Joint Decision-making in German Federalism

Varieties and Dynamics of Joint Decision-making in German Federalism

The concept of “joint decision-making” describes a particular pattern of federal-Länder coordination in Germany. Sharing powers among levels of governments requires that executives negotiate agreements as they cannot fulfil the relevant tasks on their own. According to Fritz W. Scharpf's theory of “joint decision-making” published in 1976, these institutional conditions leads executives to avoid conflicts. In consequence, governments are hardly able to solve problems. Scharpf already mentioned varieties of joint decision-making which so far have been underestimated. Moreover, since the publication of his studies, important conditions have also changed. Our research project addressed these changes as well as distinct patterns of in German federalism.

Case studies on selected policy fields covered horizontal negotiations among Länder governments and hierarchical patterns with the federal government having the power to make final decisions, and Joint Tasks. They revealed significant changes in coordination patterns despite a high degree of institutional stability.

In education and budget policy, party-political confrontation had prevented effective before German unification. Meanwhile, governments combine negotiations and performance contests to coordinate policies. In education policy, international contests of student performance have changed perceptions on school systems and discussions among experts have replaced party conflict. Budget policy of federal and Länder governments is coordinated in a new federal-Länder-committee based on a comparative assessment of the financial situation of the Länder and the federal government. Without the power to sanction, the committee can “name and shame” governments deviating from a sustainable fiscal policy. Party conflicts shifted to parliaments, while in the intergovernmental negotiations, “output” control has contributed to depoliticize cooperation. This change in the modes of coordination was induced outside the established structures of joint decision-making. In education policy, informal meetings of a small group of ministers and experts prepared the 1997 agreement changing the mode of coordination. In budgetary policy, the Federal-Länder commission elaborating the 2009 constitutional amendment set the course.

In contrast, the joint tasks of regional and agricultural policy have hardly changed, which is surprising given the strong influence of European Commission in these areas. European guidelines did require adaptation to funding periods and funding instruments. However, the routines of allocating funds to the Länder in need continue to dominate. They are now well established and reproduce themselves. The “layering” of European structural and agricultural policy to the federal-Länder joint tasks has hardly led to institutional changes or changes in modes of governance. Nonetheless, joint decision-making in this area did not prevent adjustment of policies by reallocating funds or defining new aims of funding.


  • Benz, Arthur, Detemple, Jessica, Heinz, Dominic, 2016: Varianten und Dynamiken der Politikverflechtung, Baden-Baden: Nomos.
  • Benz, Arthur, Heinz, Dominic, 2015: Managing the economic crisis in Germany: Building multi-level-governance in budget policy; Revue Internationale de Politique Comparée 23 (3), 355-378.
  • Heinz, Dominic, 2014: Stabilitätsrat und Politikverflechtung in der Haushaltspolitik: Institutionelle Reform mit Politikwechsel?; Zeitschrift für Politik (Sonderband 6), 181-203.
  • Heinz, Dominic, 2015. Politikverflechtung in der Schulpolitik: Koordination im Wandel, in: Politische Vierteljahresschrift 56 (4), 626-647.
  • Heinz, Dominic, 2016. Coordination in budget policy after the Second Federal Reform: Beyond Unity and Diversity; German Politics 25 (2), 286-300.
  • Wolf, Frieder, Heinz, Dominic 2016: Schulpolitik: Mehr Koordination und neue Unterschiede, Achim Hildebrandt, Frieder Wolf (Hrsg.), Politik in Bundesländern: Zwischen Föderalismusreform und Schuldenbremse, Wiesbaden: Springer.

Funding institution: Fritz Thyssen Foundation

Funding period: 01.07.2012 – 31.01.2015

  Name Working area(s) Contact
Emeriti / Retired
Prof. Dr. Arthur Benz
Retired Professor
Comparative Politics and German Government
Academic staff
Jessica Detemple
Picture: Icons8
Dr. Dominic Heinz