Federal level (Germany)

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Triangle with the federal government at the top, including in layers the federal states, optional administrative districts, (rural) districts, optional municipal associations and municipalities.  The strict stratification is broken up by city-states and district-free cities, which perform tasks of several strata.Bund Bundesländer/Flächenländer Bundesländer/Stadtstaaten (Regierungsbezirke) (Land-)Kreise Gemeindeverbände (Gemeindeverbandsangehörige/Kreisangehörige Gemeinden) (Gemeindeverbandsfreie) Kreisangehörige Gemeinden Kreisfreie Städte
Vertical state structure of Germany

In Germany, the federal level (also known as the federal government ) is the highest level in the hierarchy of the state model of the federal state . In political science and law , the model is based on the idea of ​​a federally organized political system at the state level: The individual federal states have their own state government , administration and jurisdiction , but their competencies are derived from the federal government , which is granted the competence . Due to a lack of external independence, the German states are not ( sovereign ) states in the sense of international law , but rather subdivision units of the federal state, which is subject to international law , with independent state sovereignty .

Legislative power

In cooperative federalism in Germany , the federal laws are generally passed by the German Bundestag at the federal level and apply to the entire federal territory. However, the legislation is limited to those areas in which the federal government has been given legislative power. In the area of ​​exclusive legislation, the states may only legislate if this is permitted by the federal government ( general responsibility of the state as a whole). In the area of ​​competing legislation, the federal states are allowed to act in ways that the federal government has not done. The norms adopted at federal level in the above-mentioned areas are above those of state law in the norm hierarchy ( Art. 31 Basic Law ); However, fundamental rights that are granted by state constitutions beyond those of the Basic Law are excluded from this. If the federal government has legislative powers, the federal states participate in federal legislation through the Bundesrat .


At the federal level, the federal government is at the head of the administration. In addition to the ministries, the highest federal authorities are the Office of the Federal President, the Federal Audit Office and some other institutions. Administration of the Bundestag and Bundesrat are the highest federal authorities, insofar as they are officially active. The federal administration is often only provided with a single-tier substructure. As a rule, higher federal authorities are set up which are responsible for the entire federal territory. Federal central and federal sub-authorities may only be set up in cases where this is provided for by law.

Permissible areas in which central and subordinate authorities are set up are the Foreign Service, the Federal Finance Administration, the Federal Waterway Administration, the Federal Shipping Administration, the Federal Police and the Federal Constitutional Protection ( Art. 87 GG), the Defense Administration ( Art. 87b GG) and the Aviation Administration ( Art. 87d GG). In the latter area, however, there are no intermediate or sub-authorities. Many federal administration tasks are also performed by institutions and corporations under public law.

Mixing federal and state authorities is not permitted. The Federal Administrative Court, for example, regarded the practice of running the maritime offices from the federal states and the federal high office from the federal government as inadmissible, since objections to administrative acts by the federal states were decided by a federal authority. The maritime offices had to be set up by the federal government as a separate institution in October 1986. A similar constellation in the establishment of the so-called “job center” due to the insufficient definition of the substantive competence was rejected by the Federal Constitutional Court as unconstitutional.

The federal government has (as of June 30, 2017) as employer 181,610 civil servants and judges and 165,645  professional soldiers and soldiers on time . He is also the employer for 146,065 employees (collective bargaining employees).


The federal government has u. a. via five supreme federal courts, which are at the top of their respective specialized jurisdiction , Art. 95 para. 1 GG. For criminal and civil matters, these are the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, the Federal Fiscal Court in Munich, which is responsible for taxes and customs , the Federal Labor Court in Erfurt and for the area of social justice the Federal Social Court in Kassel. The Federal Patent Court in Munich occupies a special position as it is a court specializing in commercial legal protection with the rank of higher regional court with national jurisdiction.

Federal constitutional organs

The five permanent constitutional organs are:

  1. the German Bundestag (Articles 38-48 GG )
  2. the Federal Council (Art. 50-53 GG)
  3. the Federal President (Art. 54–61 GG)
  4. the federal government (Art. 62-69 GG)
  5. the Federal Constitutional Court (Art. 92-94, 99, 100 GG)

The two non-permanent, i.e. H. Constitutional organs that meet on an ad hoc basis are:

  1. the joint committee (Art. 53a GG)
  2. the Federal Assembly (Art. 54 GG)


  1. This legal power of the (federal) state over its competence to “legally define the fields of one's own as well as foreign activity” is core content or “core point of (internal) sovereignty”, according to Christian Seiler , The sovereign constitutional state between democratic backbone and supranational integration (=  Jus Publicum , vol. 124), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2005, p. 48 f. , 68 .
  2. Ines Härtel (Ed.): Handbuch Föderalismus - Föderalismus as a democratic legal order and legal culture in Germany, Europe and the world. Volume I: Fundamentals of federalism and the German federal state , Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 2012, p. 399 with further references.
  3. According to the overwhelming majority of the opinion (and due to another constitutional concept of the state) the German federal states enjoy state quality as member states, as do the federal government (= total state); according to the theory of the Federal Constitutional Court , they are fundamentally subordinate to the federal government as the “upper state”. On the federal principle of the Federal Republic of Germany and insofar the definition of the state "as the association equipped with independent ruling power" and the "conceptual recognition of the statehood of the states with various consequences [through the Basic Law]": Christian Seiler, The sovereign constitutional state between democratic backbone and supranational integration , 2005, pp. 144-146 . The state level is "only titled as a state for primarily historical reasons" ( p. 277 f. ), So that "the federal principle divides the German state into two levels claiming state quality" ( p. 371 ).
  4. Cf. Christian Seiler, The sovereign constitutional state between democratic backbone and supranational integration , 2005, pp. 72 , 145 .
  5. Fach Series 14 Series 6 - Public Service Personnel 2017. (PDF) In: https://www.destatis.de . Federal Statistical Office , August 31, 2018, accessed on August 27, 2019 .