Country profile: Germany
Country profile: Germany
Located in the heart of Europe, Germany is the continent’s most industrialized and populous country. Famed for its technological achievements, it has also produced some of Europe’s most celebrated composers, philosophers and poets.
Achieving national unity later than other European nations, Germany quickly caught up economically and militarily, before defeats in World War I and II left the country shattered, facing the difficult legacy of Nazism, and divided between Europe’s Cold War blocs.
Germany rebounded to become the continent’s economic giant, and a prime mover of European cooperation; with the end of the Cold War, it once again celebrated reunification, but at an economic price that is still being felt.
People in the previously affluent west have had to pay a higher price than many originally expected while those in what was once the German Democratic Republic, the former Soviet-dominated east, have seen jobs vanish and the cost of living spiral. The population is declining there too as young people vote with their feet. Their talents go west with them.
The pain of Germany’s Nazi-era history remains a sensitive element in the country’s collective modern-day psyche. Out of the devastation of World War II grew European awareness of the need to guard against any such catastrophe recurring on the continent.
In the 1950s Germany was one of the six founding nations in the original European Economic Community from which the European Union was eventually to develop and in which Germany is a key player. Franco-German cooperation was central to European economic integration in the 1980s and 90s.
Germany’s international profile has been growing in other areas too. The country sent peacekeepers to the Balkans and its forces have been involved in operations in Afghanistan. The former chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, was a vociferous critic of the launch of US-led operations in Iraq.
The country has famous beer brewing traditions. Beer purity laws dating back to 1516 limit the fermentation ingredients to malted grain, hops, yeast and water.
As the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, among others, Germany’s gift to European classical music is colossal while Goethe, Nietzsche, Kant and Brecht are giants in the world of letters and philosophy.
President: Horst Koehler
The president has a mainly ceremonial role. Horst Koehler, a former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was elected in May 2004.
Chancellor: Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel, leader of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), was sworn in as Germany’s first female chancellor in late November 2005, taking over from Gerhard Schroeder who had held the post since 1998.
General elections two months earlier produced a very close result. After lengthy talks, agreement was reached that Mrs Merkel would be chancellor in a “grand coalition” involving the CDU, its CSU allies and the SPD.
Mrs Merkel’s key task is to revive the economy. Her plans to cut taxes for high earners and to liberalise employment law were shelved during coalition talks.
The policy deal agreed included some tax increases, a rise in the retirement age, spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit and an investment programme to tackle unemployment.
She was born in Hamburg in 1954 but grew up in East Germany where her father was a Protestant clergyman. She holds a doctorate in physics.
She became leader of the CDU in 2000 after Helmut Kohl was brought down by a party funding scandal.
In 2007 Mrs Merkel topped Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most powerful women for the second year in a row.
Forbes said she “continued to impress the world with her cool leadership at two back-to-back summits.” The magazine cited her work getting leaders at the Group of Eight summit to agree to goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and persuading European Union leaders to get moving on a treaty to replace their failed constitution.
Germany’s competitive television market is the largest in Europe, with some 34 million TV households.
The many regional and national public broadcasters – organised in line with the federal political structure – vie for audiences with powerful commercial operators.
Around 90% of German households have cable or satellite TV, and viewers enjoy a comprehensive mix of free-to-view public and commercial channels. This has acted as a brake on the development of pay-TV services.
Germany is home to some of the world’s largest media conglomerates, including Bertelsmann and the publisher Axel Springer. Some of Germany’s top free-to-air commercial TV networks are owned by ProSiebenSat1, a consortium led by a US billionnaire.
Germany is rolling out digital radio and TV and aims to switch off its analogue TV transmitters by 2010. Public TV broadcasters ZDF and ARD offer a range of digital-only channels.
While the press and broadcasters are free and independent, the display of swastikas and statements endorsing Nazism are illegal.
There are several national newspapers, but the press market is strongest at a regional level, with more than 300 titles.