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Germany

Land and Local Government

The Basic Law stipulates that the structure of Land government must "conform to the principles of republican, democratic, and social government based on the rule of law" (Article 28[1]). Twelve of the Lšnder are governed by a cabinet led by a minister president together with a unicameral legislative body, the Landtag (pl., Landtage). The relationship between the legislative and executive branches mirrors that in the federal system: the legislatures are popularly elected, typically for four years, and the minister president is chosen by a majority vote among Landtag members. The minister president appoints a cabinet to run Land agencies and carry out the executive duties of the Land government. Bavaria is the only Land with a bicameral legislature; the Landtag is popularly elected, but the second chamber, the Senate, consists of representatives of the major social and economic groups in Bavaria. In the city Lšnder of Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg, the executive branch consists of a popularly elected senate. The senates' members carry out duties equivalent to those of the ministers in the larger Lšnder . The senate chooses a senate president in Bremen and a mayor in Berlin and Hamburg to serve as chief executive. Land cabinets consist of about ten ministers; the most important is the minister of the interior, who directs the internal administration of the Land and commands the police.

Politics at the Land level often carry implications for federal politics. Opposition victories in Landtag elections--which take place throughout the federal government's four-year term--can weaken the federal government coalition. This was the case for the fall from the chancellorship of Konrad Adenauer in 1963 and that of Willy Brandt in 1974. The Land elections are also viewed as a barometer of support for the policies of the federal government. If the parties of the governing coalition lose support in successive Land elections, those results may foreshadow difficulties for the federal government. The outcome of Land elections also directly affects the composition of the Bundesrat. In the early 1990s, the opposition SPD commanded a two-thirds majority in that legislative chamber, which made it particularly difficult for the CDU/CSU-FDP government to achieve the constitutional changes it sought.

Three levels of government are subordinate to the administrative authority of the states. First, the largest Lšnder are divided into districts. These districts decentralize Land administration and are run by district presidents who are appointed by the Land minister president and report to the Land minister of the interior.

Second, each Land is divided into Landkreis (pl., Landkreise ) governments, each consisting of an elected council and an executive, who is selected by the council and whose duties are comparable to those of a county manager supervising local government administration. The Landkreise have primary administrative functions in specific areas, such as highways, hospitals, and public utilities.

Third, some Landkreise are divided further into Gemeinden (sing., Gemeinde ), or municipal government authorities. Gemeinden consist of elected councils and an executive, the mayor, who is chosen by the council. In some small municipalities, the mayor is popularly elected. Gemeinden have two major policy responsibilities. First, they administer programs authorized by the federal or Land government. Such programs typically might relate to youth, public health, and social assistance. Second, Article 28(2) of the Basic Law guarantees Gemeinden "the right to regulate on their own responsibility all the affairs of the local community within the limits set by law." Under this broad statement of competence, local governments can justify a wide range of activities. For instance, many municipalities develop the economic infrastructure of their communities through the development of industrial parks. Local authorities foster cultural activities by supporting local artists and building arts centers. Local government also provides basic public utilities, such as gas and electricity, as well as public transportation. To increase administrative efficiency, West Germany consolidated the Gemeinden , reducing the total number from roughly 25,000 in the late 1960s to about 8,500 by the early 1990s. With unification, however, the number of Gemeinden for all sixteen Lšnder rose to about 16,000 because of the large number (more than 7,500) of small Gemeinden in former East Germany.

Data as of August 1995


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