to create a more flexible market. However, the reforms eroded the support of labor unions, a key component of the SPD’s electoral base, and failed to improve the economy quickly enough to please voters.
In 2005, Schroeder engineered a no-confidence vote against himself to trigger national elections. Neither the red-green coalition nor the CDU/CSU-FDP opposition was able to garner an outright majority, and both sides were unwilling to cooperate with the newly formed Left Party. After unusually protracted coalition negotiations, the CDU/CSU and the SPD were obliged to form a “grand coalition,” and the CDU’s Angela Merkel became Germany’s first female chancellor.
Merkel enjoyed international prominence during 2007, hosting a Group of 8 summit and holding the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU) for the first half of the year. However, tensions between the two parties of the grand coalition began to build during the second half of its term, with each party trying to distinguish itself. Despite a lackluster political year, Merkel was overwhelmingly reelected as party leader at the end of 2008, and the SPD named Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as its chancellor candidate for the 2009 elections.
The political scene in 2009 was dominated by the federal election. The preelection period was characterized by low-key campaigning, as both the CDU/CSU and SPD focused on defending their records within the grand coalition. In the September poll, the CDU/CSU won 239 seats with approximately 34 percent of the vote, while the FDP took 93 seats, up from 61 in 2005.The SPD captured only 146 seats—an 11 percent decline over the 2005 results—representing its worst performance in a German federal election and the most significant decline in voter support of any party in federal elections in 60 years. Gains by the Greens were not significant enough to offset the SPD’s losses, and once again no party was willing to form a coalition with the Left Party. The CDU/CSU and FDP formed a majority coalition together without the SPD for the first time since 1998, and Merkel was reelected as chancellor. Although the election was free and fair, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent election monitors after the parliamentary election commission barred several very small parties from participating, in some cases because of legal technicalities.

In November, the controversial trial of John Demjanjuk—a Ukrainian-born former U.S. citizen and alleged World War II Nazi concentration camp guard—began in Munich; Demjanjuk is suspected of facilitating the murder of thousands of Jews at the Sobibor concentration camp. The trial has been contentious because Mr. Demjanjuk is elderly and in poor health, and he is the only low-ranking official and the only foreign suspect to have been charged with Holocaust-related crimes. His trial is likely to be the last for Nazi-era war crimes.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Germany is an electoral democracy. The constitution provides for a lower house of parliament, the 622-seat Bundestag (Federal Assembly), elected at least every four years through a 50-50 mixture of proportional representation and single-member districts, as well as an upper house, the Bundesrat (Federal Council), which represents the states. The country’s head of state is a largely ceremonial president, chosen jointly bythe Bundestag and a group of state representatives to serve up to two five-year terms. In Germany’s federal system, state governments have considerable authority over matters such as education, policing, taxation, and spending. The chancellor, the head of government, is elected by the Bundestag and usually serves for the duration of a four-year legislative session, which can be cut short only if the Bundestag chooses a replacement in a so-called constructive vote of no confidence.
Political pluralism has been constrained by laws restricting the far left and far right. The Communist Party of Germany was banned in the Federal Republic in 1956. However, the former ruling party of communist East Germany, renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), was a legal and democratic far-left party that participated in state governments after reunification. It merged with former left-wing SPD members to form the new Left Party ahead of the 2005 elections.
The two main far-right parties, the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the German People’s Union (DVU), are hostile to immigration and the EU, and have been accused of glorifying Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. Efforts in 2003 to ban the NPD on the grounds that it is illegal to advocate Nazism failed in the constitutional court when it was revealed that many of the witnesses testifying against the NPD were agents of the intelligence services. After the NDP gained a measure of success in 2008 local elections in Saxony, state intervention to curtail the NPD reemerged as a political issue. The CSU and SPD both stated in 2009 that a new attempt should be made to ban the NPD. However, the CDU disagreed, arguing that changes to the constitutional circumstances since 2003 were not significant enough to render success more likely. The CDU also contended that state intervention would only strengthen the NPD. In the run-up to the 2009 elections, the NPD—which captured less than 2 percent of the vote—made headlines by sending fake deportation notices to prominent Green and CDU politicians of immigrant or minority ethnic backgrounds.
The government is held accountable for its performance through open debates in the parliament, which are covered widely in the media. Germany is free of pervasive corruption and was ranked 14 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is protected in the constitution, and the media are largely free and independent. The Constitutional Court ruled in 2003 that surveillance of journalists’ telephone calls could be deemed legal by judges in “serious” cases, which threatens journalists’ source confidentiality. Journalists have also been prosecuted for “divulging state secrets.” Nevertheless, the press remains lively, investigative, and professional.
It remains illegal to advocate Nazism or deny the Holocaust. The constitutional court ruled in November 2009 that it is acceptable to ban speech glorifying the ideology of Hitler. The ruling was made in reference to 2005 legislation that outlawed a march in honor of one of Hitler’s colleagues, Rudolf Hess, which had caused sporadic violence prior to its prohibition.The authorities have sought unsuccessfully to prosecute internet users abroad who post Nazi propaganda aimed at Germany.
Freedom of belief is protected under law. However, Germany has taken a strong stance against the Church of Scientology, which it deems an economic organization rather than a religion. The four biggest political parties deny membership to Scientologists, the group has been under surveillance by intelligence agencies, and local labor offices in some cases help employers screen prospective employees (and vice-versa) for membership of scientology groups. Eight states have passed laws prohibiting female Muslim schoolteachers from wearing headscarves (hijab) on duty. The number of racially motivated crimes reached record highs in 2008 and 2009, confirming an environment of increasing hostility to immigrants in general and Muslims in particular. The far-right NPD, while not making any headway at the federal level, does have some regional strongholds in the former East Germany, where it has been represented in two state parliaments since 2004. Academic freedom is generally respected in Germany.
Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations operate without hindrance. The right of peaceful assembly is not infringed upon, except in the case of outlawed groups, such as those advocating Nazism or opposing the democratic order. Trade unions, farmers’ groups, and business confederations are free to organize.
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law prevails. The Federal Constitutional Court vets the compatibility of legislation with the basic law. In addition to having its own provisions, Germany is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Prison conditions are adequate, though the Council of Europe has criticized the practice of preliminary detention before formal arrest; people so detained may not contact a lawyer or family members.

Women’s rights are well protected, with generous maternity policies and antidiscrimination laws. There are 6 women in the 16-member federal cabinet. Limited same-sex partnership rights are respected.