President of Germany

Federal President of the Federal Republic of Germany
Bundespräsident der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Bundespräsident (Deutschland) Logo.svg
Flag of the President of Germany.svg
Frank-Walter Steinmeier - 2018 (cropped).jpg
Frank-Walter Steinmeier

since 19 March 2017
StyleHis Excellency
(in international relations only)
ResidenceSchloss Bellevue (Berlin)
Villa Hammerschmidt (Bonn)
AppointerFederal Convention
Term lengthFive years
Renewable once, consecutively
Constituting instrumentBasic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
PrecursorThe Reichspräsident
Formation24 May 1949

The President of Germany, officially the Federal President of the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundespräsident der Bundesrepublik Deutschland),[1] is the head of state of Germany.

Germany has a parliamentary system of government in which the Chancellor (similar to a Prime Minister or Minister President in other parliamentary democracies) is the head of government. The president has far-reaching ceremonial obligations, but also the right and duty to act politically.[2] He can give direction to general political and societal debates and has some important "reserve powers" in case of political instability (such as those provided for by Article 81 of the Basic Law).[3] The president also holds the prerogative to grant pardons on behalf of the federation. The German presidents, who can be elected to two consecutive five-year terms, have wide discretion about how they exercise their official duties.[4]

Under Article 59 (1) of the Basic Law (German Constitution), the president represents the Federal Republic of Germany in matters of international law, concludes treaties with foreign states on its behalf and accredits diplomats.[5] Furthermore, all federal laws must be signed by the president before they can come into effect, but usually they only veto a law if they believe it to violate the constitution.

The president, by his actions and public appearances, represents the state itself, its existence, legitimacy, and unity. The president's role is integrative and includes the control function of upholding the law and the constitution. It is a matter of political tradition – not legal restrictions – that the president generally does not comment routinely on issues in the news, particularly when there is some controversy among the political parties.[6] This distance from day-to-day politics and daily governmental issues allows the president to be a source of clarification, to influence public debate, voice criticism, offer suggestions and make proposals. In order to exercise this power, they traditionally act above party politics.[7]

The 12th and current officeholder is Frank-Walter Steinmeier who was elected on 12 February 2017 and started his first five-year term on 19 March 2017.


The president is elected for a term of five years by secret ballot, without debate, by a specially convened Federal Convention which mirrors the aggregated majority position in the Bundestag (the federal parliament) and in the parliaments of the 16 German states. The convention consists of all Bundestag members, as well as an equal number of electors elected by the state legislatures in proportion to their respective populations. Since reunification, all Federal Conventions have had more than 1200 members, as the Bundestag has always had more than 600 since then. It is not required that state electors are chosen from the members of the state legislature; often some prominent citizens are chosen.

The German constitution, the Basic Law, requires that the convention be convened no later than 30 days before the scheduled expiry of the sitting president's term or 30 days after a premature expiry of a president's term. The body is convened and chaired by the President of the Bundestag. From 1979 to 2009, all these conventions were held on 23 May, the anniversary of the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949. However, the two most recent elections before 2017 were held on different dates after the incumbent presidents, Horst Köhler and Christian Wulff, resigned before the end of their terms, in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

In the first two rounds of the election, the candidate who achieves an absolute majority is elected. If, after two votes, no single candidate has received this level of support, in the third and final vote the candidate who wins a plurality of votes cast is elected.

The result of the election is often determined by party politics. In most cases, the candidate of the majority party or coalition in the Bundestag is considered to be the likely winner. However, as the members of the Federal Convention vote by secret ballot and are free to vote against their party's candidate, some presidential elections were considered open or too close to call beforehand because of relatively balanced majority positions or because the governing coalition's parties could not agree on one candidate and endorsed different people, as they did in 1969, when Gustav Heinemann won by only 6 votes on the third ballot. In other cases, elections have turned out to be much closer than expected. For example, in 2010, Wulff was expected to win on the first ballot, as the parties supporting him (CDU, CSU and FDP) had a stable absolute majority in the Federal Convention. Nevertheless, he failed to win a majority in the first and second ballots, while his main opponent Joachim Gauck had an unexpectedly strong showing. In the end Wulff obtained a majority in the third ballot. If the opposition has turned in a strong showing in state elections, it can potentially have enough support to defeat the chancellor's party's candidate; this happened in the elections in 1979 and 2004. For this reason, presidential elections can indicate the result of an upcoming general election. According to a long-standing adage in German politics, "if you can create a President, you can form a government."[citation needed]

Past presidential elections

Election Date Site Ballots Winner
(endorsing parties) [a]
Electoral votes
(endorsing parties) [b]
Electoral Votes
1st Federal Convention 12 September 1949 Bonn 2 Theodor Heuss
416 (51.7%) Kurt Schumacher
312 (38.8%)
2nd Federal Convention 17 July 1954 West Berlin 1 Theodor Heuss
871 (85.6%) Alfred Weber
12 (1.2%)
3rd Federal Convention 1 July 1959 West Berlin 2 Heinrich Lübke
526 (50.7%) Carlo Schmid
386 (37.2%)
4th Federal Convention 1 July 1964 West Berlin 1 Heinrich Lübke
710 (68.1%) Ewald Bucher
123 (11.8%)
5th Federal Convention 5 March 1969 West Berlin 3 Gustav Heinemann
512 (49.4%) Gerhard Schröder
506 (48.8%)
6th Federal Convention 15 May 1974 Bonn 1 Walter Scheel
530 (51.2%) Richard von Weizsäcker
498 (48.1%)
7th Federal Convention 23 May 1979 Bonn 1 Karl Carstens
528 (51%) Annemarie Renger
431 (41.6%)
8th Federal Convention 23 May 1984 Bonn 1 Richard von Weizsäcker
832 (80%) Luise Rinser
68 (6.5%)
9th Federal Convention 23 May 1989 Bonn 1 Richard von Weizsäcker
881 (84.9%) none 108 (10.4%) no-votes
10th Federal Convention 23 May 1994 Berlin 3 Roman Herzog
696 (52.6%) Johannes Rau
605 (45.7%)
11th Federal Convention 23 May 1999 Berlin 2 Johannes Rau
(SPD, Alliance 90/Greens)
690 (51.6%) Dagmar Schipanski
572 (42.8%)
12th Federal Convention 23 May 2004 Berlin 1 Horst Köhler
604 (50.1%) Gesine Schwan
(SPD, Alliance90/Greens)
589 (48.9%)
13th Federal Convention 23 May 2009 Berlin 1 Horst Köhler
(CDU, CSU, FDP, Free Voters)
613 (50.1%) Gesine Schwan
(SPD, Alliance 90/Greens)
503 (41.1%)
14th Federal Convention 30 June 2010 Berlin 3 Christian Wulff
625 (50.2%) Joachim Gauck
(SPD, Alliance 90/Greens)
494 (39.7%)
15th Federal Convention 18 March 2012 Berlin 1 Joachim Gauck
Alliance 90/Greens, Free Voters, SSW)
991 (79.9%) Beate Klarsfeld
(The Left)
126 (10.2%)
16th Federal Convention 12 February 2017 Berlin 1 Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Alliance 90/Greens, FDP, SSW)
931 (74.3%) Christoph Butterwegge
(The Left)
128 (10.2%)
  1. ^ governing parties in bold
  2. ^ governing parties in bold


The office of president is open to all Germans who are entitled to vote in Bundestag elections and have reached the age of 40, but no one may serve more than two consecutive five-year terms. As yet (2017), only four presidents (Heuss, Lübke, von Weizsäcker and Köhler) have been elected for a second term and only two of them (Heuss and von Weizsäcker) completed those terms, while Lübke and Köhler resigned during their second term. The president must not be a member of the federal government or of a legislature at either the federal or state level.


On taking office the president must take the following oath, stipulated by Article 56 of the Basic Law, in a joint session of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat (it is the only event that demands such a joint session constitutionally). They are permitted to omit the religious references if so desired.

I swear that I will dedicate my efforts to the well-being of the German people, enhance their benefits, avert harm from them, uphold and defend the Constitution and the statutes of the Federation, fulfil my duties conscientiously, and do justice to all. (So help me God.)[8]

As German constitutional law does not consider oaths of office as constitutive but only as affirmative, the president does not have to take the oath at the moment of entering office in order to be able to execute the powers of the office. The oath is usually administered during the first weeks of a president's term on a date convenient for a joint session of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. Nevertheless, a president persistently refusing to take the oath could face an impeachment.[9] If a president is re-elected for a second term, they do not take the oath again.

Other Languages
العربية: رئيس ألمانيا
azərbaycanca: Almaniya Prezidenti
Bahasa Indonesia: Presiden Jerman
Bahasa Melayu: Presiden Jerman
پنجابی: جرمن صدر
Simple English: President of Germany
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Predsjednik Njemačke
اردو: جرمن صدر
Tiếng Việt: Tổng thống Đức