Germany has become the ninth partner country of the Forum of Federations. The partnership agreement was signed in Berlin by Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's Federal Minister of the Interior and Prof. Arnold Koller, Chairman of the Forum of Federations and a former president of Switzerland on October 11.
The Forum's other partner governments are Australia, Austria, Canada, Ethiopia, India, Mexico Nigeria and Switzerland.
In signing the agreement, Dr. Schäuble said the Forum offers 'a unique gateway for a necessary exchange of information among federal countries.'
'In the future Germany will support the Forum as a partner country, and in the debate on German federal reform it can benefit from the experiences (of other countries), and at the same time perhaps make its experiences available to emerging countries.'
In Ottawa, the President of the Forum of Federations, George Anderson, welcomed Germany's membership.
'Germany is one of the world's great federations,' said Mr. Anderson. 'Its presence as a partner of the Forum of Federations will provide the opportunity for us to engage more deeply in Germany's debates around issues within its own system as well as to draw even more on German experience in our broader dialogue with other federations.'
Germany is engaged in its largest federal reform since 1949. The signing came during the launch of the book Competition vs. Co-operation: German Federalism in Need of Reform - a Comparative Perspective, a joint project by the Forum of Federations and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Berlin.
Federalism is one of the key features of the political system of Germany. This is based on historical foundations and was re-established in the post-World War II situation. Before political unification in 1871 (at which time the German Empire under Prussian leadership was established) 'Germany' consisted of a patchwork of states composed of territorial units differing in size (from large Prussia to city-states such as Hamburg), character (dynasties or republican authorities) and power. The Empire was a federation of 25 states of which Prussia was the dominant entity. The states continued to possess considerable internal autonomy and formed the Bundesrat as the supreme sovereign institution representing the governments of the states. Federalism was characterized by the dominance of executives and public administrations, by the preservation of special features in the participating states, and by the lack of a single national centre.
After World War I, under the constitution of the Weimar Republic, the federal elements in Germany were weakened by strengthening the Reich authorities (President, government and Reichstag as Parliament) at the expense of the states, which were now called Länder. Towards its end (1932-33), the Weimar Republic had, in fact, adopted features of a centralized state. The totalitarian Nazi regime following thereafter (1933-45) abolished all remaining federal elements and established a highly centralized system.
The Cold War deepened the gap between the Soviet and the three Western zones and made an agreement among all four powers on the future of Germany impossible. The three Western allies, after having merged their occupational zones for practical purposes, decided in summer 1948 to further stabilize the situation by establishing a German state in the area of the three zones they administered. In the Frankfurter Dokumente (June 1948) the three Western allies called upon the German authorities to prepare a constitution. They demanded that the provisions of the new constitution should protect basic individual rights, be based on democratic principles, and introduce a federal structure. These requirements could be understood as a reaction to the centralized and undemocratic Nazi regime but also to some shortcomings of the Weimar Republic. They were fully accepted by the German representatives. The federal structure was primarily expected to provide for a system of checks and balances and, thereby, contribute to the principle of separation of powers, and strengthen democracy.
The body to formulate the new constitution was not a directly elected constituent assembly but rather was composed of representatives of the Länder Parliaments in the three Western zones (reflecting the strength of political parties in these Parliaments). This body was designated the Parliamentary Council (Parlamentarischer Rat). Although the Germans agreed on the establishment of a federal structure, the deputies in the Parliamentary Council disagreed on how to define the relations between the federal government and the Länder in terms of distribution of competences and allocation of powers. The solution laid down in the Basic Law (Grundgesetz)'this was the name of the new constitution which entered into force in May 1949'can be regarded as a compromise, according to which the strength of the central authority was modified by the establishment of the Bundesrat. According to the Basic Law, the Bundesrat is composed of representatives of the Länder governments (in line with the historic tradition of its 'predecessor' in the 1871 Empire), with considerable powers in the legislative process at the federal level. These provisions, however, did not determine ultimately and comprehensively the balance between the two levels. This was to emerge, to develop and to change in the course of the political development of the new West German state (Bundesrepublik Deutschland/Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)) in the following years.
Although the federal structure of the FRG is protected against abolition by a special constitutional provision (Article 79.3)'the so-called 'eternity clause''territorial reform should be possible, since with the exception of Bavaria and the two city-states (Bremen and Hamburg) which have historic continuity, all other Länder were artificial creations. On the basis of a special constitutional provision (Article 118) three newly established Länder in the southwest of Germany merged to become Baden-Württemberg in 1952. However, all subsequent efforts towards territorial reform'aiming at the formation of a smaller number of larger and more efficient Länder'failed. In 1957 the Saarland joined the FRG to become the eleventh Land, following the rejection (by two-thirds of the electorate) of a proposal to give this territory, under French control since 1945, a 'European Statute' (which would have meant that it would adopt the special status of a 'europeanized' area rather than joining either Germany or France).
Following the collapse of the Communist regime in the GDR, and in the context of the reunification process in 1990, the five original Länder were re-established and the reunified Germany now consists of 16 Länder. An attempt to bring about a merger of Berlin and Brandenburg failed in a referendum held in these two Länder in May 1996, much to the disappointment of those who had hoped that a positive decision would increase the possibility of territorial reform throughout Germany.
The united pattern of German federalism has emerged for a number of reasons: (1) the Federation has exploited the provisions on concurrent powers; (2) cooperation between the Federation and Länder and amongst the Länder themselves has increased, accompanied by shared financial responsibilities; and (3) the institution of 'Joint Tasks' (Gemeinschaftsaufgaben) was introduced in the constitution by a whole set of amendments in 1969. In the 1980s there were attempts to strengthen the Länder by reducing the fields for 'Joint Tasks', by self-restraint on the part of the Federation in its legislative activity, and by improving the financial basis of the Länder. These attempts did not succeed, however. Both the overall economic situation and, since 1990, the challenge of reunification, have negatively affected the financial freedom of manoeuvre of all the entities in the federal system. The reform of German federalism has been on the political agenda since the mid-1980s, and will remain an issue of vital concern.
(From the Handbook of Federal Countries)
Germany profile by Rudolf Hrbek