The Berlin Republic: German Unification and a Decade of Changes

By Winand Gellner; John D. Robertson | Go to book overview

The Effects of German Unification on the Federal Chancellor's Decision-Making

KARL-RUDOLF KORTE

All federal chancellors juggle with democratic power. Formally and informally they are integrated in the structural features of governance. Denominations within Germany's political system are programmatic: to different degrees, chancellor's dominance, party power, coalition ties, constraints of negotiating and media-targeted political communication characterise governing in Germany. The terms manifest political entanglement as well as the distribution of power in Germany. Governing has become more complex, more dependent on the media, more time-consuming, more demanding and more incalculable. This is due not least to the process of German unification. 1 The old Bonn Republic, however, has not fundamentally changed but enlarged. Western political systems were, to a great extent, transferred to the East. Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who governed the unified Germany for eight years, made use of instruments very similar to those employed by Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Gerhard Schröder said in his inaugural speech on 10 November 1998: This “neue Mitte” excludes nobody. It stands for solidarity and innovation, for entrepreneurship and citizen spirit, for ecological responsibility and a political leadership, which understands itself as modern opportunity-management.' 2 Does 'modern opportunity-management' stand for the amount of scope available for political decisions and leadership in the new Berlin Republic? Does this phrase, taken from the parlance of the times, stand for controlled and steered governance? Or is this an oblique description of many new ideas and plans which, unfortunately, cannot be translated into government actions?

The following sections provide an interim assessment of the Schröder chancellorship. As the basic constitutional resources of the Chancellor have not changed dramatically (neither before nor since German unification) they are not considered here specifically. Instead, I concentrate on the relevant political resources. Some comparative perspectives are developed where it seems reasonable to highlight the specifics of the Schröder chancellorship.

The German Federal Republic can be characterised as a mixed political system: a combination of parliamentary structures and negotiating systems.

Karl-Rudolf Korte, University of Duisburg

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