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Political involvement and parties

Every citizen can be involved in political life in Germany and influence policies, be it at local level, in the Federal Länder or at Federal level.

One key way of doing this is to get involved with political parties, interest groups, citizens’ initiatives and trade unions.

Parties nominate candidates for local, Land, Federal and European parliamentary elections. These elections cover:

  • municipal and city councils,
  • the Land Government,
  • the Bundestag (the Federal Parliament),
  • the European Parliament.

The political parties in Germany have different agendas and political programmes. You can find out about their standpoints on individual issues on the parties’ websites.

Elections

Elections in Germany are general, direct, free, equal and confidential. This means

  • General: All men and women who are German citizens can vote and be elected provided that they are at least 18 years old.
  • Direct: The people elect members of government directly or by means of a list, and not indirectly through electoral delegates.
  • Free: No one may exert pressure on voters to elect a specific candidate. Voting is not compulsory.
  • Equal: Each vote carries the same weight.
  • Confidential: Everything is kept confidential. Only the overall result is published, but not how individual voters have voted.

display as hint: Important information

Who can vote?

If you are a German national, you may vote in all elections. If you are an EU citizen and have been living in Germany for at least three months, you are eligible to vote in city and municipal council elections and also in European Parliament elections.

The ballot for the Bundestag and most Land Governments works like this: Each voter has two votes, a first vote and a second vote. Voters vote for a candidate from their constituency with their first vote. They cast their second vote for a party list. The second vote is more important as it decides the distribution of seats in the parliaments. The votes for municipal representatives are regulated by Land law. They may be structured differently, but follow the same abovementioned principles of general, direct, free, equal and confidential voting.

Interest groups, citizens’ initiatives and trade unions

You can also be politically active outside the party structure: People join together in citizens’ initiatives to work together locally on a specific issue for example to campaign for the construction of a bypass or to protect a park in the neighbourhood. Once the objective has been achieved, the citizens’ initiative will be disbanded.

Interest groups work together for the long term. They are involved in one specific issue, for example environmental protection (see also the information about associations).

Trade unions represent the political interests of employees. They are active nationwide but also at local level.

display as address: Information available locally

You can obtain further information in your area from:

  • local branches of political party offices and local associations of trades unions,
  • local offices of citizens' initiatives.
Date 17 December 2015

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