JAL777: I don't disagree NoUFO, but I feel that they should have more political clout then they do now.
The german president does, actually. It´s just a different kind
of power he has.
Actual administrative power is already allocated properly with all the necessary checks and balances with the president only acting as a final failsafe point.
Let me use the recent developments in the USA as an example of what could
have been different with a separate head of state like the german one:
The primary problem wasn´t a failure in power distribution; It was a public discourse completely dominated by a partisan government with all the other power-wielding institutions completely subordinating themselves for fear of being called "unpatriotic".
A separate head of state could have reclaimed the public debate and could have put a stop to the administration´s claimed monopoly on patriotism. It would not have been the administration´s place to "own" the public debate like they did. And since the head of state is traditionally non-partisan
and only has a responsibility to the nation and its people, agenda-driven propaganda would have been quite a bit more complicated to push to the extremes we´ve seen.
Another point could have been the passing of some of the more problematic laws like, for instance, the Patriot Act:
An independent head of state could have admonished the administration and the parliament to reconsider parts of a law that might be problematic or even unconstitutional in letter or spirit. Such a - very rare - public admonition or even an outright refusal to sign a law is a severe slap in the face of an administration and can be quite damaging.
I can´t be positive that it would actually have prevented the current disasters; But I think an independent, non-partisan head of state can be very important for a healthy democracy (apart from relieving the administration of many representative duties).
I´m not sure if constitutional monarchs can really fill that role; The british queen, for instance, seems to be a little too
restricted from commenting on current affairs. She could (and should!) have spoken up before... An appointment for life is just not the same as - even an indirect - democratic legitimation...
All in all, even though I would have preferred Gesine Schwan, I hope that Horst Köhler will grow into his new role as well as his predecessors have. Our presidents move the country by the right words at the right time and by wisdom and insight; And we´ve had a pretty good run with at least the three last occupants of the office.
So good luck to him and let´s hope for the best!