Too indirect legitimation

Yesterday I pointed out issues about the accuracy of representation at the very first level - in a constituents/representatives topic.

The German political system knows an indirect election of the head of government (17 in Germany; 16 states and federal level). This has the advantage that head of government and majority of parliament are from the same coalition and parliament does not obstruct governance or deprive it of funds.

This indirect legitimation of the cabinet is semi-problematic. Germans have become accustomed to think of parliament elections as elections who shall lead the next cabinet, but this is clearly suboptimal. It decimates the perceived and actual role of the parliament in the democracy (many if not all German parliaments are obedient to the cabinets and de facto small cliques of top politicians rule while the representatives are their pawns). The other problem about it is that this indirect legitimation is quite ridiculously weak.
We cannot even be sure we get what we voted for when we vote for a party or representative. How could we assume a strong link between voting-representative-head_of_government-minister? That's three steps, when one alone is already an unreliable link.

The de facto direct election of the head of government doesn't improve this by much. Remember the green betrayal of their base with their militaristic foreign policy since 1999, the red betrayal of their base with Agenda 2010 and Merkel's many U-turns.

Reader will probably not follow me when I write that the democratic legitimation of ministers along the common route is very indirect and weak. I do suppose that the majority will follow me after this preparation when I write that the democratic legitimation of chief executives of government agencies, government-owned corporations et cetera is ridiculously weak.

One example:
An international airport, a classic case of natural monopoly for a city of typical European size. There's usually only one profitable international airport per Central European city. Natural monopolies don't belong into the market - it's better to run them publicly to avoid at least some of the monopoly issues, and a non-profit company would be the best version.
Now who would become CEO of such a publicly-owned NGO? That is usually a well-paid and important job. The airport would be owned by the people, so whoever is CEO would need to be legitimised by them.

The common path is that we elect representatives, they elect a head of government, (s)he chooses a minister whom the representatives formally accept, said minister chooses the CEO.
That's ridiculous. The end result is that incompetent party soldiers or golf buddies of the minister of head of government get the job, not a competent candidate. We Germans know how "well" this served us in the WestLB, KfW et cetera.

Isn't it obvious that not only legislators and possibly government officials, but also important technocrats from state- or federally-owned or at the very least our representatives in the board of directors (when partially privately owned) should be legitimised by public election?

There's of course even much less than a snowball's chance in hell that this will happen. It would ruin lots of cushy privileges and quasi-retirement options of the political class. Moreover, the very idea that the CEO of a nationally owned corporation requires democratic legitimation is one that's probably simply not on the public's mind. We're not ready for the concept anyway, for lots of our options to actually give our vote (such as for our representatives in the social insurances) are badly lacking interest, media information on candidates / party programs and voter participation.

This was therefore no proposal for an immediate improvement, but rather an effort to point out how much room for improvement a rather modern democracy as ours (in Germany) actually still has. Let's hope that we'll sooner or later go forward, and not stick to this unsatisfactory state of affairs forever.

S Ortmann


  1. Since I am not familar with the German representatives in the social insurances could you explain that more?
    Also could you clarify the WestLB, KfW?


  2. WestLB and KfW were poorly-run government-owned banks which had served as extra-budget financial arm of government and had to be saved from their own incompetence during the financial crisis.

  3. The principal–agent problem.