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Journal Article

Community, Diversity and Autonomy: The Challenges of Reforming German Federalism


Scharpf,  Fritz W.
Globale Strukturen und ihre Steuerung, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;

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Scharpf, F. W. (2008). Community, Diversity and Autonomy: The Challenges of Reforming German Federalism. German Politics, 17(4), 509-521. doi:10.1080/09644000802490568.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-47A8-E
In federal states with territorially based ethnic, linguistic or religious cleavages, the allocation of competences among the levels of government may be determined by highly salient normative convictions and conflicts. In their absence, the economic theory of federalism and the subsidiarity principle might offer some highly abstract guidelines. Of greater practical significance are country-specific points of departure, path-dependent institutional developments and concrete challenges that might provoke a change of direction. Germany, for instance, is a polity with a unitary political culture but also with institutionally entrenched sub-national governments. Thus the post-war decades saw a continuous expansion of federal legislative competences combined with a continuous increase of practices of 'cooperative federalism' and 'joint decision-making'. As a result of high consensus requirements, both the federation and the Lnder lost the capacity for autonomous political action. When, under the pressures of German unification, Europeanisation and economic globalisation, the demands for decisive policy changes were often frustrated, the blame was directed at federal institutions. Hence the reform of German federalism, the 'first phase' of which began in 2003 and was completed in 2006, sought to increase the capacity for autonomous political action by replacing joint decision-making with the allocation of exclusive competence to both the federation and the Lnder. It can be seen already, however, that the reforms that were in fact adopted fall far short of the original goals. I will discuss the reasons for this relative failure and will outline a more promising approach to the management of concurrent competences that might also be useful elsewhere.