What are the advantages of political parties

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.

Germany is a party democracy. The parties perform a number of important roles in the political system. They not only provide the staff for public offices and mandates, but also take on other functions, on the fulfillment of which the functioning and stability of German democracy largely depend.

The chairman of the FDP appears before the press. In a democracy, parties use the media to help convey information about political issues and mobilize voters. (& copy dpa)

The role of the parties

Germany is a party democracy. Many also speak of a party state, although this is often accompanied by criticism of the parties' excessive power. It is undisputed that the parties play a central role in the political system. They do this on the one hand because parliamentary democracy, with the Bundestag as the central constitutional organ, favors a strong position for the parties. On the other hand, because like no other organization they penetrate all three areas of the political system and thus act as a hinge between the areas: their members form an essential part of the political citizenship, their extra-parliamentary organizations are an important part of the so-called intermediate system of parties, Associations, media and social movements that mediate the formation of political will, and through their parliamentary groups and members of government, they dominate the most important part of the government system at the federal and state level. In fact, this also applies to a large extent at the municipal level, because local citizens' associations, if they have a fixed organization and participate in local elections, are parties in the political science sense.

The central role of the parties in the political system is legally underpinned by the fact that they are secured as a necessary component of the free democratic basic order by Article 21 of the Basic Law at the constitutional level. Their rights and obligations, the organization of their internal life, their state (partial) funding and their tasks are specified in a separate law, the party law. In addition, a ban on parties can only be issued by the Federal Constitutional Court.

The functions of the parties

Every democratic political system must fulfill four essential tasks: political decisions must be discussed and made (policy formulation), decisions made must be carried out (policy implementation), the political process must be controlled (policy control) and the people who work in the organs of the government system must be recruited (personnel recruitment).

Above all in the area of ​​policy formulation and personnel recruitment, but also in policy control, the individual political parties or the entire party system are assigned various functions, on the fulfillment of which the functioning and stability of German democracy essentially depend. This leads to a number of function catalogs, one of which is presented here. The work of the parties is criticized in many ways and it cannot be denied that they sometimes compete with other organizations in fulfilling their functions, but they remain indispensable for the political system.

Policy formulation

As part of the political discussion process, the parties express the political positions, wishes and needs of their members and / or voters (Interest articulation function). The more heterogeneous your membership or electorate is in their interests, the more the interests have to be bundled, summarized and weighted (Interest aggregation function) and the more difficult it is to form a clear common political position from the sometimes conflicting views and ideas. In many parties, especially in the large popular parties, the different positions are therefore reflected in different wings, associations, working groups or currents. Externally, one then often tries to cover the broadest possible range of interests through compromise formulas or ambiguous programmatic formulations and thus to address a large number of voters.

In terms of the aggregation of interests, the parties differ from associations, which as a rule articulate more uniform interests of certain social groups. In addition, because of their anchoring in the system of government, the parties are not only able to express their interests to the political decision-makers, but also to bring them directly into the political decision-making processes (Interest transmission function). Parties not only act as guardians of citizens' interests, but also as representatives of interests in their own right, e.g. when it comes to their state funding or the diets of their MPs. The fact that certain social groups are clearly underrepresented in the membership of all parties and others overrepresented is often viewed as problematic for the political representation of the diversity of interests in society by the party system. In addition, the proportion of party members in the population and thus the anchoring of all parties in political citizenship has been declining for decades.

The decline in membership affecting all parties represented in the Bundestag - with the exception of the Greens and AfD - shows that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the parties to motivate the citizens for party-related political engagement and to present themselves as a powerful instrument for the political participation of the citizens (Participation function). In addition, this also affects the ability of the parties to integrate these groups into the political system through their claim to political representation vis-à-vis social groups and the offer of opportunities to participate (Integration function).

The mediation tasks of the parties in the context of the political discussion process are not limited to just one direction, i.e. they do not only run from the political citizenship to the political decision-makers. The parties are also there to convey to the citizens the political decisions made within the framework of the system of government, either directly or through the media. On the one hand, this involves conveying objective information about the respective facts (Information transfer function), but also the attempt to win over the citizens for the party through a mixture of conviction and persuasion and thus - especially in elections - to mobilize party politics (Mobilization function). In order to achieve the latter, the parties must provide the citizens with alternative political frameworks for orientation, interpretation patterns and solutions for political problems by developing internal party ideas and goals, formulating political programs and communicating them to the citizens (Goal setting function).

By fulfilling the various mediation services in the context of the political discussion process, the parties make a contribution to the political socialization of the citizens (Socialization function). They also help to generate support for democratic values ​​and processes and thus guarantee the legitimacy of the political system (Legitimation function).

However, the parties not only act as mediators between the political citizenship and the actors in the government system. Because they are anchored in the system of government, they are the ones who directly make political decisions, i.e. exercise political rule (Ruling function). The political decision-making processes in parliament are determined by the parliamentary groups of the ruling and opposition parties, which are legally independent units that work closely with the extra-parliamentary party organizations. In addition, government offices are filled with party representatives. Even if political decisions are increasingly shaped in terms of content in networks with the participation of central social actors (non-governmental organizations, associations, citizens' initiatives, experts, etc.), the formal decision-making authority remains largely in the hands of the actors in the government system and thus the parties.

Policy control

The control of the political process takes place in various ways: on the one hand, in the form of legal control, primarily by the Federal Constitutional Court, which is largely invoked by the federal or state governments, which are made up of party representatives, or by a quarter of the members of the Bundestag (abstract control of norms). On the other hand, the parties also take a direct, political one Control function true. Since in parliamentary democracy the government and the parliamentary majority form a political unit of action, this usually takes place between the government and the parliamentary groups that support them, while the opposition groups exercise their control function primarily by creating public opinion.


The parties have a de facto monopoly on recruiting for public offices and mandates at regional, national and European level (Recruiting function). This applies, for example, to all constitutional organs at the national level: after 1949 not a single non-party applicant was elected to the Bundestag, the government offices are occupied by the parties, the Bundesrat consists of representatives of the state governments and the Federal President is elected by the Federal Assembly, all of them Members of the Bundestag as well as an equal number of representatives of the federal states elected by the state parliaments, i.e. chosen by the parties. The judges of the Federal Constitutional Court are elected half by the twelve-member election committee of the Bundestag and half by the Bundesrat. Once in office, however, their twelve-year term and the fact that they cannot be re-elected usually ensures their political independence.


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  • Bukow, Sebastian / Jun, Uwe / Niedermayer, Oskar (Ed.) (2016): Parties in State and Society. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  • Jun, Uwe (2013): Types and functions of parties, in: Niedermayer, Oskar (Hrsg.): Handbuch Klassenforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 119-144.
  • Krüper, Julian (2018): Functions of political parties and their representation in law. On the limits of a functional description of political parties under organizational law, in: Morlok, Martin / Poguntke, Thomas / Sokolov, Ewgenij (eds.): Party state - party democracy. Baden-Baden. Nomos, pp. 69-94.