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How Does The Principle Of �Consensus’ Manifest Itself In The Political System Of The Federal Republic Of Germany (Frg)?

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How does the principle of �consensus’ manifest itself in the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)?

In Arend Lijpharts Patterns of Democracy (1999, 34), he describes the �consensus’ model of democracy as a model that tries to share, disperse, and restrain power as opposed to the Westminster-style majoritarian model, which aims to concentrate power in the hands of the majority. This essay will analyse the Federal Republic of Germany and aim to show to what extent the principle of �consensus’ is manifested in its political system, focusing on the constitution, electoral system, Federalism and the legislative.

Constitutional rigidity and strong judicial review are two elements of the principle of �consensus’ and both of these are manifested in the FRG’s political system (Lijphart, 1999, 40-41). The FRG’s �Basic Law’, named as such in order to emphasize the provisional and transitional character of the West German state after World War Two, can be described as a constitutional democratic theory mainly of European and American traditions, creating a human-rights based democracy underpinned by a high degree of power sharing, separation of powers, a competitive party system, the rule of law, federalism, the commitment to social policy and the openness of the constitution to the delegation of sovereignty to international and trans-national organisations (Schmidt, 2003, 13).

The rigidity of the вЂ?Basic Law’ is made clear when one studies the process of amendment. The first 20 articles, based on the absolute protection of human rights such as equality before the law or freedom of belief (1-19) and the federal basis of the state (Article 20) cannot be amended (Roberts, 2000, 36-37). This is due to the wish of the framers to protect its key elements against amendments that would undermine the democratic and decentralised nature of the regime (Roberts, 2000, 36-37). The rest of the вЂ?Basic Law’ can only be amended if a two-thirds majority in both the Bundesrat (the Upper House) and the Bundestag (Lower House) is reached (Roberts, 2000, 36-37). This means that amendment can only take place with a very large backing as it requires a degree of cross-party consensus due to the high number of votes needed and agreement to the change from representatives of the 16 LÐ"¤nder who are present in the Bundesrat. This shows why a rigid constitution is an element of a вЂ?consensus’ democracy and that the FRG’s political system contains this element, as the вЂ?Basic Law’s’ essential characteristics have not been changed since its creation (Roberts, 2000, 36-37).

The �Basic Law’ is protected by the judicial review of the Federal Constitutional Court, another key element of a �consensus’ democracy as it restricts the power of the executive and disperses power. The court has the power to review legislative and executive acts and to nullify unconstitutional ones among them, resulting in the Government co-existing with �governing with judges’ or even �governing by judges’ (Schmidt, 2003, 128). The strength given to the Federal Constitutional Court adds to the wide variety of checks and balances, co-governing forces and veto players in the FRG’s political system, protecting society from the possibility of a repeat of the misuse of power experienced in the country’s past (Schmidt, 2003, 128).

The FRG’s electoral system is one of proportional representation with important exceptions. Proportional representation is a key element of the �consensus’ principle, as it divides the parliamentary seats among the parties in proportion to the votes they receive, with the aim of creating a multi-party system in which no single party secures a majority of the parliamentary seats and government by coalition must exist, contrasting with the plurality method, which tends to over-represent large parties (Lijphart, 1999, 37 and Conradt, 1996, 155). Elections for the FRG’s national parliament are made up of two votes; the first a plurality vote for a district candidate and the second by proportional representation for a party, which is the more important vote because it is used to determine the final percentage of parliamentary mandates a party will receive (Conradt, 1996, 155). There is a 5% clause, meaning that only parties with at least 5% of the second vote (or 3 mandates in the first vote) can be represented in parliament, which was put in place to avoid another �Weimar Republic’ situation, with unstable, multi-governing coalitions due to the large amount of parties having seats in the legislature (Roberts, 2000, 54).

This unique electoral system of proportional representation has lead to the FRG being invariably governed by a two party coalition with at most five parties represented in the Bundestag. Although the 5% hurdle may be seen as a restriction to the �consensus’ principle as it limits the amount of parties represented, one may also say that it plays an important role in allowing the �consensus’ principle to be manifested in the system to such a high degree, as it gives the system a stability without which it could not continue stably, as seen in the examples of the French Fourth Republic and post-war Italy, where the multi-party system lead to ever-changing, instable coalitions (Roberts, 2000, 55).

A federal and decentralised government with strong bicameralism are two further features of how the вЂ?consensus’ principle is manifested in the FRG’s political system (Lijphart, 1999, 38-39). The FRG is made up of 16 semi-autonomous states (LÐ"¤nder), each headed by a minister-president elected in the state parliament and each having its own constitution, co-government, legislation, administration and mostly also a constitutional court (Schmidt, 2003, 56). The LÐ"¤nder have legislative responsibility for a range



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