Germany is a federal state, composed of 16 regions (Länder). The federal structure of 1949 was designed by representatives of the already existing Länder in the Parliamentarian Council under Western Allied supervision. Some Länder could keep their traditional structures after 1945, like Bayern, Hamburg and Bremen. Others were formed out of smaller regions or were the result of the deconstruction of the former Prussian state. The federal principle is fixed in Article 20 of the Basic Law and cannot be changed (Article 79, III). The original intent was to establish a decentralised federal structure based on a strict separation of powers and own finances for each level of government, where all power is distributed to the Länder unless otherwise mentioned in the Basic Law (Article 30). But the most important policies that are mentioned are in the exclusive jurisdiction of the central state (Bund) or organised in a system of joint Bund-Länder responsibility. The Länder, as central political regions in Germany, are strong but confined to the boundaries of a centralising political culture which hasn’t changed profoundly since the previous history of the Second German Republic.
All Länder not only have full developed autonomous legislative, executive and juridical bodies, but also their own constitution. This reflects the own state character of each Land even though their constitutional regime has to be based on the principles of the Basic Law (Article 28). On the basis of Article 30 and Article 70 of the Basic Law, the following policies that effectively remain in the jurisdiction of the Länder are chiefly: culture, media, education, regional planning and inner security / police in the region. In the context of public finances, the Länder have no own autonomous tax authority. The taxes and their distribution are determined by the federal government and parliament, but only with the approval of the Bundesrat (Federal Council), the legislative chamber that represents the Länder, which is crucial in the federal legislative process.
System of financial equalisation
Another typical characteristic of the federation is the vertical and horizontal financial equalisation system. The first manages the allocation between the federal, state and the Länder as a whole; the second is an interregional mechanism between the Länder. Regarding matters of European integration, the Länder participate in addition via the Bundesrat if their sphere of responsibility is concerned (Article 23 Basic Law). As a result of the participation of the Land governments using the Bundesrat and the numerous conferences involving federal and Land officials, references are frequently made to the German system of “participatory federalism” or “executive federalism”. The interlocking system of political cooperation in Germany often gets in the way of a principle which is closely connected to regions and democracy: subsidiarity.
Governance and identity
The governments are the winners of the cooperative federalism in all of its dimensions. The party system is rather centralised and the regional divisions of all parties listen more or less to what the particular federal organisation claims. The electoral systems of the Länder are geared to the federal electoral system, the so called personalised or mixed member proportional representation, with a five percent barrier except for the national minorities. In Germany the cultural identity is quite homogenous. The traditional ethnic and respectively linguistic minorities cover only a few thousand people in a population of about 80 million (Danes, Frisians, Sorbs, Sinti and Romani). The history of the Federal Republic doesn’t know any separatism. The Länder, in contrast to the federal level, have developed different forms of direct democracy and fixed popular legislation in their constitutions.
In the first years of EU regional policy the efforts of the national and regional levels on the one hand and of the European level on the other hand proceeded in parallel. Today, they are more linked to improve the situation in indigent regions. The Länder actually take part in 14 cross- border programs, five transnational programs and via REGLEG, a political network of regions with legislative power.
A central aspect of German federalism which needs to be reformed in the next years is the rearrangement of financial relations between Bund and Länder. Further issues would be a new form of cooperation in education policy, a better and clearer allocation of competences, and again the question of reshaping the Länder. Nevertheless, the strategies of the Länder in European politics in general will remain principally the same. Four paths can be distinguished finally: the further development of intra-state participation rights, especially by the Bundesrat, the collaboration in the Committee of Regions, a discrete “Länder foreign policy”, the defence of the Länder autonomy and the principle of subsidiarity.
by Jan Grasnick
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.