The German word Beamter (female: Beamtin or Beamte, plural: Beamte) means civil servant, and is pronounced [bəˈʔamtɐ], with a glottal stop between the "e" and the "a". This English translation is ambiguous, as German law draws a distinction between two classes of public servants, namely regular public employees (Angestellte), who are generally subject to the same body of laws and regulations as employees in the private sector, and Beamte with their own, particular legal status.
The conceptual foundation of Beamte is to be found in the "enlightened rule" of monarchs practised in 18th-century Prussia and other German states. These states did not accept "radical" concepts such as democracy or popular sovereignty, but they did struggle to professionalise their public services and to reduce corruption and favouritism. The idea was that whoever represents the state by undertaking official duties which only the state may legally provide (hoheitliche Aufgaben), such as issuing official documents, teaching state-approved curricula to students, preaching in state-approved churches, or making any other kind of official decisions, should have a special legal status and relationship with the state characterised by a higher-than-normal degree of loyalty. At its core, that loyalty is regarded as mutual, with Beamte having a special duty of service (Dienstpflicht) going beyond the duties of salaried workers, with the state having a special duty of seeing to their welfare (Fürsorgepflicht) that likewise goes beyond what would be expected of a commercial employer.
While soldiers and judges are not considered Beamte in Germany, many of the same rules apply to them. However, unlike Beamte, judges are not subject to the usual hierarchy and order of command of government, in order to preserve judicial independence. Similarly, unlike Beamte, soldiers cannot be ordered to act in any manner unrelated to the defence of the state (with the exception of providing peaceful aid in specific emergency situations laid down by law), so as to preserve the civilian nature of the German government.
In modern times, many state functions are carried out by non-Beamte. This is in part due to the financial burden imposed on the state by having Beamte, a status that comes with a range of privileges. These include a special health plan, the Beihilfe, which covers 50% of most health care expenses, with the Beamter being responsible for the remainder of the cover, which is usually achieved by taking out private health insurance; an index-linked pension of at most 71.25% of final salary, paid directly by the state rather than by the usual public pension provider; and most importantly, near-ironclad job security - the state may transfer Beamte who do not perform well to other, often less desirable (but not less paid), posts, but may terminate their employment entirely only in cases of serious felonies. It is a common feature of most governments that Beamte are virtually non-dismissible. German Beamte, by contrast, hold tenure for life as protected by Art. 33(5) of the Basic Law: appointment is for life and subject to public law, not private-law employment regulations. There is no contract of employment between the Beamter and the state entity employing him. Entities that may employ Beamte include, other than the federal government, the 16 state government and all local authorities, certain corporations, agencies and foundations governed by public law, such as the Catholic and Lutheran churches, whose priests have a status similar to that of Beamte. These are not, however, employed by the state but by the churches in their capacity as corporations of public law.
Compared to employees stricto sensu, Beamte are exempt from all social security contributions, although they are, like all other employees, subject to income tax (and unlike those who receive a state pension, Beamte must pay income tax on the entirety of their pension income) and most have private medical insurance. While Beamte can opt into Germany's public health insurance services covering most, if not all, German employees, both in the public and private sectors, but most elect not to as they would otherwise have to cover both the employee's and the employer's contributions. Spouses and dependent children of Beamte have to be insured individually through private insurance, although they also receive Beihilfe.
One notable disadvantage is that Beamte, unlike all other public or private employees, lack the right to strike. Furthermore, their salary and working hours are determined by law, rather than by negotiations between employers and unions. As a result, the usual working week for ordinary public employees is 38.5 hours, whereas for Beamte it is now between 40 and 42 hours, depending on the entity employing the Beamter.
Beamte committing a crime - whether on or off duty - face double punishment, by being subject to both the criminal law and internal disciplinary procedures.
Beamte have fewer rights to engage in political work. Some people believe that once Beamtenstatus (i.e. tenure for life as a civil servant) is conferred, civil servants lack further professional motivation, to the detriment of those they are appointed to serve.
Becoming a Beamter
A prospective Beamter must be a national of the Federal Republic of Germany or of a member state of the European Union (although there are now multiple exceptions), and must generally achieve the status by the age of 35. There are four professional tracks for Beamte, depending on their education:
- Einfacher Dienst (simple or lower service), mainly for positions of menial work, which has mostly fallen out of use. Similar to enlisted ranks excluding non-commissioned officers.
- Mittlerer Dienst (middle service), mainly for positions requiring roughly the equivalent of a completed apprenticeship. Similar to non-commissioned officers.
- Gehobener Dienst (upper service), mainly for positions requiring a bachelor's degree or its equivalent. This bachelor's degree is often obtained whilst studying at a public institute of higher education provided, and working as a trainee Beamter. Similar to commissioned officer (who however obtain their master's degree before taking up a troop post).
- Höherer Dienst (senior service), restricted to graduates holding a master's degree or its equivalent. Similar to officers of rank major and above, and to all judges.
Teachers of primary and II and III class secondary schools have a position unofficially between upper and senior service (to which latter the I class secondary school teachers belong, as they begin their service in the highest pay grade of upper service and can by promotion reach senior service (yet in the case of primary teachers, promotion is practically restricted to the principal).
Conferral of the status of Beamter does not involve any contract, but letters of appointment (Ernennungsurkunde). The new Beamter's first task is to swear his oath of office, including a pledge to uphold federal laws and the constitution (Grundgesetz), and - where the employing entity is not the federal government - the constitution and laws of the respective state.
There are typically three steps involved in becoming a Beamter with full tenure for life:
- For all four career tracks (lower, middle, upper and senior civil service) there are specially-designed training schemes lasting one year (lower service), two years (middle service) or three years (senior and upper service), including oral and written exams as well as a dissertation. There are exceptions for highly technical tasks. Trainee Beamte usually have the title Anwärter, preceded by the official term of the position, e.g. Regierungssekretärsanwärter (RSA) (Trainee Government Secretary) or Kriminalkommissaranwärter (KKA) (Trainee Detective Inspector). Trainee officials of the senior service are called Referendare, e.g. Studienreferendar for a trainee teacher. They receive a special salary and hold the legal status of Beamter, albeit without tenure for life.
- The trainee period is followed by a probationary period. This period usually lasts three years, occasionally longer. The salary is based on the salary grade which the Beamter will hold upon achieving tenure for life. Usually, the designation of office precedes the abbreviation "z. A." (zur Anstellung), which means "to be employed", e.g. Regierungsinspektor z. A. Again, there is an exception with regard to the senior service, where probationary Beamte may be called Rat z. A. (e.g. Studienrat z. A., Regierungsrat z. A.), or, alternatively, Assessor, although this is now less common.
- The official becomes a Beamter auf Lebenszeit, i.e. a Beamter with full tenure for life.
It should be borne in mind that, whether applicants undergo steps 1, 2, or 3, they are already hold the status of Beamter, although initially in training or on probation. It is also important to know, that normally it is impossible to become a Beamter after the age of 45.
Fields of work
The status of Beamter is held by administrative officials, but also by policemen, prison guards, customs officers, most teachers and university professors, and other professionals in the public service, and by certain holders of political offices such as mayors (but not ministers, who have a peculiar, but similar, status governed by public law). For holders of political office, the status of Beamter is not permanent, only applying during the term of office. Furthermore, while most teachers in the Western states of Germany are Beamte, this is not necessarily the case in Eastern states. Berlin, for example, has abolished the status of Beamter for teachers.
Formerly, Beamter status used to be bestowed more liberally. As it results in permanent tenure, there are still many Beamte amongst those working for the German post office (Deutsche Post and Deutsche Telekom), the railway services (Deutsche Bahn), and other public utility companies, many of which are either no longer state-owned or have been converted into companies governed by private rather than public law. New employees at those entities are no longer made Beamte. Privatisation and reductions in the number of established posts have reduced the overall number of Beamte. Since 1991, the number of Beamte has declined by 1.4 million to around 3.9 million. This meant that, as of January 2007, reunited Germany had fewer Beamte than the old Federal Republic of Germany.
Local authority staff is split: about one-third are Beamte, mostly in higher administrative positions, and two-thirds are ordinary employees.
All Beamte were once paid according to the Bundesbesoldungsgesetz (Federal Payment Act), regardless of who the employing entity was (the federal government, the 16 states, local authorities or other corporations, agencies and foundations governed by public law). This has now changed. The 16 states have the option to vary salaries. Nonetheless, the Federal Government still keeps a close eye on the respective "Landesbesoldungsgesetze", which may only differ up to 5% from the Federal Salary Scheme.
In Germany, Beamte have permanent tenure, i.e. they cannot normally be dismissed, receive certain privileges, and are usually remunerated more generously than ordinary employees. In addition, they are exempt from all social security contributions such as pension or unemployment insurance. Dismissal is permissible for prolonged periods of illness, i.e. three months within half a year. It is also possible to dismiss the Beamter during the probationary period, and thereafter the Beamter can be retired and given a pension on the basis of his years of service.
In the new Länder which once constituted the German Democratic Republic, most teachers are not Beamte, with the possible exception of head teachers and certain specialists (lecturers teaching at schools providing vocational education or at grammar schools).
Salary is usually counted by month (as opposed to the anglophone, or also German tax law, custom to count it by year). Apart from the salary group, it also depends (in orders A, R and C) on the number of years served. Bypassing additions (for family or special positions, etc.) and variations in sub-federal law, the monthly salary for the lowest possible order (A2) is €1845.90, that for a beginning detective (A9) is €2441.26, that for a beginning Gymnasium teacher (A13) or state attorney or local judge (R1) is in either case €3780.31, that of a Gymnasium principal (A16) at the end of his career may be up to 6649.87 and that of a State Secretary is €12508.46. For more details, see the salary calculator in the weblinks below.
Beamte only pay income tax but do not pay social taxes. This means that their income after tax is much higher than that of other civil servants or workers in private companies with a comparable gross salary.
Designations of office
In the German civil service (regardless of whether concerning the federal government, the 16 states or other entities), the official title of designation held by the Beamter is tied to one of the salary grades of the Federal Payment Act, on which the individual states base their own remuneration legislation.
The following lists are very generalized, especially in order B Beamte tend to have very specialized titles; thus, mayors, ambassadors, lords-lieutenant of districts and provinces will be fitted in somewhere depending on the importance of their office. For information's sake, judges and federal ministers who are not Beamte are included (Staatsanwälte are, though). In the table, the same thing has been done to the general military ranks (without notice of naval ranks and other deviations).
- A1: Amtsgehilfe (now abolished)
- A2: Oberamtsgehilfe, Wachtmeister
- A3: Hauptamtsgehilfe, Oberwachtmeister
- A4: Amtsmeister, Hauptwachtmeister
- A5: Oberamtsmeister, Erster Hauptwachtmeister
- A6: Oberamtsmeister, Erster Hauptwachtmeister
- A5: Werkführer, Assistant (now rare)
- A6: Werkmeister, Oberassistent, Sekretär
- A7: Meister, Obersekretär
- A8: Obermeister, Hauptsekretär, e.g. Brandobermeister (fire fighter), Polizeiobermeister (policeman)
- A9: Hauptmeister, Amtsinspektor
- A9: Inspektor, f.e. Regierungsinspektor
- A10: Oberinspektor
- A11: Amtmann
- A12: Amtsrat
- A13: Oberamtsrat
Upper service at the police (police officer)
- A9: Kommissar, f.e. Kriminalkommissar or Polizeikommissar
- A10: Oberkommissar
- A11: Hauptkommissar
- A12: Hauptkommissar
- A13: Erster Hauptkommissar, f.e. Erster Kriminal- or Polizeihauptkommissar
- A13: Rat, e.g.: Studienrat, Akademischer Rat, Major, Medizinalrat, Baurat, Bibliotheksrat, Verwaltungsrat, Regierungsrat
- A14: Oberrat, e.g. Akademischer Oberrat, Oberstudienrat, Chemieoberrat, Biologieoberrat, Oberregierungsrat
- A15: Direktor, e.g. Polizeidirektor, Kriminaldirektor, Psychologiedirektor, Pharmaziedirektor,
- A16: Leitender Direktor, e.g. Leitender Finanzdirektor, Leitender Medizinaldirektor, Ministerialrat, Oberstudiendirektor
- B1: Direktor und Professor
- B2: Abteilungsdirektor (Director of a Department)
- B3: Ministerialrat (Ministerial ~ counsellor/Counsellor [councillorBE, councilorAE] to the Ministry)
- B4: Erster Direktor
- B5: Ministerialdirigent (on state level in positions of lesser importance)
- B6: Ministerialdirigent (on federal level)
- B7: Präsident (of larger federal offices)
- B8: Präsident (of a limited number of federal offices)
- B9: Ministerialdirektor (~Undersecretary of State), Bürgermeister (Lord Mayor)
- B10: Präsident der BaFin) (and other rare posts)
- B11: Staatssekretär (state secretary - this applies only to permanent, not parliamentary, secretaries of state, though federal parliamentary secretaries receive similar payment)
- Bundesminister: 1⅓ x B11 (Federal Ministers)
- Bundeskanzler: 1⅔ x B11 (Federal Chancellor)
- Bundespräsident: 1 5/6 x B11 (Federal President)
(The last three do not qualify as Beamte stricto sensu.)
- W1: Juniorprofessor
- W2: Professor
- W3: Professor (as a director of an institute or holder of a Chair)
- C1: Wissenschaftlicher/Künstlerischer Assistent
- C2: Wissenschaftlicher/Künstlerischer Oberassistent
- C3: Professor (Extraordinarius)
- C4: Professor (Ordinarius; Lehrstuhlinhaber -rare-)
(concerning schemes C and W, please see below)
- R1: Staatsanwalt, Richter am Amtsgericht, Richter am Landgericht
- R2: Oberstaatsanwalt, Richter am Oberlandesgericht, Vorsitzender Richter am Landgericht
- R3: Leitender Oberstaatsanwalt R3, Vorsitzender Richter am Oberlandesgericht
- R4: Leitender Oberstaatsanwalt R4
- R5: Generalstaatsanwalt
- R6: Bundesanwalt, Richter am Bundesgerichtshof
- R7: Abteilungsleiter bei der Bundesanwaltschaft
- R8: Vorsitzender Richter am Bundesgerichtshof
- R9: Generalbundesanwalt
- R10: Präsident(en) der Bundesgerichte, Richter am Bundesverfassungsgericht
- 1 1/6 x B11: Vizepräsident des Bundesverfassungsgerichts
- 1⅓ x B11 Präsident des Bundesverfassungsgerichts
Salary Orders B, C, W and R all belong to the Senior Service; the Order B follows on from Order A.
Some titles can roughly be compared to offices held by British or other civil servants.
|Scheme||Grade||Office name/term||Examples (Abbr. only for internal usage)||cf. Military rank||Civil service career law|
|A||5||Oberamtsmeister||Stabsgefreiter, Oberstabsgefreiter, Unteroffizier|
|A||6||Oberamtsmeister Erster Klasse|
|A||6||Sekretär||Regierungssekretär (RS)||Stabsunteroffizier||Middle Service|
|A||7||Meister, Obersekretär||Polizeimeister (PM)||Feldwebel, Oberfeldwebel|
|A||8||Obermeister, Hauptsekretär||Regierungshauptsekretär (RHS)||Hauptfeldwebel|
|A||9||Hauptmeister, Amtsinspektor||Brandhauptmeister (BHM)||Stabsfeldwebel, Oberstabsfeldwebel|
|A||9||Inspektor, Kommissar||Regierungsinspektor||Leutnant||Upper service|
|A||10||Oberinspektor, Oberkommissar||Zolloberinspektor (ZOI)||Oberleutnant|
|A||11||Amtmann, Hauptkommissar||Regierungsamtsmann (RA)||Hauptmann|
|A||12||Amtsrat, Hauptkommissar A12||Kriminalhauptkommissar (KHK)||Hauptmann|
|A||13||Oberamtsrat, Erster Hauptkommissar||Regierungsoberamtsrat (ROAR)||Stabshauptmann|
|A||13||Rat||Studienrat (StR)||Major||Senior Service|
|A||16||Leitender Direktor, Oberdirektor, Ministerialrat||Leitender Regierungsdirektor (LRD/LtdRD)||Oberst|
There are also colonels in B3 paygrade. The paygrade of a brigadier general is B6, that of a major general B7, that of a lieutenant general B9 and that of a full general B10.
Federal Oath of Office of the Federal Republic of Germany
- German original, only valid for Beamte of federal and federal state agencies:
Ich schwöre, das Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland und alle in der Bundesrepublik geltenden Gesetze zu wahren und meine Amtspflichten gewissenhaft zu erfüllen.The oath can be sworn both with or without the religious annotation: So wahr mir Gott helfe at the end.
- English translation:
I swear to uphold the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany and all laws valid in the Federal Republic and to fulfil my official duties conscientiously. [So help me God].
Beamte, Richter and Soldaten
Although officially not having the status of Beamte, Richter (judges) and Soldaten (soldiers for a fixed term of two years above; this does not include [former] conscripts and volunteers of up to 23 months) have similar rights and duties to Beamte. For one thing, they are also paid according to the Bundesbesoldungsgesetz; soldiers according to Orders A and B, and judges according to Order R, as are public prosecutors. The latter are, nevertheless, Beamte; soldiers and judges are not. Furthermore, they practically cannot be dismissed, and have the same income. Soldiers and judges are also expected to swear an oath on the Constitution.
Judges are not Beamte, although they were until the mid-1950s. Until then, judges were also paid according to Order A, and usually had the titles "Justiz-" or "Gerichtsrat". However, officials represent the executive branch of government, while judges are independent of the government. Beamte have a duty to obey direct orders from a superior, which is incompatible with an independent system of justice.
Public image of Beamten
Beamte suffer from an image problem in Germany. A study conducted by the German Civil Service Federation (DBB) concluded that 61% of the German population thought Beamte to be "lazy, lethargic, inflexible, stubborn or corrupt". Other common points of contention, among the German public, are that Beamte are paid excessive salaries and cannot be removed from their positions for any reason other than engaging in serious criminal conduct or being incapacitated.
There are several different Salary Orders (Besoldungsordnungen): A (for most Beamte and soldiers), B (for ministerial officials), C (for university professors and lecturers; now replaced by W for newly employed lecturers), R (for public prosecutors and all judges) and W for university lecturers and professors. The salaries in order A are organised in steps, i.e. the longer a Beamter has worked, the better he or she is paid. The different groups reach from A2 to A 16 (A1 was abolished in the 1970s). A2 to A5/6 belong to the Lower Service, A 6 to A 9 to the Middle Service, A 9 to A 13 to the Upper Service and A 13 to A 16 to the Senior Service. The other orders, B, C, R and W, also belong to the Senior Service. German law refers to this as the principle of career tracks or Laufbahnprinzip, based on academic qualifications.
- Beamte of the Middle Service are required to have passed their Realschulabschluss, preferably some further experience. This can be compared to GCSEs in the United Kingdom (other than Scotland), or the American High School diploma.
- To join the Upper Service, all applicants need the Abitur (roughly equivalent to A-levels in UK schools), followed by taking a degree at a college owned by entity for the purpose of training future Beamte.
- Traditionally, most Beamte in the Senior Service held a University State Exam, then equivalent to a university diploma or magister, at a time when law and teacher training was still regulated by the state (law still is). However, the common requirement these days is a master's degree or equivalent, or a State Exam in law. Grammar-school teachers now commonly hold a B.A. in two or three subjects, and a Master's in Education. In Baden-Württemberg, the annual starting salary for a single teacher without children (A13) is €45,511.92 pre-tax (c. £38,500; US$58,600).
Beamte in other countries and in the European Union public authorities
Although a common translation for Beamter is Civil Servant, there are major differences from the British Civil Service, which refers to employees within government departments and not, for example, teachers or postmen. A better translation is public servant, being permanently employed within the public sector.
Another country whose entire administrative structure is based on an officialdom comparable to that of Germany is Austria, where Beamte even often have the same titles, e.g. Rat ("councillor" or "counsellor"). Most cantons and the federal government of Switzerland have abolished their officialdom. France and the Netherlands are also countries traditionally administered by Beamte.
- "Vorsicht bei Anträgen auf Verbeamtung". Hannover. Retrieved 29 September 2018.