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Ludger Helms

Learning from the Weimar experience, the founding fathers of the

Federal Republic eliminated the chance of a renewed institutionalized

conflict between the head of state and the federal government

through the creation of the Basic Law [Grundgesetz ]. They primarily

strengthened the power of the chancellor and his cabinet by introducing

the “constructive” vote of no confidence and abolishing the

principle of individual ministerial responsibility, while also reducing

the position of the federal president to a mere representative head of

state. With these clear-cut constitutional arrangements it is not surprising

that Germany has not been among the number of west European

democracies (such as Italy or Austria) for which issues

regarding the power of heads of state have occupied a rather prominent

position on the political agenda of the 1990s.

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Ludger Helms

While the Federal Republic has been famously characterized as a "grand coalition state," the Merkel government, formed in the after-math of the 2005 federal election, is only the second CDU/CSU-SPD coalition at the federal level since 1949. A comparison of the present administration with the first grand coalition government (1966-1969) reveals a wealth of differences that include some of the basic parameters of governing and governance in Germany, such as the structure of the party system and the overall public climate. Also, the personnel features and patterns of informal coalition governance under Chancellors Angela Merkel and Kurt-Georg Kiesinger display major differences. Arguably the single most important difference between the two administrations, however, relates to the level of public policy, with the Merkel government seeking to reverse some of the key decisions of its historical predecessor. Such u-turn dynamics have been particularly tangible in the field of federal system reform.