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Hans-Michael Heinig
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Gralf-Peter Calliess
Patrycja Dabrowska
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Jen Hendry
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Stefan Magen
Ralf Michaels
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Floris de Witte

German Federalism An Outdated Relict?

By Christian Hillgruber
Read this Contribution as a PDF

A. Introduction

Germany is currently in a deep structural crisis that has been furthered by the combination of ongoing economic stagnation and a desolate situation of state finances. That these circumstances are due to—according to a widespread opinion—not just the failure of political leadership in the Federation and Länder during the last decades, but also, and especially, the German system of federalism in its current form is anything but evident. It has become commonplace to hear that the German federal state is in the throes of a serious legitimacy crises and is in need of fundamental structural reform, if the current federation is to have any future. Advocates of reform claim the process needs to result in a widespread disentanglement of powers, so that responsibility can once again be clearly attributed to its proper bearers. Meanwhile, criticism continuously takes on an ever-stronger tone: Germany is supposedly to have fallen into the “trap of federalism”. As Klaus von Dohnanyi stated: “If, as in our German Bund-Länder-consensus-system of the so-called ‘cooperative federalism’, one level can always interfere with the other level even into details—and that is now the case in almost every aspect—immobility and stagnation, irresponsibility and chaos appear. It would have been better, if we had chosen a centralistic organization. Centralism is better than half-hearted decentralism. A well-lead central state is better than an undecided federalism.”

The fundamental criticism aimed at the state of German federalism has in the meantime received “official certification” by the German President: Horst Köhler stated in his decision to dissolve the 15th German Bundestag that the existing federal order was outdated. This devastating judgment is combined with the demand