Germany | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), won a solid plurality in September 2013 parliamentary elections, clearing the way for Merkel’s third term as chancellor. The Christian Democrats’ victory was seen as a public endorsement of Merkel’s leadership through the European debt crisis of the past several years, during which Germany had maintained a strong economy with low unemployment, while insisting that weaker members of the Eurozone submit to austerity measures in return for bailout loans. However, despite Merkel’s triumph, the CDU’s junior coalition partner in the outgoing government, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), failed to reach the five percent threshold to qualify for seats in the Bundestag, the lower house, for the first time since 1949, losing all 93 of its seats. The CDU in late November reached an agreement with its center-left rival, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), to form a so-called grand coalition government, as they did during Merkel’s first term (2005–09). Among other pledges, the agreement called for legislation to set a national minimum wage for the first time.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 39 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

The German 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 country’s 16 states. The country’s head of state is a largely ceremonial president, chosen jointly by the 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.

In the September 22, 2013, federal elections, Merkel led the CDU/CSU to a combined 41.5 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, up 7.7 points from the 2009 elections. They won a total of 311 seats in the 630-seat Bundestag—the best showing for the Christian Democrats since 1990, when Germany reunified and Chancellor Helmut Kohl won a third term—but they fell five seats short of an absolute majority. Their current coalition partner, the pro-free market FDP, fell to 4.8 percent, down from 14.6 percent in 2009, and failed to meet the 5 percent threshold to qualify for seats. The SPD, led by former finance minister Peer Steinbrück, took 25.7 percent, up from their historic low of 23 percent in 2009, for 193 seats. The environmentalist Greens dropped to 8.4 percent, from 11.9 percent, for 63 seats. The radical Left party fell to 8.6 percent, from 11.9 percent, taking 64 seats. A new party, Alternative for Germany, which called for exiting the Eurozone and curbing immigration, took 4.7 percent, narrowly failing to qualify for seats.

While the SPD, the Greens and the Left together won enough seats to make up a majority for a left-wing coalition, the SPD had previously ruled out governing with the Left.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16

For historical reasons, political pluralism is somewhat constrained. Under electoral laws intended to restrict the far left and far right, a party must receive either 5 percent of the national vote or win at least three directly elected seats to be represented in parliament. The Constitutional Court, Germany’s highest court, outlawed the Socialist Reich Party (a successor to the Nazi Party) in 1952 and the Communist Party of Germany in 1956 on the grounds that their goals disregarded the principles of the constitution. However, the former ruling party of communist East Germany—the Socialist Unity Party, renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism—participated in state governments after reunification. It then merged with Labor and Social Justice­­–The Electorate Alternative, a party of former left-wing SPD members, to form the new Left party ahead of the 2005 elections. The main extreme right party, the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), is hostile to immigration and the EU, and has been accused of glorifying Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. In December 2012, the opposition-controlled Bundesrat voted to petition the Constitutional Court to ban the NPD, but the government did not back the move.

The September 2013 federal elections resulted in the first black members of the Bundestag, with one each from the CDU and the SPD. The CDU also saw its first Muslim deputy elected to the Bundestag. Overall, the number of Bundestag members from immigrant backgrounds rose from 21 to 34.


C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12

Germany is free of pervasive corruption. The government is held accountable for its performance through open parliamentary debates, which are covered widely in the media. In April 2013, prosecutors brought corruption charges against former president Christoph Wulff, who resigned in 2012 amid allegations that he had accepted favors from wealthy friends while serving as governor of Lower Saxony state. In August, a court in Hanover said Wulff would stand trial only on less serious charges of receiving and granting favors. The trial opened in November; Wulff became the nation’s first former head of state to stand trial. Germany was ranked 12 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 57 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16

Freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, and the media are largely free and independent. However, hate speech is punishable if publicly pronounced against specific segments of the population and in a manner that incites hatred, such as racist agitation and anti-Semitism. It is also illegal to advocate Nazism, deny the Holocaust, or glorify the ideology of Hitler. Internet access is generally unrestricted. In July 2013, Der Spiegel magazine reported that documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden showed that the NSA, collaborating with German intelligence agencies, had secretly collected extensive data on communications in Germany. In October, reports that the NSA had monitored Merkel’s official cellphone prompted her to call U.S. President Barack Obama to demand assurances that she was not under surveillance, which she said would be an unacceptable breach of trust between allies.

Freedom of belief is legally protected. However, Germany has taken a strong stance against the Church of Scientology, which it deems an organization pursuing commercial interests rather than a religion. A number of federal states have also denied the Jehovah’s Witnesses the official “public law corporation” status, which has been granted to 180 other religious groups in the country. Eight states have passed laws prohibiting female Muslim schoolteachers from wearing the headscarf, while Berlin and the state of Hesse have adopted legislation banning headscarves for all civil servants. Academic freedom is generally respected. In February 2013, Education Minister Annette Schavan resigned after her doctorate was revoked over alleged plagiarism. A similar plagiarism scandal had felled Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in 2011.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

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. Civic groups and nongovernmental organizations operate without hindrance. Trade unions, farmers’ groups, and business confederations are free to organize. In March 2013, the Interior Ministry banned three Salafist Islamic extremist associations, which it said sought to replace democracy with Sharia (Islamic law). Police the same day arrested four men linked to the Salafist movement for allegedly plotting to kill Markus Beisicht, leader of the far-right Pro-NRW party. In 2012, Pro-NRW had displayed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in front of an Islamic school in Bonn, setting off violent clashes between Muslim protesters and police. In December, all 16 German states petitioned the Federal Constitutional Court to ban the National Democratic Party (NPD), calling it a neo-Nazi antidemocratic group. Previous attempts to outlaw the party had failed, most recently in 2003. The party held seats in two eastern state parliaments, in Saxony and Mecklenberg-Western Pomerania, and reportedly had received some 20 million euros in state funding since 2003.


F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16

The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law prevails. Prison conditions are adequate, though the Council of Europe has criticized elements of the practice of preventive detention. In May 2013, Beate Zschaepe, 38, was tried in Munich for murder for being part of an anti-immigrant neo-Nazi terrorist cell that killed 10 people—nine small business owners mostly of Turkish origin and one policewoman—between 2000 and 2007. The cell had also allegedly carried out two bombings. Four men accused of providing support to the cell or acting as accessories to its crimes were also defendants in the trial. The trial continued through the end of 2013. In August 2013, a special parliamentary committee in August 2013 issued a report calling for more effective surveillance of neo-Nazi groups, criticizing “major failures” in the investigation of the cell’s serial killings. Among other recommendations, the committee urged police to recruit more minorities, blaming deeply ingrained biases for causing investigators to mistakenly blame the killings on Turkish gangsters, and to discount the threat posed by racist and xenophobic extremism. The three-member cell was tracked down in November 2011, when two men committed suicide and Zschaepe was arrested. The head of the domestic intelligence agency had resigned in July 2012 after it emerged that the agency had destroyed files on the case and made other mistakes that allowed the cell to evade capture for years.

In 2013, Germany received nearly 127,000 asylum applicants, the most since 1999 and by far the most in the EU for the year (France was second, with 65,000 applicants). In August, far-right extremists led by the NPD protested the opening of a new shelter for asylum seekers in eastern Berlin.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16

Women’s rights are well protected under antidiscrimination laws. However, gender wage gaps persisted in 2013, with women’s wages and salaries approximately 22 percent less than men’s wages for the same work.  Women held 6 of the 16 federal cabinet positions in the new government and 36 percent of the seats in parliament after the September 2013 elections. However, women held just 12 percent of seats on corporate boards in 2013, and several female executives at prominent companies either resigned or were fired in 2013. In April, Merkel agreed to back the introduction of legally binding quotas for female representation on corporate boards starting in 2020, requiring that they be at least 30 percent women. The November coalition agreement between the CDU and the SPD included a pledge to introduce legislation setting that requirement earlier, as of 2016.

Limited same-sex partnership rights are respected. In February 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a challenge to the existing ban on adoption by same-sex couples of one of the partners’ adopted children. Currently, a person in a same-sex partnership could adopt only the biological children of his or her partner. The court ordered the government to draft new legislation making the change by June 2014. In June 2013, the same court ruled that the unequal tax benefits for marriage and civil unions were unconstitutional, and ordered that civil partners be granted the same treatment, retroactive to the introduction of civil unions in 2001.

The November coalition agreement included a pledge to grant dual citizenship to German-born children of immigrants for the first time. The change would most prominently affect the descendants of Turks who came to Germany as “guest workers” in the 1960s and 1970s. The Turkish population in Germany was about three million.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

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