What are the tasks of the head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany?

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Inaugural visit by Ignazio Cassis, President of Switzerland, to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at Bellevue Palace. © Bernd Elmenthaler/IMAGO

On February 13, 2022, Germany’s Federal Assembly will elect a new head of state. Interesting facts about the tasks and functions of the Federal President.

Berlin – In March 2017, Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected the 12th Federal President by the Federal Assembly. In this function, he is Head of State of the Federal Republic of Germany, with his first official residence in Berlin and his second official residence in Bonn. Its powers and tasks are laid down in Articles 54 to 61 of the Basic Law (GG). In domestic politics in particular, the Federal President has an important integration function. As a representative of all Germans, he is required to act in a party-politically neutral manner and to represent the Federal Republic of Germany internally and externally. He must be a German citizen, have reached the age of 40 and have the right to vote in the Bundestag. He may not belong to any legislative body, be part of the federal or state government, or hold any other salaried office, trade or profession during his tenure.

Tasks of the Federal President – Domestic work

In addition to the “official” functions that result from the provisions of the Basic Law, the Federal President as head of state is also responsible for tasks that can be summarized under the term “government”: As head of state, he embodies the state and represents it. An overview of its constitutional foundations and tasks:

  • Forming a government (e.g. proposing the election of the Federal Chancellor, appointing and dismissing the Federal Chancellor, …)
  • Appointments, dismissals, appointments (e.g. of federal judges, federal officers, officers and non-commissioned officers)
  • Drafting of laws after being countersigned by the federal minister(s) involved and the federal chancellor
  • Right of pardon, for example to eliminate or mitigate the consequences of an individual criminal or disciplinary judgment under criminal law or civil service and pension law
  • Attendance at funerals of public figures
  • Participation in events, acceptance of patronage, holding of speeches and speeches, preparation and transmission of congratulations, honoring at anniversaries, participation in tours, etc.

Tasks of the Federal President – work abroad

The most important foreign policy task of the Federal President is the representation of Germany under international law. However, he does not have the power to engage in active foreign policy. According to Article 59 Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law, the Federal President represents the Federal Republic under international law, concludes treaties with foreign states on its behalf, certifies outgoing German diplomats and receives all foreign ambassadors in Germany. The Federal President uses his contacts abroad and with international institutions to help solve global problems. These include, for example, keeping the peace and fighting terrorism. In particular, the Federal President maintains close relations with the European neighbors and with Israel. He advocates that Europe represents its values ​​and beliefs with one voice and promotes global cooperation. An overview of its constitutional foundations and tasks:

  • Representation of Germany under international law
  • Conclusion of international treaties
  • State visits abroad
  • Appointment of German ambassadors
  • Accreditation of foreign ambassadors
  • Distinguished personalities (e.g. with medals or honors)

Duties of the Federal President – ​​accreditation of foreign ambassadors

If a foreign state wants to send an ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, the same procedure applies as for the posting of German diplomats abroad: the state must clarify whether the Federal Republic agrees to this posting and seeks approval from the Federal President. During accreditation in Germany, the designated ambassador is received with a small military ceremony in front of the Federal President’s official residence. He then signs the guest book in the gallery and goes with high-ranking embassy employees to the Langhans Hall in Bellevue Palace, where he presents the Federal President with his letters of credence and his predecessor’s letter of dismissal. Only then can the future diplomats act as ambassadors of their home country in Germany once they have presented their letters of accreditation to the Federal President.

They are only considered official representatives of their head of state in Germany once the letter has been received by the Federal President. Then the new ambassador and the Federal President withdraw to an initial meeting to get to know each other. This conversation is also used to transmit political messages. Finally, the ambassador is bid farewell again with a small military ceremony, during which the national flag of his country is hoisted in front of Bellevue Palace. The new ambassador travels to and from the official residence in the Federal President’s car.


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