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The state & politics

Broad Participation

Political party work is the classic way to become involved, but lots of young people exploit opportunities to participate in local citizens’ groups.
Annalena Baerbock
© dpa


Germany’s political system acknowledges the crucial and privileged position within the Federal Republic. Article 21 of the Basic Law The Basic Law The Basic Law determines that Germany is a constitutional state: All state authorities are subject to judicial control. Section 1 of the Basic Law is of particular relevance. It stipulates that respect for human dignity is the most important aspect of the constitution: “Human dignity shall be… Read more › states that they “participate in the formation of the political will of the people.” This is accompanied by an obligation to uphold their own internal democracy. Committees, chairpersons and candidates are elected in secret ballots by delegates of the party membership at party conferences. More recently, parties have directly polled their members on significant decisions as 
a means of reinforcing their internal democratic processes. 

While the parties remain essentially a form of social expression, at the same time they are losing coherence. The CDU/CSU and SPD each have around a million party members, which corresponds to around 1.6% of the 61 million eligible voters. The trend in voter turnout is also in decline. While turnout for elections Elections Every four years, the parties stand in the general elections to the Bundestag. Traditionally, the turn-out is high in Germany, and following a high in the 1970s, when the turn-out was over 90 percent, since reunification it has been around 80 percent. 76.6 per cent of eligible voters took part… Read more › in the 1970s and 1980s remained high and reached its peak (91.1% in 1972), the 2017 and 2021 Bundestag elections achieved 76.2% and 76.6% respectively. 

The greatest increase in turnout by some distance in 2021, was the 3.9% rise in voters aged 21–29. However, opportunities to participate through civil society ini­tiatives and non-governmental organisations are often more attractive for young people. Social media is becoming increasingly significant as a platform for citizens to articulate political views and take action. Voters can also participate in the political process through democratic processes such as referendums. Opportunities for direct democracy are increasingly offered at state and municipal 
levels, and citizens are making great use of these.

“Citizens’ councils” are also growing in importance as a means of involving members of the public in decision-making processes. These councils are generally concerned with specific concrete 
issues where they make recommendations to political leaders. Governments and parties are also looking for ways to engage with the people. For example, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has initiated citizens consultations as part of drawing up the first National Security Strategy.