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The most populous country in the European Union, Germany borders Denmark, Poland, The Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Reunified in 1990, Germany is a parliamentary democracy with strong federal features, with the a presidential head of state, a president of the parliament and a chancellor, who exercises executive power. While Germany has strong human rights standards, like many Western European countries there are issues with its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, including children.
Germany is a central European country on the Baltic and North Seas, and shares borders with Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland. Its terrain is largely flatlands in the north, giving way to uplands in the centre and the Bavarian Alps in the south. Around 30 per cent of the country is forests and woodland. The capital city is Berlin.
Population and Language
The country is home to 82.2 million people, making it the most populous country in western Europe. The population rose significantly following the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of the country, but has been falling since 2005. UNDESA figures project that this trend will continue over the next decade leading to a population decline of around 1.5 million.
History and Politics
Germany was on the frontiers of the USSR and western Europe during the Cold War, during which the country was divided into the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. The country reunited in 1990 following the collapse of the USSR, but the historic divide continues to be felt nationally in terms of development. Angela Merkel, as Chancellor, holds the country's most powerful political position. Mrs. Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democrat Party (CDU), became Chancellor in 2005 in government with the left-leaning Social Democrats. In 2009 her party achieved sufficient votes to form a centre-right coalition with the Free Democrats, a more natural alliance that would require fewer concessions than the former coalition. President Wulff, the Head of State, resigned amid a corruption scandal in February 2012.
Germany's political system takes the form of a federal republic, with the President as the head of state and the Chancellor as head of government. The Bundestag is the primary legislature, elected every four years by a form of proportional representation, while the Bundesrat plays the role of an upper house with representatives from the 16 Länder (federal regions).
Germany is Europe's largest and the world's fifth largest economy and a leading exporter of machinery, vehicles, chemicals and household equipment. The State was hit hard by the 2009 global economic crisis, which caused GDP to shrink by 4.7 per cent in a single year and led the Government to bail out several private banks. Growth quickly returned, however, off the back of exports, particularly to emerging economies such as China. West Germany was a founding member of the European Economic Community in the 1950s, and modern Germany is now one of the core states in the European Union. The ongoing Eurozone crisis remains a problem, however, and Germany has been at the heart of attempts to stabilise the monetary union.
Media and Civil Society
Reporters Without Borders rated Germany 18 out of 178 countries in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, a ranking that took account of its media's “plurality, independence and courage in tackling sensitive issues and conducting investigative research”. Among the areas of concern, however, have been phone tapping carried out against journalists by Deutsche Telekom, the ban of the exiled Kurdish news channel ROJ TV, and the 2009 anti-terror legislation that extended the powers of the federal justice ministry. In its review of German civil-society, CIVICUS reported a generally positive view of the country, noting that although the civil society had structural weaknesses, including low participation, civil society makes a significant impact.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Germany has a generally good record on human rights, which are protected through extensive national and international measures. Some areas of national practice have been criticised by international human rights bodies and NGOs, however, particularly with respect to refugees and asylum-seekers. The Committee against Torture in particular has raised concerns over the treatment of unaccompanied children in airports, while Amnesty International has highlighted the practice of subjecting children to the same asylum procedures as adults, without the assistance of a guardian. The use of racial profiling by German police has also been raised as a concern.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- BBC, " Profile: Angela Merkel" 27 September 2009
- The Guardian, "German President and Merkel ally resigns in corruption scandal" 17 February 2012
- The Independent, " Commerzbank may have to ask for new bailout" 11 December 2011
- See BBC, "What really caused the Euro crisis?" 22 December 2011
- Reporters Without Borders, "Deutsche Telekom admits having monitored journalists' phone calls" 9 June 2008
- Reporters Without Borders, "World Report: Germany"
- CIVICUS, Sabine Reimer, "Civil society: A new solution beyond state and market?" Civicus civil society report for Germany" 2005
- CRIN, "Germany: Children's rights in UN treaty body reports"
- Amnesty International, "Report 2011: The state of the world's human rights", pp. 150-151
- Deutsche Welle, "Are the German police using racial profiling?"
- OHCHR, Germany Homepage
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Country Profiles: Germany
- BBC, Germany Country Profile and see footnotes
- Hauser Global Law School Project, GlobaLex, by Rita Exter and Martina Kammer, " Legal Research in Germany between Print and Electronic Media: An Overview"
- World Bank Data: Germany
- Reporters Without Borders: see footnotes
- The Independent: see footnotes