The political system of the Federal Republic of Germany Federalism and elections in Germany

The federal republic of Germany is divided into 16 states. Angela Merkel is the chancellor, but she is not the only one responsible for political decisions. The federal states also have their own, smaller governments. Three of those states are electing a new government on March 13, 2016: Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatine and Saxony-Anhalt.

Stimmzettel zur Landtagswahl in Sachsen-Anhalt
Bildrechte: MDR/Kan Nozawa

There are strict rules in Germany to avoid ballot rigging. The core principles are that an election is to be hold freely, secretly, publicly, unmediated and equally. These principles are set by Article 38 of the German constitution, the “Grundgesetz”. Every person with German citizenship is entitled to vote, if they are at least 18 years old and if they have been living for at least three months in the state, in which the election is held.

Germany’s division into smaller federal states has a historic tradition. It is supposed to protect the German democracy from a single person having all the power. The governments of the states are working closely with the federal government and can also participate in federal legislation via the so called “Bundesrat”. The constitution regulates, which issues are to be solved by the federal government and its head, the chancellor (Angela Merkel), and which are responsibilities of the state governments.

The states play a key role in people’s identification with their homes. German federalism enables the government to consider the regional differences within Germany, when it comes to legislation. So if Germans ask each other “Where are you from?”, they answer “I’m from Bavaria” or “I’m from Saxony-Anhalt”. The regions differ in traditions, whether it’s typical food, typical music, but also religion. So these federal states have their own governments, parliaments, their own budgets as well as their own capitals. The capital of Saxony-Anhalt is Magdeburg. This is where the states parliament and some of the states departments are located.

Who decides what?

The distribution of the different responsibilities between federal and state governments is a complex issue, especially when it comes to fiscal politics. For example, the federal government is responsible for foreign policy and defense policy, whereas education and culture are the responsibilities of the states. That’s why there are different regulations for school graduation or teachings subjects.

Asylum procedures, housing and accommodation for refugees are responsibilities of both the states and the federal government. The so called BAMF, which is the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, which decides on asylum pleas, is a federal authority. Housing and accommodation are the responsibilities of the respective states.

Mehr Politik in Sachsen-Anhalt