How do political scientists classify governments

The Federal Republic of Germany in the classification of Arend Lijphart

by Benjamin Krebs and Eric Kresse

The well-known political scientist Arend Lijphart, born in the Netherlands in 1936, published in his works “Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries” and “Patterns of Democracy. Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries ”his studies on comparative political science. Here he presents his differentiation of democratic systems into majority democracy and consensus democracy. In terms of content, these can initially be outlined as follows: Majority democracy, also known as competitive democracy, represents the political relationship of a country in which two parties usually compete for government responsibility. As a result, one party receives a parliamentary majority and is therefore not bound to shape executive policy[1]whereby the tasks of opposition and control of the ruling party fall to the second party.[2] In this contrast, Lijphart defines consensus democracy. Power-sharing results from competition between more than two parties for governance. From this it follows that the minority parties also receive political influence through the distribution of interests of the people on the parties. Conflicts are therefore resolved by mutual consensus, whereby the minorities also find participation.[3]

In order to systematize a distinction between the two forms, Lijphart developed ten main characteristics in which these can be differentiated according to their definition. First of all, he examines the executive-party dimension, before turning to the federalism-unitarianism dimension from the sixth criterion onwards.[4]

Lijphart begins by emphasizing the concentration of executive power. Majority democracy has the property that the majority party also unites the majority of the seats in parliament. The executive power is therefore concentrated on a single ruling majority party.[5] In contrast, he describes the consensus model as a sharing of executive power in coalitions.[6]

Now it is important to transfer this to the democratic system of the Federal Republic of Germany. This is in the middle between majority and consensus democracy. On the one hand, the Federal Republic has clear majority-determined features, such as the distribution of seats in the Bundestag, the election of the head of government, the Federal President and the composition of the Federal Assembly.

However, the Basic Law also provides a level of consensus. A two-thirds majority is required for a constitutional amendment, which cannot be achieved by the ruling coalition alone. This requires negotiations with all parties involved, which means that co-governing the opposition cannot be avoided. The competition between the parties also results in coalitions. This creates the basis for new collaborations in order to find a common denominator. It can therefore be argued that, from Lijphart's first point of view, the question of the executive distribution of power, Germany is to be seen as a hybrid form.[7]

Lijphart's second criterion for inclusion in his structural model is the relationship between government and parliament. While the government controls the parliament in a majority democracy and the executive thus dominates over the legislature[8], under this aspect, consensus democracy is characterized by a balance of power between government and parliament.[9] The Federal Republic as a parliamentary system of government is characterized by the government's dependence on parliament. It not only elects the Federal Chancellor, but can also remove him if necessary by a parliamentary majority (Article 76 GG), which means that he is dependent on the support of a majority of the MPs. The Bundestag therefore has an important role to play in the process of political decision-making and decision-making - it also determines the federal budget.[10] Chancellor domination, on the other hand, describes a strong head of government who has many means of power. With his parliamentary group majority in the Bundestag, the Federal Chancellor has the legislative competence (Article 71 GG / Article 73 GG). He also has a free hand in filling the ministries. The Federal Government also has reserved access to the Federal Constitutional Court. Of course, the government is also bound by the constitution. It almost always consists of at least two parties and therefore requires constant internal consensus.[11] It can thus be stated that the Federal Republic of Germany is to be assigned to consensus democracy, as there is an equilibrium of forces between the government and the Bundestag.


[1] Cf. Manfred G. Schmidt (2000): Democracy Theories. An introduction. 3rd revised and expanded edition, Opladen, p.340.

[2] See Schubert, Klaus / Klein, Martina (2007): Das Politiklexikon, Bonn, p.174.

[3] Cf. Manfred G. Schmidt: [FN1], p.340.

[4] See Arend Lijphart (1999): Patterns of Democracy. Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries, Yale, page 3.

[5] See Ibid .: pp.10-11.

[6] See Ibid .: 34-35.

[7] Cf. Manfred G. Schmidt (2007): The political system of Germany, Munich, pp. 271-273.

[8] See Lijphart: [FN4], pp.11-12.

[9] See Lijphart: [FN4], pp.35-36.

[10] Cf. Schmidt: The political system of Germany [FN7], p.133-135.

[11] See Ibid .: 181-185.

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