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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

Council of State

Designated as an organ of the People's Chamber, the Council of State was largely a creation of Ulbricht's during his tenure as first secretary of the SED. After Ulbricht was forced to relinquish that position in 1971, the prestige and authority of the council correspondingly began to decline. However, although it was no longer the de facto supreme executive organ, Honecker's assumption of the chairmanship of the Council of State in October 1976 represented a renewal of its importance. A similar move was made in the Soviet Union when Leonid Brezhnev became head of state. It is reasonable to assume that given East Germany's close adherence to Soviet practices, the increased invisibility of the Council of State since the late 1970s can be traced at least in part to parallel developments in the Soviet Union. Not unrelated to the takeover of the council's chairmanship by Honecker is the fact that after 1977 the number of individuals who were simultaneously members of the council and of the SED's Central Committee Secretariat increased.

In referring to the Council of State, the Constitution declares that it will consist of the chairman, deputy chairmen, members, and secretary; it does not specify the number of deputy chairmen and members. In l987, under the chairmanship of Honecker, there were eight deputy chairmen and seventeen members. In addition to Honecker, two of the deputy chairmen, Horst Sindermann and Willi Stoph, were members of the Politburo of the SED; Stoph was also chairman of the Council of Ministers, and Sindermann was president of the People's Chamber. Four of the deputy chairmen of the Council of State represented the other four political parties, as did four of its seventeen members. The day-to-day functions of the council are carried on by a small bureaucratic staff consisting in 1987 of twenty offices and departments, all of which were headed by SED members. Despite the presence of non-SED members as deputy chairmen and members of the leadership group, SED control was guaranteed by the presence of Honecker, Stoph, Sindermann, and Egon Krenz, probably the four most powerful individuals in the country.

In the mid-1980s, the functions performed by the Council of State included representing the country abroad and ratifying and terminating international treaties; supporting local assemblies in the implementation of their economic and budgetary plans; administering electoral laws that govern the selection of local assemblies on the community, city, county, and district levels; discharging responsibilities for the maintenance of the country's defense with the assistance of the National Defense Council; and administering the activities of the Supreme Court and the Office of the General Prosecuting Attorney to ensure that their actions are congruent with the Constitution and the civil law. In this area, the Council of State possesses additional responsibility for proclaiming amnesties and pardons.

Data as of July 1987