As the coronavirus crisis tests the resilience of democracies around the globe, Germany has gone from cursing its lead-footed, decentralised political system to wondering if federalism’s tortoise versus hare logic puts it in a better position to brave the pandemic than most.
Under German federalism – which has roots going back to the Holy Roman Empire but was entrenched after the Nazi era to weaken centralised rule – key policy areas, such as health, education and cultural affairs, fall under the jurisdiction of the country’s 16 states, or Länder.
At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, such a highly devolved system of governance made the woman nominally in charge of the country look oddly powerless: even when Angela Merkel announced the first raft of social-distancing measures, she could only make recommendations that the federal states were free to implement or ignore.
As social-distancing measures came into effect, there were howls of frustration over how wildly the lockdowns varied between the states: in Berlin, for example, buying a book from a shop is still allowed but having a picnic in the park is not. In Baden-Württemberg, it’s the other way around.
Federalism is useful for creating a dynamic business environment between different regions, but it can make it hard for an entire country to move in sync.
Coronavirus outbreak, Germany, Health, Epidemics, Infectious diseases, Medical research, Microbiology, Europe, World news