Covid regulations in German federalism


According to the German federal architecture and to the specifications in the 'Infection Protection Act' (Infektionsschutzgesetz), the Länder have the power to formulate and implement infection protection measures. While the federal government used the reform of the Infection Protection Act in March 2020 to enlarge its powers and to claim the right to enact uniform regulation across Germany, so far it has refrained from using those powers. Instead, the Länder governments enact – in close coordination among them and with the federal level – each their own Covid regulations. Concomitantly, we have been experiencing, since the beginning of the pandemic and the first lockdown in March 2020, 16 different Covid regulations existing alongside each other. Jointly they create, as was often criticized by media and academia alike, a crazy quilt of measures, resulting in publicly voiced doubts about the crisis resilience capacity of German federalism.

In order to discerne more precisely how big the differences between Länder infection protection measures are in reality (and to which extent concomitantly the federal architecture is a liability to crisis management), in this project we collected, coded and analysed Länder Covid regulations from March 2020 through December 2020. At ten points in time, around the middle of each month, the then valid regulations in each of the 16 Länder were coded as to their restrictiveness based on a codebook containing 44 items. The analysis focuses on three aspects.

• First, we dispatched in a topical and chronological array (timeline) covering the fifteen weeks from the beginning of the first lockdown (from March to June 2020), which kinds of measures were introduced, tightened or loosened in each Land at a certain point in time. This analysis covers the entire range of measures – from general hygiene requirements such as distancing rules or mask wearing duties over quarantine regulations for persons coming back from foreign travels, prohibitions of assemblies and events, prohibitions to enter special institutions for caring or nursing, hospitals and the like, lockdown of shops, public sites, restaurants and many other institutions trough to regulations on tourism, sport and leisure behaviour. It could be shown that there was a tight timely coordination on the way into the lockdown, and differences between the Länder were small. They increase, however, over time, as first Länder being to loosen restrictions. Overall, pattern of mutual observation and learning from best practices can be discerned.

• Second, for a part of the regulations (hygiene requirements, limitations of contact and prohibition of assemblies and events, schools and childcare, business, restaurants, tourism as well as sports and leisure) the degree of restrictiveness are numerically coded. So indices of restrictiveness are calculated which display the extent and topical focus of differences in regulation over time. By matching those data with geodata, maps of restrictivity of Germany can be designed.

• Third, the values of the index of restrictiveness are correlated with potential explanatory variables in order to find out determinants of systematic differences between the Länder. Those determinants could be economic and fiscal power of the Länder, the party political composition of their governments or the foreshadow of upcoming elections.

no external funding

duration: ongoing since March 2020

project members: Prof. Dr. Nathalie Behnke (project leader); Dr. Christian Person (statistical analyses); Till Jürgens, Jannis Kupfer, Vivien Reining und Marie Zegowitz (coding)

data set timeline March – June 2020

Intermediate report timeline


figure: index of restrictiveness


Behnke, Nathalie; Eckhard, Steffen (Hg.) (2022): Krisenbewältigung durch Politik, Verwaltung und Gesellschaft in Deutschland. Sonderheft von dms – der moderne staat – Zeitschrift für Public Policy, Recht und Management 15,1 (Juni 2022). Opladen: Verlag Barbara Budrich. Online verfügbar unter

Behnke, Nathalie; Eckhard, Steffen (2022): A systemic perspective on crisis management and resilience in Germany. In: dms – der moderne staat – Zeitschrift für Public Policy, Recht und Management 15 (1), S. 3–19. Online verfügbar unter

Behnke, Nathalie; Person, Christian (2022): Föderalismus in der Krise – Restriktivität und Variation der Infektionsschutzverordnungen der Länder. In: dms – der moderne staat – Zeitschrift für Public Policy, Recht und Management 15 (1), S. 62–83. Online verfügbar unter


Behnke, Nathalie (2021): Handlungsfähigkeit des Föderalismus in der Pandemie. Überlegungen zur Kompetenzverteilung anlässlich der ‚Bundesnotbremse‘. In: Recht und Politik 57 (3), S. 369–380.

Behnke, Nathalie (2021): Deutschland: föderales Krisenmanagement und die Rolle der Ministerpräsidentenkonferenz. In: Europäisches Zentrum für Föderalismus-Forschung (EZFF) (Hg.): Jahrbuch des Föderalismus 2021. Baden-Baden: Nomos (22), S. 37–50.

Behnke, Nathalie (2021): Föderalismus in der (Corona-)Krise? Föderale Funktionen, Kompetenzen und Entscheidungsprozesse. In: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Hg.): Corona. Pandemie und Krise. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, S. 215–229. (überarbeitete Fassung des Beitrags in APuZ 70 (35-37), 2020)

Behnke, Nathalie (2021): Föderalismus in der (Corona-)Krise? Föderale Funktionen, Kompetenzen und Entscheidungsprozesse. In: Hendrik Hering/ Landtag Rheinland-Pfalz (Hg.): Parlamentarische Demokratie heute und morgen. Frankfurt: Wochenschau Verlag, 236-249. (Wiederabdruck des Beitrags von 2020 in APuZ 70 (35-37 2020)).


Behnke, Nathalie (2020): Föderalismus in der (Corona-)Krise? In: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 70 (35-37), S. 9–15. Online verfügbar unter

• March 2021: Video of 'Die Zeit – Online': “Die Macht der Bundesländer”, filmed, interviewed and compiled by Sven Wolters. (Link:

• April 2021: “Föderalismus – viel besser als sein Ruf?”. Article in: the journal 'Zur Sache BW', Themenschwerpunkt Demokratie (Link: (opens in new tab)