Chancellor of Germany

President of Germany Angela Merkel Bundestag

Chancellor of Germany
Bundeskanzler der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Bundesadler Bundesorgane.svg
Angela Merkel 2019 (cropped).jpg
Angela Merkel

since 22 November 2005 (2005-11-22)
Executive branch of the Government
Cabinet of Germany
StyleMadam Chancellor
Her Excellency
StatusHead of Government
Member ofEuropean Council
SeatFederal Chancellery, Berlin (primary)
Palais Schaumburg, Bonn (secondary)
NominatorPresident of Germany
Term length4 years, renewable
Constituting instrumentGerman Basic Law
Inaugural holder
DeputyVice-Chancellor of Germany
Salary251,448 annually[2]

The Chancellor of Germany, officially the Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundeskanzler(in) der Bundesrepublik Deutschland), is the head of government of Germany and the chief executive of the Federal Cabinet. The Chancellor is the leader of the executive of the government of Germany and is the holder of the highest office within the state government. The Chancellor also exercises the executive powers of the President of Germany, whose role is ceremonial. The chancellor is elected by the Bundestag.[3]

The eighth and current holder of the office is Angela Merkel, who was elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, 2013 and 2017. She is the first woman to be elected chancellor,[4] and the first chancellor since the fall of the Berlin Wall to have been raised in the former East Germany (GDR).

The title of Chancellor has been used for several offices in the history of Germany. Dating from the Early Middle Ages, the term is derived from the Latin term cancellarius. The modern office of chancellor evolved from the position created for Otto von Bismarck in the North German Confederation in 1867; this federal state evolved into a German nation-state with the 1871 Unification of Germany. The role of the chancellor has varied greatly throughout Germany's modern history. Since the founding of the Federal Republic, the chancellor has been the country's effective leader, although in formal protocol, the Bundespräsident and Bundestagspräsident are ranked higher. The official title in German is Bundeskanzler(in), which means "Federal Chancellor", and is sometimes shortened to Kanzler(in).

History of the office

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The title of Chancellor has a long history, stemming back to the Holy Roman Empire, when the office of German archchancellor was usually held by Archbishops of Mainz. The title was, at times, used in several states of German-speaking Europe. The modern office of chancellor was established with the North German Confederation, of which Otto von Bismarck became Bundeskanzler (meaning "Federal Chancellor") in 1867. With the enlargement of this federal state to the German Empire in 1871, the title was renamed to Reichskanzler (meaning "Chancellor of the Realm"). With Germany's constitution of 1949, the title of Bundeskanzler was revived.

During the various eras, the role of the chancellor has varied. From 1867 to 1918, the chancellor was the only responsible minister of the federal level. He was installed by the federal presidium (i.e. the Prussian king; since 1871 called Emperor). The Staatssekretäre were civil servants subordinate to the chancellor. Besides the executive, the constitution gave the chancellor only one function: presiding over the Federal Council, the representative organ of the states (together with the parliament the law maker). But in reality, the chancellor was nearly always installed as minister president of Prussia, too. Indirectly, this gave the chancellor the power of the Federal Council, including the dissolution of parliament.

Although effective government was possible only on cooperation with the parliament (Reichstag), the results of the elections had only an indirect influence on the chancellorship, at most. Only in October 1918, the constitution was changed: it required the chancellor to have the trust of the parliament. Some two weeks later, Chancellor Max von Baden declared the abdication of the emperor and ceded power illegally to the revolutionary Council of People’s Delegates.

According to the Weimar Constitution of 1919, the chancellor was head of a collegial government. The chancellor was appointed and dismissed by the president, as were the ministers, upon proposal by the chancellor. The chancellor or any minister had to be dismissed if demanded by parliament. As today, the chancellor had the prerogative to determine the guidelines of government (Richtlinienkompetenz). In reality this power was limited by coalition government and the president.

When the Nazis came to power on 30 January 1933, the Weimar Constitution was de facto set aside. After the death of President Hindenburg in 1934, Adolf Hitler, the dictatorial party leader and chancellor, took over the powers of the president. The new official title became Führer und Reichskanzler (meaning "Leader and Reich Chancellor").

The 1949 constitution gave the chancellor much greater powers than during the Weimar Republic, while strongly diminishing the role of the president. Germany is today often referred to as a "chancellor democracy", reflecting the role of the chancellor as the country's chief executive.

Since 1867, 33 individuals have served as heads of government of Germany, West Germany, or Northern Germany, nearly all of them with the title of Chancellor.

Due to his administrative tasks, the head of the clerics at the chapel of an imperial palace during the Carolingian Empire was called chancellor (from Latin: cancellarius). The chapel's college acted as the Emperor's chancery issuing deeds and capitularies. From the days of Louis the German, the archbishop of Mainz was ex officio German archchancellor, a position he held until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, while de jure the archbishop of Cologne was chancellor of Italy and the archbishop of Trier of Burgundy. These three prince-archbishops were also prince-electors of the empire electing the King of the Romans. Already in medieval times, the German chancellor had political power like Archbishop Willigis (archchancellor 975–1011, regent for King Otto III of Germany 991–994) or Rainald von Dassel (Chancellor 1156–1162 and 1166–1167) under Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

In 1559, Emperor Ferdinand I established the agency of an imperial chancellery (Reichshofkanzlei) at the Vienna Hofburg Palace, headed by a vice-chancellor under the nominal authority of the Mainz archbishop. Upon the 1620 Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II created the office of an Austrian court chancellor in charge of the internal and foreign affairs of the Habsburg Monarchy. From 1753 onwards, the office of an Austrian state chancellor was held by Prince Kaunitz. The imperial chancellery lost its importance, and from the days of Maria Theresa and Joseph II, merely existed on paper. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince Metternich served as state chancellor of the Austrian Empire (1821–1848), likewise Prince Hardenberg acted as Prussian chancellor (1810–1822). The German Confederation of 1815–1866 did not have a government or parliament, only the Bundestag as representative organ of the states.

In the now defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany), which existed from 7 October 1949 to 3 October 1990 (when the territory of the former GDR was reunified with the Federal Republic of Germany), the position of chancellor did not exist. The equivalent position was called either Minister President (Ministerpräsident) or Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the GDR (Vorsitzender des Ministerrats der DDR). (See Leaders of East Germany.)

Chancellor of the North German Confederation (1867–1870)

The head of the federal government of the North German Confederation, which was created on 1 July 1867, had the title Bundeskanzler. The only person to hold the office was Otto von Bismarck, the prime minister of Prussia. The king, being the bearer of the Bundespräsidium, installed him on 14 July.

Under the constitution of 1 January 1871, the king had additionally the title of Emperor. The constitution still called the chancellor Bundeskanzler. This was only changed in the new constitution of 16 April 1871 to Reichskanzler. The office remained the same, and Bismarck was not even re-installed.

Chancellor of the German Empire (1871–1918)

Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of the German Empire

In the 1871 German Empire, the Reichskanzler ("Imperial Chancellor") served both as the emperor's first minister, and as presiding officer of the Bundesrat, the upper chamber of the German parliament. He was neither elected by nor responsible to Parliament (the Reichstag). Instead, the chancellor was appointed by the emperor.

The federal level had four organs:

Technically, the foreign ministers of the empire's states instructed their states' deputies to the federal council (Bundesrat) and therefore outranked the chancellor. For this reason, Prince Bismarck (as he was from 1871 onwards) continued to serve as both prime minister and foreign minister of Prussia for virtually his entire tenure as chancellor of the empire, since he wanted to continue to exercise this power. Since Prussia controlled seventeen votes in the Bundesrat, Bismarck could effectively control the proceedings by making deals with the smaller states.

The term chancellor signalled the seemingly low priority of this institution compared to the governments of the German states, because the new chancellor of the federal empire should not be a full-fledged prime minister, in contrast to the heads of the states. The title of chancellor additionally symbolized a strong monarchist, bureaucratic, and ultimately antiparliamentary component, as in the Prussian tradition of, for instance, Hardenberg.

In both of these aspects, the executive of the federation, and then empire, as it was formed in 1867 and 1871, was deliberately different from the Imperial Ministry of the revolutionary years 1848/49, which had been led by a prime minister elected by the National Assembly.

In 1871, the concept of the federal chancellor was transferred to the executive of the newly formed German Empire, which now also contained the South German states. Here too, the terms of “chancellor” and “federal agency” (as opposed to “ministry” or “government”) suggested an (apparent) lower priority of the federal executive as compared to the governments of the federal states. For this reason, neither the chancellor nor the leaders of the imperial departments under his command used the title of Minister until 1918.

The constitution of Germany was altered on 29 October 1918, when the parliament was given the right to dismiss the chancellor. However, the change could not prevent the outbreak of a revolution a few days later.

Revolutionary period (1918–1919)

On 9 November 1918, Chancellor Max von Baden handed over his office of chancellor to Friedrich Ebert. Ebert continued to serve as head of government during the three months between the end of the German Empire in November 1918 and the first gathering of the National Assembly in February 1919, but did not use the title of Chancellor.

During that time, Ebert also served as chairman of the "Council of the People's Deputies", until 29 December 1918 together with the Independent Social Democrat Hugo Haase.

Chancellor of the Weimar Republic (1919–1933)

The office of chancellor was continued in the Weimar Republic. The chancellor (Reichskanzler) was appointed by the President and was responsible to the parliament.

Under the Weimar Republic, the chancellor was a fairly weak figure. Much like his French counterpart, he was usually more the cabinet's chairman than its leader. Cabinet decisions were made by majority vote. In fact, many of the Weimar governments depended highly on the cooperation of the president, due to the difficulty of finding a majority in the parliament.

Chancellor of Nazi Germany (1933–1945)

Adolf Hitler, Chancellor from 1933 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 by Paul von Hindenburg. Upon taking office, Hitler immediately began accumulating power and changing the nature of the chancellorship. After only two months in office, and following the burning of the Reichstag building, the parliament passed the Enabling Act giving the chancellor full legislative powers for a period of four years – the chancellor could introduce any law without consulting Parliament. Powers of the chancellor continued to grow until August 1934, when the incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg died. Hitler used the Enabling Act to merge the office of chancellor with that of the president to create a new office, "the leader" (or Führer). Although the offices were merged, Hitler continued to be addressed as "Führer und Reichskanzler" indicating that the head of state and head of government were still separate positions, albeit held by the same man. This separation was made more evident when, in April 1945, Hitler gave instruction that upon his death the office of leader would dissolve and there would be a new president and chancellor. On 30 April 1945, when Hitler committed suicide, he was briefly succeeded as chancellor by Joseph Goebbels, as dictated in Hitler's will and testament. With Goebbels following Hitler's suicide with his own, the reins of power passed to Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as President of Germany. Dönitz, in turn, appointed conservative Count Schwerin von Krosigk as head of government with the title “Leading Minister”.

Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (since 1949)

Angela MerkelGerhard SchröderHelmut KohlHelmut SchmidtWilly BrandtKurt Georg KiesingerLudwig ErhardKonrad Adenauer

The 1949 German constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), invests the chancellor (German, Bundeskanzler) with broad powers to initiate government policy. For that reason, some observers refer to the German political system as a "chancellor democracy". Whichever major party (CDU/CSU or SPD) does not hold the chancellorship usually calls its leading candidate for the federal election "chancellor-candidate" (Kanzlerkandidat). The federal government (Bundesregierung) consists of the chancellor and cabinet ministers.

The chancellor's authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law and in practice from their status as leader of the party (or coalition of parties) holding a majority of seats in the Bundestag (federal parliament). With the exception of Helmut Schmidt, the chancellor has also been chairman of their own party. This was the case with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder from 1999 until he resigned the chairmanship of the SPD in 2004.

The German chancellor is officially addressed as "Herr Bundeskanzler" if the chancellor is a man. The current holder of this office, Angela Merkel, considered to be the planet's most influential woman by Forbes Magazine, is officially addressed as "Frau Bundeskanzlerin", the feminine form of the title. Use of the mixed form "Frau Bundeskanzler" was deprecated by the government in 2004 because it is regarded as impolite and was seen as a way of acknowledging Merkel's future leadership.[5] In international correspondence, the chancellor is referred to as "His/Her Excellency the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany" ("Seine/Ihre Exzellenz der/die Bundeskanzler/in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland").[1]


West Germany's 1949 constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), invests the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) with central executive authority. Since the 1961 election, the two major parties (CDU/CSU and SPD) call their leading candidates for the federal election "chancellor-candidate" (Kanzlerkandidat), although this is not an official term and any party can nominate a Kanzlerkandidat (even if that party has no chance at all of leading or even becoming part of a government coalition). The Federal Government (Bundesregierung) consists of the Federal Chancellor and their cabinet ministers, called Bundesminister (Federal Ministers).

The chancellor's authority emanates from the provisions of the Basic Law and from their status as leader of the party (or coalition of parties) holding a majority of seats in the Bundestag ("Federal Diet", the lower house of the German Federal Parliament). With the exception of Helmut Schmidt, Gerhard Schröder (from 2004 to 2005) and Angela Merkel (since 2018) the chancellor has usually also been chairman of their own party.

The first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, set many precedents that continue today and established the chancellorship as the clear focus of power in Germany. Under the provisions of the Basic Law giving him the power to set guidelines for all fields of policy, Adenauer arrogated nearly all major decisions to himself. He often treated his ministers as mere extensions of his authority rather than colleagues. While his successors have tended to be less domineering, the chancellor has acquired enough ex officio authority (in addition to his/her constitutional powers) that Germany is often described by constitutional law experts as a "chancellor democracy".

The cabinet bench in the Reichstag building (to the left of the flag) with the raised seat of the chancellor in the front row

The chancellor determines the composition of the Federal Cabinet. The President formally appoints and dismisses cabinet ministers, on the recommendation of the chancellor; no parliamentary approval is needed. According to the Basic Law, the chancellor may set the number of cabinet ministers and dictate their specific duties. Chancellor Ludwig Erhard had the largest cabinet, with 22 ministers, in the mid-1960s. Helmut Kohl presided over 17 ministers at the start of his fourth term in 1994; the 2002 cabinet, the second of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, had 13 ministers, and the Angela Merkel cabinet as of 22 November 2005 had 15.

Article 65 of the Basic Law sets forth three principles that define how the executive branch functions:


The 18th Vice-Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz

The Chancellor must appoint one of the cabinet ministers as Vice-Chancellor, who may deputise for the Chancellor, if they are absent or unable to perform their duties. Although the Chancellor is theoretically free to choose any cabinet minister as Vice-Chancellor, he or she prefers, in coalition governments the Vice-Chancellor is usually the highest-ranking minister of the second biggest coalition party.

If the Chancellor's term in office ends or if they resign, the Bundestag has to elect a new Chancellor. The President of Germany may ask the former Chancellor to act as Chancellor until a new office holder is elected, but if they are unwilling or unable to do so, the President may also appoint the Vice-Chancellor as Acting Chancellor until a successor is elected. This has happened once: On 7 May 1974 Chancellor Willy Brandt resigned as a consequence of the Guillaume Affair, an espionage scandal. In his letter of resignation to President Gustav Heinemann he wrote:

Dear Mr. President, I take the political responsibility for mishandlings in context of the espionage affair "Guillaume" and declare my resignation from the office of Chancellor. At the same time, I ask you to accept my resignation immediately and to appoint my deputy, Federal Minister Scheel, as Acting Chancellor, until a successor is elected. Sincerely, Willy Brandt.[6]

President Heinemann followed the request. Walter Scheel was appointed as Acting Chancellor and served for nine days until the election of Helmut Schmidt on 16 May 1974.

The 18th and current Vice-Chancellor of Germany is Olaf Scholz, who also serves as Federal Minister of Finance in the Fourth Merkel cabinet.

List of chancellors (since 1949)

Chancellors of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundeskanzler)
Portrait Name
(Home state)
Previous service Term of office Political party Vice-Chancellor Cabinets
Took Office Left Office
1 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F078072-0004, Konrad Adenauer.jpg Konrad Adenauer
(North Rhine-Westphalia)
President of the Parliamentary Council (1948-1949) 15 September 1949 16 October 1963
CDU Franz Blücher (1949–1957), Ludwig Erhard (1957–1963) Adenauer I, Adenauer II, Adenauer III, Adenauer IV, Adenauer V
2 Einde bezoek bondskanselier dr Ludwig Erhard en gaf persconferentie in het Haag, Bestanddeelnr 916-1330.jpg Ludwig Erhard
Vice-Chancellor of Germany (1957-1963)
Federal Minister for Economic Affairs (1949–1963)
16 October 1963 1 December 1966
CDU Erich Mende (1963–1966), Hans-Christoph Seebohm (1966) Erhard I, Erhard II
3 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F024017-0001, Oberhausen, CDU-Parteitag Rheinland, Kiesinger.jpg (cropped).jpg Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Minister President of Baden-Württemberg (1958–1966) 1 December 1966 22 October 1969 CDU Willy Brandt (1966–1969) Kiesinger
4 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F034160-0011, Bonn, Bundeskanzler Brandt empfängt Schauspieler (cropped).jpg Willy Brandt
(West Berlin)
Vice-Chancellor of Germany (1966–1969)
Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs (1966–1969)
22 October 1969 7 May 1974
SPD Walter Scheel (1969–1974, Acting Chancellor from 7 May 1974 until 16 May 1974) Brandt I, Brandt II
5 Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt.jpg Helmut Schmidt
Federal Minister of Finance (1972-1974) 16 May 1974 1 October 1982
(replaced by a Constructive vote of no confidence)
SPD Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1974–1982), Egon Franke (1982) Schmidt I, Schmidt II, Schmidt III
6 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F074398-0021 Kohl (cropped).jpg Helmut Kohl
Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate (1969-1976) 1 October 1982 27 October 1998 CDU Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1982–1992), Jürgen Möllemann (1992–1993), Klaus Kinkel (1993–1998) Kohl I, Kohl II, Kohl III, Kohl IV, Kohl V
7 Gerhard Schröder (cropped).jpg Gerhard Schröder
(b. 1944)
(Lower Saxony)
Minister President of Lower Saxony (1990–1998) 27 October 1998 22 November 2005 SPD Joschka Fischer (1998–2005) Schröder I, Schröder II
8 Angela Merkel 2019 (cropped).jpg Angela Merkel
(b. 1954)
Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (1994-1998) 22 November 2005 Incumbent CDU Franz Müntefering (2005–2007), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (2007–2009), Guido Westerwelle (2009–2011), Philipp Rösler (2011–2013), Sigmar Gabriel (2013–2018), Olaf Scholz (incumbent since 2018) Merkel I, Merkel II, Merkel III, Merkel IV

Official residence

Since 2001, the official residence of the Chancellor is the Federal Chancellery (Berlin) (Bundeskanzleramt). The former seat of the Federal Chancellery, the Palais Schaumburg in the former capital Bonn, now serves as a secondary official seat. The Chancellor's country retreat is Schloss Meseberg in the state of Brandenburg.

Appointment mechanism

Whenever the office of Chancellor has fallen vacant, which happens if the Chancellor dies or resigns, or if a newly elected Bundestag ("Federal Diet", the German Parliament) meets for the first time, the Chancellor is elected by a majority of the members of the Bundestag upon the proposal of the President (Bundespräsident, literally "Federal President") ("1st voting phase"). This vote is one of the few cases in which a decision requires a majority of all elected members of the Bundestag, not just a majority of those assembled at the time. This is referred to as the Kanzlermehrheit ("chancellor majority"), and is intended to ensure the establishment of a stable government. It has in the past occasionally forced ill or pregnant members to attend parliament when a party's majority was only slim.[citation needed]

Unlike regular voting by the Bundestag, the vote to elect the chancellor is by secret ballot. This is intended to ensure that the chancellor's majority does not depend on members of their party who might express support in a public setting but be internally opposed.

If the nominee of the President is not elected, the Bundestag may elect its own nominee within fourteen days ("2nd voting phase"). If no one is elected within this period, the Bundestag will hold a last ballot on the 15th day after the first ballot ("3rd voting phase"). If a candidate reaches the "chancellor majority", the President must appoint them. If not, the President may either appoint as Chancellor the candidate who received a plurality of votes (thus allowing the formation of a minority government) or call new elections for the Bundestag within 60 days. As all Chancellors have been elected on the first ballot, as yet (1949–2018) neither of these constitutional provisions has been applied.

The Federal Chancellor is the only member of the federal government elected by the Bundestag. The other cabinet ministers (called Bundesminister, "Federal Ministers") are chosen by the Federal Chancellor, although they are formally appointed by the Federal President on the Federal Chancellor's recommendation.[citation needed]


Unlike in other parliamentary legislatures, the Bundestag or Federal Diet (lower house of the German Federal Parliament) cannot remove the chancellor with a traditional motion of no confidence. Instead, the removal of a chancellor is only possible if a majority of the Bundestag members agree on a successor, who is then immediately sworn in as new Federal Chancellor. This procedure is called "constructive motion of no confidence" (konstruktives Misstrauensvotum) and was created to avoid the situation that existed in the Weimar Republic, when it was easier to gather a parliament majority willing to remove a government in office than to find a majority capable of supporting a new stable government.[7]

In order to garner legislative support in the Bundestag, the chancellor can also ask for a motion of confidence (Vertrauensfrage, literally "question of trust"), either combined with a legislative proposal or as a standalone vote. Only if such a vote fails may the Federal President dissolve the Bundestag.

Style of address

The correct style of address in German is Herr Bundeskanzler (male) or Frau Bundeskanzlerin (female). Use of the mixed form "Frau Bundeskanzler" was deprecated by the government in 2004 because it is regarded as impolite.[8]


Holding the third-highest state office available within Germany, the chancellor of Germany receives €220,000 per annum and a €22,000 bonus, i.e. one and two thirds of Salary Grade B11 (according to § 11 (1) a of the Federal Law on Ministers – Bundesministergesetz, BGBl. 1971 I p. 1166 and attachment IV to the Federal Law on Salaries of Officers – Bundesbesoldungsgesetz, BGBl. 2002 I p. 3020).

See also


  1. ^ a b "Ratgeber für Anschriften und Anreden" (PDF). Bundesministerium des Innern – Protokoll Inland. p. 40. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Angela Merkels Gehalt: So viel verdient Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel".
  3. ^ The Chancellor is elected by the Bundestag, normally on the proposal of the Federal President and without debate (Article 63 of the German Constitution).
  4. ^ She is known in German as Bundeskanzlerin. Bundeskanzlerin is a grammatically regular formation of a noun denoting a female chancellor, adding "-in" to the end of Bundeskanzler, though the word was not used officially before Merkel.
  5. ^ ""Frau Bundeskanzler" oder ... "Frau Bundeskanzlerin"? –". Archived from the original on 17 January 2009.
  6. ^[dead link]
  7. ^ Meyers Taschenlexikon Geschichte vol.2 1982
  8. ^ ""Frau Bundeskanzler" oder ... "Frau Bundeskanzlerin"? –". Archived from the original on 17 January 2009.