The Federal Convention is the largest parliamentary convention in the Federal Republic of Germany. Its sole function is to elect the Federal President.
The Convention usually assembles only every five years in the Reichstag Building, the exception being if the Federal President’s term of office ends prematurely.
The Federal Convention is convened by the President of the Bundestag, who determines its venue and date, and is also responsible for the preparation and holding of the Convention and for follow-up activities.
The Basic Law (the German constitution) stipulates that the Federal Convention must meet 30 days before the end of the Federal President’s term of office, at the latest.
The Federal Convention consists of all Members of the Bundestag and an equal number of members elected by the parliaments of the Länder. In 2012, it will therefore have 1240 (2 x 620) members.
The number of representatives which the individual Länder may send to the Federal Convention is calculated based on the population of each Land.
Once the venue and date of the Federal Convention and the number of its members have been announced, the representatives of the Länder are elected by the Land parliaments in line with the principles of proportional representation. They are usually members of the parliaments of the Länder, but local politicians and figures from other areas of public life may also be elected.
The Federal President is elected by secret ballot without any prior debate.
In theory, any German who is at least forty years old is eligible for election. Candidates may be proposed by any member of the Federal Convention.
If none of the candidates receives an absolute majority, i.e. more than half the votes, in the first and second ballots, a third ballot is held. In this case, a relative majority is sufficient: whoever receives the most votes wins. New candidates can also be nominated for the second and third ballots.
The President of the Bundestag announces the result of the count and asks the person elected whether he or she accepts his or her election. Following a short speech by the president elect, the President of the Bundestag declares the Federal Convention to be ended. It has fulfilled its function.
The future Federal President takes up office as soon as the term of office of his or her predecessor has expired.
A newly elected Federal President takes the following oath upon taking up office: “I swear that I will dedicate my efforts to the well-being of the German people, promote their welfare, protect them from harm, uphold and defend the Basic Law and the laws of the Federation, perform my duties conscientiously, and do justice to all. So help me God.” The oath can also be taken without religious affirmation.