Federalism in Germany

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Administrative division of Germany

The federalism in Germany (from the Latin foedus ( pl. Foedera ) "Bund", "alliance", "Agreement") is one of several principles of the state organization . In addition to the federal government, the Federal Republic consists of partially sovereign member states , which in turn fulfill their own state tasks, the federal states . Both are merged into a superordinate whole, so that the quality of the state as a whole is justified by the federal association.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 20 of the Basic Law makes it a principle of the structure of the state and thus a fundamental part of the political system ; the eternity clause also stipulates that federalism is unalterably established.

In the federal state government responsibilities between the federal government and individual states are divided so that both levels of government for certain ( constitutional self-imposed) tasks in charge are. The autonomy of the member states in a federal system is shown by the fact that the members of the Federation have their own legitimacy , rights and competencies. Each country has its own constitution (constitutional autonomy) and, accordingly, independent political institutions for the executive , judiciary and legislative branches .

Characteristics of West German federalism

Cooperative federalism

German federalism is based on cooperation between the federal and state levels (counter-model: competitive federalism). Since 1919, the federal government has generally been decisive in Germany's federal system. This was ensured by the fact that the competencies in the German federal state are distributed according to type of competence and not according to policy fields, as is the case in the USA . In concrete terms, this means that the federal government enacts most of the laws , but it is up to the federal states to implement them.

The federal states may guarantee additional freedoms and are allowed to introduce stronger plebiscitary participation possibilities and to guarantee basic social rights beyond the Basic Law . The coexistence of federal and state constitutional jurisdiction also corresponds to this independence of the federal and state constitutional areas.

After 1949, more and more powers were transferred to the federal government, for which the federal states were granted a greater say in the Bundesrat , especially since the Federal Council already has a say according to Article 84, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law, if the federal government intervenes in the administrative structure of the federal states. to make laws. However, the main problem is still the financial constitution, which has de facto made poorer countries boarders of the federal government. In addition, there was an increasing interdependence of competencies, which made quick decisions more difficult (see political interdependence ). This means that there is a risk that the various horizontal levels will cripple one another. There is also the risk that laws will be passed at federal level , the payment of which is incumbent on the federal states and municipalities, especially since the federal states have barely left their own room for maneuver through federal legislation ( see above ; cf. also the criticism that federalism is developing into a purely executive federalism) . One possible solution to the latter problem is the connectivity principle .

The sphere of influence of state politics is also hampered by extensive cooperation between the states. This is mainly due to the preservation of legal unity and the safeguarding of mobility in the federal territory, but in particular lowers the sphere of influence of the state parliaments .

Another example of the interlinking of the federal states is the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs , which is intended to ensure that the most uniform possible criteria are applied in the school system of the individual federal states. Some of the critics believe that this creates a leveling-off that dissolves the great advantage of educational federalism , namely the competition between the countries for the best system, into a lazy compromise. Others are of the opinion that the school systems have already developed so far apart that the problems with relocation and with the recognition of qualifications are a real disadvantage for Germany, even if it is often noted that it is precisely the competition of federalism, as in the cultural and economic area , offers the opportunity to arrive at a better solution.

Executive federalism

Characteristic of German federalism is its special form of application as so-called executive federalism. By definition, the term executive federalism denotes a political system in which there is a close interlinking of the executives at the federal and state levels, while the state parliaments are relatively powerless .

In other systems with two legislative organs, such as the United States of America , the representatives of a state at the federal level, the senators , are specially appointed through elections in the state. In contrast to the German model, however, they have neither executive nor legislative functions in the state; their task is exclusively the representation at the federal level. The executive function in a sub-state is assumed by governors , who in turn have no functions at the federal level.

The peculiarity of German federalism is that the Bundesrat consists of representatives of the state governments. This system is unique in the world and is difficult to compare. There is a similarity with the system of the European Union , in which the governments of the member states are represented in the Council . This Council of Ministers is part of the legislative process alongside the European Parliament .

The Basic Law takes on a long tradition, the beginnings of which can already be seen in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation . The Reichstag at that time was still a representation of the imperial estates, the ecclesiastical or secular princes and the imperial cities . In the German Confederation (1815–1866) the member states were represented diplomatically by envoys in the Bundestag . The Bundestag, in turn, was the direct model for the Bundesrat in the North German Confederation (1867–1870, from 1871 German Empire). In addition, there was a directly elected Reichstag as a modern parliament. In the Weimar Republic , the Reichsrat tended to have fewer rights, as its consent was no longer required for all laws. He was also unable to introduce any bills.

The Basic Law has revalued the Federal Council. The real innovation is that the Federal Council members must now be members of the state government. A country can only send other representatives to the committees.

Federalism in the Basic Law

In the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany , federalism is laid down as a form of political organization. The preamble already shows that the Federal Republic consists of several member states :

"[...] The Germans in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia completed the unity and freedom of Germany in free self-determination. [...] "

In Article 20 (1) of the Basic Law, the Federal Republic of Germany is expressly constituted as a federal state. The legal functions of federalism are primarily to strengthen democracy, to allow pluralism across all social forces and thus to support political decision-making. Another function is to prevent unwanted power accumulation. The principle is protected by the eternity clause of Article 79.3 of the Basic Law, which declares it to be unalterable. Also, no two-thirds majority in the German Bundestag or the Bundesrat that would change the constitution may abolish the federal structure and organization of the Federal Republic. The only possibility to dissolve the federal structure of the Federal Republic would be to pass a new constitution according to Art. 146 GG.

Article 30 emphasizes the statehood of the countries. The result of this statehood is in particular its cultural sovereignty , the "core of the statehood of the countries". The participation of the federal states in federal legislation and in EU affairs through the Bundesrat is formulated in Articles 23 and 50 of the Basic Law and is made more concrete by the law on cooperation between the federal government and the federal states in EU matters.

The division of responsibilities between the Federation and the Länder is dealt with in Articles 70 to 74 of the Basic Law. Articles 83 to 87 of the Basic Law regulate the allocation of state administrative tasks . Then the financial sovereignty and the distribution of tax revenue between the federal government and the states are constituted.

According to Articles 115a to 115l of the Basic Law, the legal situation for the interaction between the federal government and the states changes significantly in a case of defense . In particular, according to Art. 115e , the Joint Committee can, under certain conditions, claim the rights of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. According to Art. 115f , the German federal government can issue the necessary instructions to the state governments , and in urgent cases also to the state authorities .

Federal bodies and structures

The federal states participate through the German Bundesrat in accordance with Article 50 of the Basic Law in the legislation and administration of the Federation and in matters of the European Union. However, the Bundesrat is not understood as a second chamber in the traditional sense, as its representatives exercise an imperative mandate from the state governments (→  executive federalism ).

The most important task of the Bundesrat is to participate in legislation ; According to Article 77 of the Basic Law, the Federal Council is responsible for federal legislation in addition to the Bundestag. Through its constitutionally anchored participation in matters of the European Union, Germany's federal state structure and order of competencies also have an external effect , at the level of the European union of states .

The decision-making participation of the Federal Council in the legislative procedure varies depending on the legislative resolution of the Bundestag:

  • Statutory resolutions amending the constitution require the approval of two thirds of the votes of the Bundesrat. If these are not achieved, no change to the Basic Law is possible. The Federal Council has an absolute veto .
  • Legislative resolutions requiring approval that can influence the finances of the states, affect their autonomy, have community tasks as their object, regulate the reorganization of the federal states or similar, require the approval of an absolute majority of votes . The Federal Council must approve these parliamentary resolutions. If he refuses to give his consent, no law can be passed. The Federal Council has an absolute veto. Since around 60% of federal laws currently require approval, the Federal Council has a strong position in the legislative process.
  • In the case of other legislative resolutions, the so-called “simple or objection laws”, the Bundesrat can appeal with an absolute majority, which can, however, be rejected by the Bundestag with an absolute majority. If the Bundesrat objects with a two-thirds majority, the Bundestag can only reject it with a two-thirds majority. If the rejection does not take place, no law can be passed. The Federal Council therefore has a suspensive or suspensive veto.

See also: Federal Council: Participation in legislation , legislative procedure ; Comparative law: Representation of the member states


In Germany, the federal system is the result of a historical process; it goes back to the federal legacy of earlier state or state-like units and organized alliances. Despite all caesuras and breaks, such as the co-ordination of the German states in 1933/34 a. a. With the law on the reconstruction of the Reich (1934), it is possible to establish a line of federal tradition from the Holy Roman Empire , the Rhine Confederation , the German Confederation, the North German Confederation and the German Empire (Kaiserreich 1871–1918, Weimar Republic 1919– 1933, Third Reich 1933–1945) up to the statehood of today's states of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Holy Roman Empire and the Confederation of the Rhine

Already at the end of the East Franconian Empire there was a resurgence of the tribal duchies . Since the High Middle Ages , the power of the emperor eroded in the Holy Roman Empire - which, however, had never been all-encompassing, whereby the ruler's policy was often aimed at cooperation with the greats of the empire ( consensual rule ) - through the emergence of strong territorial rulers , which has changed since the Reformation accelerated. The Golden Bull of 1356 emerged from this process , a legal basis that secured an elective monarchy and the right to vote for a prominent group of imperial princes , the electors , until 1806. As a result of the imperial reform , imperial circles were set up in the 16th century , which, with the imperial execution order, took over the former executive, mediation and coordination tasks of the Roman-German emperor and thus contributed to the federalization of the empire. Individual states- developed their territories more and more too early modern states, located in the Thirty Years' War to military alliances merged and the Peace of Westphalia treaties reached broad sovereignty. In addition to the emperor, only the cumbersome judiciary and the Reichstag remained as higher-level authorities, which now developed from an irregular meeting of imperial princes to a permanent assembly of authorized representatives bound by instructions ( perpetual Reichstag ). This marked the beginning of a historical-political line of development that leads to today's Federal Council.

At the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, initially 16 and later 36 German principalities united under the protectorate of Napoleon I to form the Confederation of the Rhine . It was a loose confederation , whose joint tasks were largely limited to the military support of the French emperor . The organs promised by the founding act did not materialize, and the guarantees made did not prevent France from annexing areas of confederation states .

German Confederation

After the Congress of Vienna , the now sovereign German states joined together in the German Confederation in 1815 to form a confederation that was to replace the empire that fell in 1806. The only permanent joint organ was the Federal Assembly, which was also referred to as the Bundestag (and, if the princes themselves were present, the “Princes' Day”) and had its seat in Frankfurt am Main . It was composed of the authorized representatives of the sovereigns and the governments of the Free Cities.

The Bundestag could enact federal law. It basically took precedence over state law . It could be enforced through federal interventions and federal executions, but the German federal government did not have the direct opportunity to intervene in the sovereignty rights of the individual member states. However, a member state did not have the right to leave at its own discretion, the Bundestag decided on the unanimous principle. However, the federal purpose was limited to the security aspects - the main task was primarily to protect the internal and external security of the member states - so that the federal government could hardly develop into a federal state with universal competence. Last but not least, a member state should be protected from attacks by another state.

During the revolution of 1848/49 , the Frankfurt National Assembly set up a provisional central authority (Reich government), which, however, found it difficult to assert itself against the individual states. The final imperial constitution had federalist, but also unitarian (unified state) features. The central authority worked together with representatives of the state governments , who only had an advisory and mediating function. A merger of some small states with larger ones was discussed under the heading of mediatization . In the end, however, the National Assembly only recommended - without consequences - that the central authority should mediate accordingly between governments and populations. In the project of a Union of Erfurt (1849/50) the individual states and their princes were to play a greater role.

North German Confederation and Empire

Austria and its allies were defeated in the German War in the summer of 1866 . They had to acknowledge the dissolution of the German Confederation . After that, in 1867 all the German states north of the Main founded the North German Confederation . It was a federal state under Prussian hegemony . In the opinion of some political scientists, the most important organ of the North German Confederation, the Bundesrat , consisted of representatives of the federal states, with Prussia holding 17 of 43 votes. The Federal Council passed the laws together with the elected Reichstag .

When the Empire was founded in 1871 , the southern German states joined the North German Confederation and jointly established the German Empire . The political system with the Federal Council and the Reichstag was largely adopted. The primacy of the Federal Council over the Reichstag and the fact that the Reich financed itself for a long time not from its own tax revenue but from member contributions shows the strong position of the member states. In addition, the kingdoms of Bavaria, Württemberg and Saxony, the Grand Duchy of Baden and the Hanseatic cities had secured certain reservation rights. However, there was a gradual institutionalization and expansion of competencies of the Reich leadership led by the Reich Chancellor and the strengthening of the Reichstag.

Weimar Republic

The Weimar Republic followed the system of the German Empire from 1919, but federalism was adapted to the realities of the lost World War through the Imperial Constitution of 1919 . The member states (federal members) , now downgraded to Länder, became financially dependent on the tax system of the Reich, while the administrative and legislative powers of the Reich were greatly increased. The Reichsrat, which took the place of the Bundesrat, to represent the interests of the federal states, had significantly fewer opportunities to participate and only had a suspensive right of veto, which could be overruled by the German Reichstag with a two-thirds majority.

In four government memoranda on the reform of the Reich and constitution between 1924 and 1932, Bavaria tried to emphasize the federal elements more strongly or at least to preserve the principles laid down in the constitution in political practice. To this end, a country conference was convened in Berlin from 1928 to 1930 , which remained without result; in the meantime, in the run-up to the national conference on January 6, 1928, the “ Bund zur Renewung des Reiches ” was created under the leadership of the former Chancellor Hans Luther (→  Lutherbund ) with the aim of overcoming the Reich-Prussian dualism . The internal and external crises of the empire led to a strengthening of the central power. With the emergency competencies of the Reich President , it was also possible to rule into the states.

time of the nationalsocialism

After the takeover of the Nazis in 1933, the state parliaments were first brought into line and the German federalism completely shattered at the moment at least, in the formally by the law on the reorganization of the empire from January 30, 1934 ( RGBl. I, p 75), the federal organization of the German Empire was eliminated. In all countries, the Chancellor, direct reports were Reichsstatthalter used and the countries into mere administrative units of a centrally structured unitary state . At the same time, the original party organization in NSDAP districts - characteristic of the chaos of offices and confusion of competencies in National Socialist Germany - took on administrative functions. A fundamental territorial reform, as demanded by some National Socialists, such as Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick , could never be decided - it remained with a mixture of responsibilities.

Post-war period 1945–1949

After the end of the Second World War , the allied victorious powers had a variety of ideas about the future political order in Germany . The organizational structure of the newly created state played an important role. The Allies' plans were so different that at the Yalta Conference (1945) they could only agree that Germany's future state order should prevent a concentration of power that would lead to abuse.

The first beginnings of German statehood emerged again through the creation of the states from 1946.

After it had become apparent in the joint bodies and the Allied conferences that the ideas of the USA, Great Britain and France about the future of Germany were incompatible with those of the Soviet Union , the governments of the three Western occupying powers and the German neighboring states, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg at the London Six Power Conference in the spring of 1948 that a provisional German state with a federal structure should be established in the three western zones of occupation. The Western victorious powers presented the relevant recommendations to the Prime Minister and the First or Mayor of Bremen as the so-called Frankfurt documents . The Federal Republic thus emerged from the Länder.

This was justified on the one hand with Germany's federal tradition. On the other hand, the federal state order restricted political power by dividing it into different levels. Furthermore, the federal organization gave the possibility of other countries joining.

Federal Republic of Germany (since 1949)

The federal system of the Federal Republic of Germany emerged in 1949 on the ruins of the collapsed German Reich under Allied occupation. The federal structure of West Germany is anchored from the beginning in the Basic Law ( Art. 20, Paragraph 1), which was passed on May 8, 1949 by the Parliamentary Council .

In the so-called Frankfurt documents , which the military governors of the western zones handed over to the heads of government of the western zonal countries on July 1, 1948 , the foundation stone for the federalist organization of the new state was laid: a "form of government of the federal type" with an appropriate central instance was best suitable to restore the torn German unity, to protect the rights of the countries involved and to guarantee individual rights and freedoms. At first, however, it remained unclear which federalism concept the Allies were aiming at. And also on the part of the Prime Ministers, some points of the Frankfurt documents turned out to be controversial: They finally agreed on the names “Parliamentary Council” instead of “ Constituent Assembly ” and “Basic Law” instead of “ Constitution ”, since the constitution of the western zone only has the status of one Constitutional provisional should be granted.

The country structure in post-war Germany should essentially follow three principles:

  1. In accordance with the agreements of the Potsdam Agreement, the political-administrative structures should be decentralized and structured strictly from the bottom up.
  2. Prussia was not to be restored.
  3. Enclaves and exclaves should no longer exist.

In August 1946, the formation of the Länder in the Bizone was completed; it differs from today's structure only in that Baden-Württemberg consisted of the states of Baden, Württemberg-Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollern until 1951 and the Saarland had the special status of an autonomous state with economic ties to France until 1957. The new states are not only partly artificial (Bavaria, Bremen, Hamburg and Saxony, apart from border changes, are in continuity with the states that existed in 1933), but also differ considerably in their size and economic and financial strength. Although the Allies proposed a review and change of national borders in the Frankfurt documents, territorial reconfiguration has remained a focal point in the institutional development of German federalism to this day.

While the reorganization of the south-western states succeeded in 1951 after a fierce election campaign, the merger of Berlin and Brandenburg failed in 1996 due to a referendum in which over 62% of the Brandenburgers voted against the project, which was made possible by Art. 118a GG , which was inserted after reunification . The asymmetry in the federal state was additionally reinforced by the five east German , economically weak new federal states as a result of the accession of the GDR within the framework of German unity , which also led to a diversification of the party system. The result is an increasingly difficult political consensus. Nonetheless, the Federal Constitutional Court attested that the states were of state quality at an early stage, so that they have their own state constitution in addition to the Basic Law . The homogeneity clause ( Art. 28 GG) does provide a certain basic consensus with regard to the state organization at the state level . B. the structure of the parliamentary system in the individual countries significant. There are also differences in the electoral systems, which all represent proportional representation, but where direct and list mandates are combined differently and threshold clauses are handled differently.

In addition to the Western Allies as the decisive external motor, however, the political parties played an important role in the development of federalism in post-war Germany. In the Parliamentary Council and thus in the creation of the Basic Law, the basic political currents of conservatism, liberalism, (democratic) socialism or social democracy and communism, i.e. CDU , CSU and center , FDP , SPD and KPD, were involved . The requirement of the Western powers to form a form of government of the federal type was already anticipated in the parties' draft constitution. The Western Allies thus played the role of initiator or organizer of the process - a federal form of government was nothing genuinely new, but could look back on a long tradition in Germany until 1933. The question was rather about the concrete form of federalism, since the ideas ranged from a “ democratic centralism ” (KPD) to an “extremely federal” solution of the CSU. In the deliberations of the Parliamentary Council, the parties' divergent concepts of federalism were mainly reflected in the following three points:

  1. Distribution of competencies between the federal government and the federal states in financial management and administration
  2. Distribution of tax revenue between the federal government and the states
  3. Composition, legitimation and competence of the Second Chamber

The decision for a Bundesrat, for which the conservative parties in particular stood up, represents an important institutional setting in which the path dependency of the development of the German federal state was continued. From the outset, the determination of a constitutionally compliant and functionally appropriate role for the Bundesrat was accompanied by questions about the extent to which laws require approval and the quality of the organs of the Bundesrat, as well as criticism of the power of this only indirectly legitimized co-legislator. These problems became particularly virulent when, from the 1970s onwards, “reversed majorities” in the Bundestag and Bundesrat made government more difficult at the federal level, blocked decisions, delayed them or led to suboptimal compromises. This gave political science an opportunity to assume a momentous structural break between the federal order and party statehood. But neither the Constitutional Reform Enquete Commission in the 1970s nor the Joint Constitutional Commission of the Bundestag and Bundesrat in the 1990s saw any reason to readjust the constitutional position of the Bundesrat. However, the Parliamentary Council was not yet aware of such problems or did not yet have an eye for them, so that the Federal Council was primarily intended to set up an "counterweight" to party competition in Parliament, in which the bureaucratic expertise and administrative experience of the state governments contributed to decision-making the federal government should provide. It turned out, however, that the members of the Bundesrat were not significantly more insensitive to the influence of the national party leaders than their colleagues in the Bundestag and increasingly displayed competitive strategies that ran counter to the consensus-based logic of action of this constitutional body .

German Democratic Republic (1949–1990)

The GDR was established at its inception in 1949 on countries, which in Art. 1 para. 1 of the Constitution had been laid down, but still behind which remained the competences of the Weimar Republic. The states were represented by the state chamber, whose members were elected by the individual state parliaments. However, this election was made according to the block system of a unified list under the leadership of the SED , and the division into countries was thwarted by the centralistic structure of the SED, which dominated all state organs .

In July 1952, the states were practically dissolved together with the state governments and state parliaments as part of the administrative reform of 1952 with the so-called law on the democratization of the structure and functioning of state organs in the states of the GDR and replaced by 14 districts , which in turn were 191 rural districts and 28 urban districts were structured.

In the course of the Laender Introduction Act (constitutional law for the formation of Laender in the German Democratic Republic) , which was passed by the People's Chamber of the GDR on July 22, 1990 with effect from October 14, the Laender were newly created. (Annex II, Chapter II of the Unification Treaty moved the entry into force to October 3, 1990, the day of the unification .)

According to Section 1 of the Land Introduction Act , the territory of the GDR was structured as follows:

When the country was introduced, the countries that had existed in the Soviet occupation zone until 1952 were largely restored and no consideration was given to the deviating district boundaries: the Altenburg and Schmölln districts (formerly Leipzig district) and Artern (formerly Halle district) became part of Thuringia. The districts of Prenzlau and Templin (formerly Neubrandenburg district) and Perleberg (formerly Schwerin district) became part of Brandenburg. The Jessen district (formerly Cottbus district) became part of Saxony-Anhalt and the Hoyerswerda and Weißwasser districts (formerly Cottbus district) became Saxon.

Features of the federal system of the Federal Republic of Germany

Power distribution

Its proponents emphasize the essential advantage of a federal form of organization that it restricts political power by dividing it at different levels. This vertical separation of powers creates, on the one hand, several levels of political participation and influence, and, on the other hand, different forms and ways of fulfilling political tasks. The advantages of the separation of powers are particularly evident against the background of the experience with the centralism of the Third Reich. In particular, the local distribution and interlinking of competencies among different institutions and people should prevent a renewed pooling of competencies.

Political integration and closeness to the citizens

Federalism is seen as a factor in strengthening the citizens' understanding of democracy , who are more closely involved in political life through elections in the municipalities and federal states. In addition, political decisions and administrative actions in federal systems can be carried out closer to the locality and the citizen, and thus often more appropriately.


More appropriate handling also includes a subsidiary approach. According to this principle, state intervention by the federal government and public services should only provide support and take place if the lower hierarchical level (states, municipalities, families) is not in a position to provide the required (self) service.

Protection and integration of minorities

On the other hand, it offers protection for minorities, e.g. B. if they only form a minority in the state as a whole and a majority in the state as a whole. This gives regional minorities the possibility of a certain degree of independence and self-administration. Thus, a federal state structure offers the possibility that on the one hand integration and unity are possible despite diversity ( pluralism ), on the other hand minorities enjoy a certain protection against majorization (constant overriding by the majority).

Enrichment and preservation of the typical culture

According to its proponents, federalism also enables diversity in unity. Regional peculiarities remain and make the state as a whole multifaceted. In addition, some federal states such as Bavaria or Hamburg have their own national tradition.

Competition among the federal states

Often times countries have the same political problems, but the ways to solve them are different. Consequences can then be drawn if z. B. In the international comparison test, one country with its school system does much better than another.

Human resources

Due to the large number of political offices and bodies, there is also a larger reservoir of politically experienced candidates for federal politics. Many successful federal politicians were previously active in state politics.

Fruitful experiments

Federalism strengthens the willingness to experiment and the ability to innovate. This makes it clear whether coalitions work at the state level and whether these can be expanded to the federal level if necessary. Countries can implement new political ideas in their areas of responsibility.

Criticism of the design of federalism in Germany

Ahistorical boundaries

Due to the occupation zones , the borders of some federal states were drawn differently from their historical course after the Second World War. This applies not only, but above all, to northern Germany as a result of the break-up of Prussia after 1945.

Blocking and slowing down of political decisions

Constantly changing power relations in the Bundesrat make coordinated politics difficult and prevent the necessary legislation if the initiatives of the federal government and the Bundestag fail due to resistance from the Bundesrat. The Bundesrat often acts as a "counterpart to the Bundestag". In addition, the necessary legislation is either unobjectively accelerated by pressure to adapt to the composition of the Federal Council or slowed down by the debates of the Federal Council and the states.

Political preponderance of small states

The Federal Council favors smaller states over the larger ones through the voting weights of the federal states that are not proportional to the population, so that, for example, a Saarlander has eight times more influence than a citizen of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Permanent election campaign

A problem that can arise in any federally organized state is the so-called permanent election campaign , which arises from the fact that the next election is almost always imminent due to the large number of countries in some part of Germany . Critics believe that this would also paralyze federal politics , since federal politicians are also involved in the federal states during election campaigns and many citizens do not clearly distinguish between federal and state politics. This problem could be alleviated by holding elections in all countries on a common deadline. This would increase the government's ability to act and shape it , but it is sometimes viewed critically. It is considered that unscheduled elections, for example after a coalition break in one country, should shorten the period there to the time of the next scheduled election so that the same election dates are guaranteed over the long term. However, if they were in synch, they regularly aroused disagreement from the ranks of the respective opposition parties who fear for votes. In the case of more or less uniform results of the elections in the federal states, there might be an influence on federal politics if the election results are interpreted as a “signal to the federal government”. Since parties are also always inclined to present election results as their own successes, this concern appears to be justified even in the seemingly more realistic case of completely different election results.

Lots of administrative apparatus and the associated high expenses

The administrative apparatus of the 16 states with 17 governments (with the federal government), 145 ministries, 17 parliaments with around 2500 parliamentarians cause high costs, while in the weak and indebted countries with their debt brakes and also in the municipalities there is a considerable lack of money. For example, Peter Struck , former SPD parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag , gave the slogan: “Fewer states, stronger municipalities - that's my appeal.” In central Germany, the merging of three states, Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, estimated that around 1 , 5 billion euros are saved and invested every year.

Economic imbalances and state financial equalization

Merging rich and poor countries is, according to some, a better solution than compulsory levies with no control over the use of funds and no common economic policy. Instead of paying for each other, it makes more sense to work together in larger, more efficient units.

Economically viable countries

Individual countries do not seem economically strong enough to make the necessary expenditure on their own. Especially after the introduction of the debt brake, they are said to be threatened with insolvency. According to some, a healthy size should be five million inhabitants and more.

Unsatisfactory minimum consensus in the KMK

When it comes to education policy, the Länder can only agree - if at all - on the lowest denominator. There is no common educational policy. For citizens, this may mean considerable changes to the school system and textbooks when moving across national borders.


Federalism reform I

The federalism reform has also been referred to as federalism reform I since the implementation of Federalism Reform II and is an amendment to the Basic Law that affects relations between the Federation and the Länder.

Almost all parties at the beginning of the millennium agreed that there was an urgent need for reform. For this reason a federalism commission was set up chaired by Edmund Stoiber and Franz Müntefering . The aim of the reform was to clarify powers with the accompanying unbundling of legislative competences in favor of the federal states. The number of laws requiring approval by the Federal Council should also be reduced. In addition, the prohibition of cooperation was also issued, which should make it more difficult for the federal government to interfere with the federal states in terms of their cultural sovereignty. The negotiations took place in the tense relationship between competitive federalism and the preservation of the autonomy of the states.

The reform process turned out to be difficult, however, as the competencies of numerous local authorities and ministries were affected. The work of the Reform Commission was repeatedly judged to be too timid, and in December 2004 the negotiations were considered to have failed. In February 2006, however, as a consequence of the grand coalition, the negotiations were successfully concluded and introduced into parliament as federalism reform laws. The Federalism Reform was passed in June and July 2006 by the German Bundestag and the Federal Council with the necessary two-thirds majority and entered into force on 1 September 2006.

Federalism reform II

The federalism reform is an amendment of the Basic Law, which concerns the relationship between federal and state governments. It was passed in 2009 by the German Bundestag and Bundesrat with the necessary two-thirds majority and came into force on August 1, 2009.

The Federalism Reform II was supposed to adapt the financial relations between the federal government and the states to the changed economic and political framework. The simultaneous occurrence of the fiscal and euro crises caused a shift in interests within the Federalism Commission. A number of constitutional questions were resolved and the German debt brake was introduced. The Federalism Reform II prepares the turning away from the unbundling paradigm and focussed on a centralization or verticalization of the financial constitution in favor of the federal government.

Federalism Reform III

In the federalism reform III, a federalism commission was dispensed with. The aim was to solve the results through intergovernmental relationships, especially through the increasing influence of the state ministerial conferences. The financial relations between the Federal Government and the Länder that were neglected in the Federalism Reform II should now be resolved. Above all, a new regulation of the federal financial equalization was decided. In addition, the federal government was granted additional powers in the area of ​​financial aid for municipalities and the Federal Audit Office was granted new control rights.

Reorganization of the countries

For these reasons, since the beginning of the Federal Republic there has been repeated calls for smaller countries to be merged. In December 2003, for example, the Brandenburg Minister President called Matthias Platzeck , the merger of Berlin , Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern . The amalgamation of Bremen and Lower Saxony , Schleswig-Holstein , Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Hamburg , and occasionally all five of the northern German states to form a northern state, are repeatedly called for. The amalgamation of Saxony , Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia and the unification of the Saarland with Rhineland-Palatinate are also required.

In October 2014, the then Prime Minister of the Saarland, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer , initiated the discussion about mergers between individual federal states. She called for a radical reorganization of the Federal Republic, if the reform of the financial equalization does not relieve the poor countries. "We would then have to talk about how we in Germany as a whole position ourselves for the future, specifically whether there will only be six or eight federal states in the future instead of the previous 16 states."

However, according to Article 29 of the Basic Law, such amalgamations require a referendum and encounter resistance, particularly due to historically grown traditions.

See also


  • Christina Baier: Federal State and European Integration. The 'suitability for Europe' of German federalism. Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-428-12197-X .
  • Lutz Bergner: The Italian regionalism. A legal comparison with decentralized and federal systems, especially with the German federal system. Publishing house Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8300-3997-6 .
  • Daniel Buscher: The state in times of the financial crisis. A contribution to the reform of the German financial and financial regulation (federalism reform) , Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-428-13166-2 .
  • Karl Eckart, Helmut Jenkis (Hrsg.): Federalism in Germany (=  series of publications of the Society for Germany Research , Vol. 79). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-428-10343-2 .
  • Albert Funk: Federalism in Germany. From the Prince League to the Federal Republic. Paderborn 2010 (licensed edition Federal Agency for Civic Education, Bonn 2010, ISBN 978-3-8389-0097-1 ).
  • Information on political education 298 (2008): Federalism in Germany .
  • Heiderose Kilper, Roland Lhotta : Federalism in the Federal Republic of Germany. Opladen 1996, ISBN 3-8100-1405-2 .
  • Heinz Laufer, Ursula Münch: The federal system of the Federal Republic of Germany. Bavarian State Center for Political Education , Munich 1997.
  • Constitutions of the German federal states with the Basic Law . Text edition with subject index, introduction by Christian Pestalozza . 8th edition, dtv (Beck), Munich 2005.
  • Siegfried Weichlein : Federalism and Democracy in the Federal Republic. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2019, ISBN 978-3-17-022011-9 .
  • Christoph Weltecke: Legislation in the federal state: potential for reform of German federalism with special consideration of the proposals of the commission for the modernization of the federal system. Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-631-60732-9 .
  • Jochen Zenthöfer: Competitive Federalism - On the Reform of the German Federal State. Grasberg near Bremen, 1st edition 2006, ISBN 3-86651-016-0 .

Web links


  1. Helge Lothar Batt: Constitutional Law and Constitutional Reality in United Germany. The dichotomy of the Basic Law between limiting-formal and directing-material understanding of the constitution. Springer, Wiesbaden 2003, ISBN 978-3-8100-3708-4 , p. 43 ff.
  2. Herbert Bethge, Gerd Christian von Coelln, Grundriss Verfassungsrecht , 4th edition, Vahlen, 2012, p. 47 .
  3. Reference work in the online portal of the Federal Agency for Civic Education (keyword cultural sovereignty ) , accessed on September 29, 2012.
  4. Law on cooperation between the federal government and the states in matters of the European Union (EUZBLG) of March 12, 1993
  5. See Bundesrat: European Affairs - Participation in European Affairs . Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  6. Cf. Riccardo Bavaj, cultural space studies as border defense. Geohistory and spatial ideology in the “memorandum war” of the Weimar reform debate , in: Christophe Duhamelle, Andreas Kossert, Bernhard Struck (eds.): Grenzregionen. A European comparison from the 18th to the 20th century. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2007, p. 97 ff., Here p. 98 ; Horst Lademacher, The European Northwest. Historical influences and relationships. Selected essays. Edited by Nicole Eversdijk, Helmut Gabel, Georg Mölich, Ulrich Tiedau. Waxmann, Münster [a. a.] 2001, p. 157 ; Helmut Klaus, The dualism of Prussia versus Reich in the Weimar Republic in politics and administration. Edited by Jörg Wolff u. Gerhard Lingelbach, Forum Verlag Godesberg, Mönchengladbach 2006, p. 400 ff.
  7. See BVerfG, judgment of December 1, 1954 - 2 BvG 1/54 - ( BVerfGE 4, 115 ff.).
  8. ^ Rudolf Morsey : The Federal Republic of Germany. Origin and development until 1969. 5th, reviewed edition, Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, p. 13.
  9. This Detlev Brunner , The glow of sovereignty. State government and occupation policy in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania 1945–1949 , Böhlau, Cologne 2006, p. 371 f.
  10. a b Federalism: More centralism! In: The time . ISSN  0044-2070 ( zeit.de [accessed on March 25, 2016]).
  11. Uli Exner: Why the federal states should be dissolved . In: Welt Online . February 14, 2010 ( welt.de [accessed March 25, 2016]).
  12. Peter Struck: That's how it works. Politics with rough edges. Propylaen Verlag, Berlin 2010, pp. 272-274.
  13. Reorganization of the federal territory - for and against country merger
  14. Reorganization of the federal territory - cost savings
  15. Restructuring: Time off the table . In: Der Spiegel . tape 51 , December 15, 1965 ( spiegel.de [accessed March 25, 2016]).
  16. Reorganization of the federal territory - for and against country merger
  17. ^ Restructuring of the federal territory - criteria
  18. Nathalie Behnke: Status and perspectives of federalism research , in: From politics and contemporary history 28–30 / 2015.
  19. Law amending the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Articles 91c, 91d, 104b, 109, 109a, 115, 143d) of July 29, 2009 ( Federal Law Gazette I p. 2248 ).
  20. Uwe Jun: The Federal Council in Germany's federal system: Before and after the 2006 reform . In: KH Schrenk, M. Soldner (Hrsg.): Analysis of a democratic system of government . VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2010, p. 335-358 .
  21. ^ Kramp-Karrenbauer: Only six or eight federal states . In: Spiegel Online , October 23, 2014, accessed October 24, 2014.