How do I quit my political party?

Parties in Germany

Oskar Niedermayer

Prof. Dr. Oskar Niedermayer is a professor emeritus and former head of the Otto Stammer Center at the Free University of Berlin. His main research interests are political parties, elections and right-wing extremism in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Parties play a central role in the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is legally recognized and secured. From this status, the parties can not only derive rights for themselves, but also have to fulfill certain obligations, some of which have a major impact on the organization of the parties.

A vote during a party congress: the internal order of the parties must correspond to democratic principles. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Germany is a party democracy, i.e. the parties play a central role in the political system and fulfill a number of important tasks. This is also constitutionally recognized and safeguarded by Article 21 of the Basic Law (GG). The constitutional requirements are specified and supplemented by provisions primarily in the Political Parties Act (PartG), but also in the federal electoral law and tax law, as well as by regulations at the European level. These legal rules define formal requirements as well as rights and obligations to which the parties are subject from their formation to their possible dissolution or their prohibition, which they must observe in their internal life and which are intended to support them in fulfilling their functions.

The establishment and recognition of parties

The establishment of a party is free (Article 21.1 sentence 2 GG). It represents an association of natural persons on the basis of private law. A party is founded when the founding, the program and the statutes of the party have been decided at an event and the board of directors has been elected. After that, the board of directors has to announce the founding documents to the federal returning officer, who checks them for completeness and records them in a publicly accessible collection of documents. However, this does not mean recognition as a party within the meaning of the definition of the PartG (§ 2).

A party is only recognized within the framework of its admission to an election and only for the respective election. As long as parties have not been represented by at least five MPs without interruption in the Bundestag or in a Landtag since their last election based on their own nominations, they must notify the federal or the responsible state election committee in writing of their participation. On the basis of the documents, the respective committee then examines the party status and determines it if the following requirements are met:
  • the majority of the members of a party must be German and their seat must be in Germany,
  • the board of directors must consist of at least three people,
  • the name must be different from other parties,
  • its statutes must meet certain minimum requirements, in particular with regard to intra-party democracy and
  • the program must reveal political goals (which ones are is irrelevant, i.e. there is no examination of the content).
In addition, the party must be able to perform its functions, in particular participation in a parliament, in terms of its organizational, human and financial resources. If a party does not take part in a federal or state election for six years, it loses its legal status as a party. Other political associations, i.e. groups of voters that are not recognized as political parties, can also participate in European elections, and the municipal level is not covered by the PartG's concept of party, but is regulated by municipal laws or ordinances.

The dissolution and prohibition of parties

A party can merge or disband with other parties at any time without the state intervening in or forcing these processes. However, there is one exception: as an expression of a defensive democracy, parties "which, according to their goals or the behavior of their supporters, aim to impair or eliminate the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany" are unconstitutional (Art . 21 sec. 2 sentence 1 GG). The Bundestag, the Federal Government or the Bundesrat can apply to the Federal Constitutional Court to determine whether a party is unconstitutional. If the court finds it unconstitutional, the party will be dissolved and the creation of a substitute organization prohibited. So far only two parties have been banned in the Federal Republic: in 1952 the SRP, a successor organization to the NSDAP, and in 1956 the KPD.

There are high hurdles for banning parties. It is not enough for a party, for example, to reject the fundamental principles of the free-democratic basic order in its program. In addition, it must actively combat these through specific actions, the problem being which actions can be attributed to which persons of the party as a whole. In addition, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights must be observed, according to which a party ban is only justified if a party has a realistic chance of achieving its goals through its electoral success and thus poses an immediate danger to democracy.

The inner life of the parties

The internal order of the parties must correspond to democratic principles (Article 21.1 sentence 3 GG). In particular, this is intended to ensure a transparent and controllable decision-making process from bottom to top. The PartG provides a number of requirements for the organizational structure and the internal party procedural and decision-making rules: The organizational structure must be developed to such an extent that the individual members have an appropriate opportunity to participate, for the enforcement of member rights there must be a separate arbitration system, a party may be excluded only take place for serious reasons, the highest decision-making body for the essential personnel and content-related decisions is the general assembly or, at a higher level, a representative assembly (party congress), the board must consist of at least three members and be elected secretly at least every second calendar year. In addition, the electoral laws prescribe a democratic design of the candidate list before state elections.

The fulfillment of the function of parties

The state is obliged to be neutral towards the parties and must ensure their equal opportunities in open and fair competition. The competition results must not be falsified by government measures. The allocation of state financial resources to support the parties in fulfilling their functions is therefore linked to the election results and the amount of the donations by the citizens. In order to make the political decision-making process transparent for the citizens, the parties have to give a public account of the origin and use of all their financial resources.

literature

  • Bukow, Sebastian / Jun, Uwe / Niedermayer, Oskar (Ed.) (2016): Parties in State and Society. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  • Merten, Heike (2018): Legal Foundations of Party Democracy, in: Decker, Frank / Neu, Viola (Ed.): Handbook of German Parties. Wiesbaden: Springer VS (3rd edition), pp. 57-96.
  • Morlok, Martin (2006): Art. 21, in: Dreier, Horst (Ed.): GG Commentary, Vol. 2. Tübingen: Mohr, pp. 327-403.
  • Morlok, Martin / Poguntke, Thomas / Sokolov, Ewgenij (Ed.) (2018): Party State - Party Democracy. Baden-Baden. Nomos.
  • Morlok, Martin (2013): Legal Foundations, in: Niedermayer, Oskar (Ed.): Handbook of political party research. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 241-260.