The Need for Reform to German Federalism

As has been hinted throughout this introduction, German federalism is, like any other federal system, far from being perfect. Since 1949 several reform commissions have sat to discuss various aspects of the federal structure, particularly territorial and financial reform. The recommendations of the latest of them, the Joint Constitutional Commission of Bundestag and Bundesrat, [ Report: Bundestags-Drucksache 12/6000 and Bundesrats-Drucksache 800/93, Bericht der Gemeinsamen Verfassungskommission (also edited as a brochure by Deutscher Bundestag, in Zur Sache No. 5/93).] led to the Constitutional Reform Act of 27 October 1994, which impacted in part on the distribution of legislative competences and federal legislative procedure. The Commission also drafted the so-called European Amendments to the Basic Law in connection with the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which were briefly outlined above on the subject of the Länder power-sharing in European affairs. The efforts of the Joint Constitutional Commission notwithstanding, there remain other areas in which the need - and the pressure - for reform to the federal system is considered by many observers to be great. These concern, among others, territorial reform, the financial constitution and the continuing challenges of European integration. These, and other reform imperatives, are the subject of further discussion in another publication [ Uwe Leonardy, ‘German Federalism Towards 2000: To Be Reformed of Deformed?’, in C. Jeffery (ed), Recasting German Federalism , op.cit] . But the continuing reform imperative allows an interim conclusion: there is no reason to acquiesce in the illusion that German federalism is as well protected in the future as the eternity clause in Art. 79/3 of the Basic Law, safeguarding it against formal constitutional amendment, seems to promise. It will have to go on meeting challenges from both within and outside its own constitutional and political environment just as much as any other federal system. German federalism’s problem is that the sheer scale of the challenge posed by unification - both within Germany and in the European context - is rather greater than most other federal systems have had to, or are likely to, face. The question which remains is whether the institutional framework of German federalism set out here is capable of meeting and absorbing this unprecedented challenge.

Uwe Leonardy was Head of the Constitutional and Legal Division of the Land of Lower Saxony’s Mission to the Federation in Bonn until his recent retirement in 1999.

This paper is based on a chapter from the volume ‘Recasting German Federalism’, (edited by C. Jeffery), Pinter, London/New York (1999). It reflects the personal views of the author and is thus not to be identified with the Land of Lower Saxony or its Mission to the Federation in Bonn.

The views and opinions expressed in publications of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung London Office do not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation but are those of the authors.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Juli 1999

Previous Page TOC