Federalism – from Latin “foedus”: the treaty, the confederation – is a structural principle that describes quite abstractly a unit of equal autonomous subunits. If we transfer this principle to state structures, then we are talking about federal states. These are constituted by a treaty-like association of sub-states. The relevant contract for the Federal Republic is the Basic Law, which is defined in Art. 20 para. 1 GG stipulates: “The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic and social federal state”. In addition to Art. 1 GG, only Art. 20 GG is protected by the so-called “eternity clause” of the Basic Law. According to this, the following applies: “An amendment to this Basic Law, which affects the division of the Federation into Länder, the fundamental participation of the Länder in legislation or the principles set out in Articles 1 and 20, is inadmissible” (Art. 79 para. 3 GG).
In the Federal Republic, the federal and state governments thus each have state quality – i.e. their own areas of responsibility and corresponding sources of financing. The municipalities form their own administrative level, but are constitutionally part of the Länder (Art. 28 para. 2 GG). Federal-state systems have their own dynamics, since they are in fact engaged in legislation on a daily basis with the readjustment of the responsibilities of the federation and the Länder. The expression of this dynamic in the Federal Republic is the increase in political significance and self-confidence of the municipalities, which has been observed at the latest since the refugee situation in 2015 and is now also evident in the corona pandemic. The federal principle is also enjoying growing popularity internationally. In the meantime, more than 30 federal states are counted worldwide, which account for 40 percent of the world’s population.
Federalism is a principle of order of individual units, which together form a whole, but at the same time remain largely independent. From a political point of view, federalism is about an order in which the state tasks are divided between the state as a whole and the individual states in such a way that both political levels are solely responsible for certain tasks specified in the Constitution. The individual states and the state as a whole coordinate their decisions with each other.
Forms of federalism
Federalism can be formed as a confederation of states or as a federal state. In the Confederation of States, independent states form a loose association that handle certain matters in common bodies. In the federal state, on the other hand, a new state is created by the merger of states. In addition to the newly formed general state, the member states retain their independent state authority.
Federalism in Germany
In the Federal Republic of Germany as a federal state, federalism is enshrined in the Basic Law. It provides for cooperation between the federal government and the Länder, whereby the two levels in legislation, administration and jurisprudence are each assigned certain tasks. In principle, legislation is a matter for the federal government and administration is a matter for the Länder. The case law is closely interlinked between the federal government and the Länder.
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