Federalism and Democracy

In view of the long disputes in theory and practice, the project aims at a redefinition of the relation between federalism and democracy. A normative approach takes both principles of a political order as complementary. From an empirical-analytical perspective, they imply distinct institutional dimensions and procedures of government which cause tensions and conflicts. Federalism necessarily requires multilevel governance in interaction between governments and administrations. In general, these interactions are said to cause a democratic deficit, as neither parliaments nor the electorate can sufficiently control multilevel governance. On the other hand, democracy might hamper intergovernmental policy-making in federalism if executives committed to parliaments or electorates and therefore not able to negotiate or adjust their policies.

Although federal order and democracy constitute two institutional dimensions of government each producing its distinct mechanism of decision-making, federal democracies do not suffer from an inevitable effectiveness-legitimacy-dilemma, despite the challenges mentioned. These principles of a political order do not establish static institutions, but dynamics structure-process-constellations which are shaped by political actors pursuing their policies and power interests.

Therefore, the quality of a federal democracy depends on the institutional dynamics of government. This dynamics materializes in the historical evolution of federalism and democracy combining to specific, more or less coupled combinations. Moreover, developments in society influence the interplay of federalism and democracy, as they affect the need for multilevel governance, distributive conflicts and the party system. Finally, power relations among federal and democratic institutions are changing, either through the choice of governance modes or due to reactions of parliaments.

In comparative case studies on states representing different patterns of federal democracies, the project will analyze how these federations respond to increasing interdependences and the current trends towards an asymmetrical regionalization, and how they cope with the tensions of multilevel governance and democracy. Finally, it will discuss how a robust balance between effective multilevel governance and democratic legitimacy can be achieved and maintained.


- Benz, Arthur, 2021: Squaring the Circle? Balancing Autonomy and Intergovernmental Relations in Federal Democracy; in: Andrew C. Banfield, Tracy B. Fenwick (Hrsg.), Beyond Autonomy: Practical and Theoretical Challenges to 21st Century Federalism; Leiden: Brill, 11-26.

- Benz, Arthur, 2020: Föderale Demokratie, Baden-Baden: Nomos

- Benz, Arthur, 2020: Reconciling Federalism and Parliamentary Democracy. Political Competition and Negotiated Policy-making in Canadian Federalism, in: Alain-G. Gagnon, Johanne Poirier (Hrsg.), Canadian Federalism and its Future. Actors and Institutions, Montreal, Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 199-222.

- Benz, Arthur, 2019: Demokratisches Regieren im Föderalismus: Neue Literatur zu einem alten Thema, in: Neue Politische Literatur 64 (3): 513-535.

  Name Working area(s) Contact
Emeriti / Retired
Prof. Dr. Arthur Benz
Retired Professor
Comparative Politics and German Government