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Political cohesion under conditions of fiscal scarcity – German federalism in the time of COVID-19



In the light of both the federal elections and six regionalelections in the German Länder, the“pandemicyear 2021” offers a unique opportunity to analyse the governments’ opportunistic strategies under conditions of fiscal scarcity and special public health responsibilities. In the course of the third federalism reform in 2017, which widely abandoned the horizontal equalisation of the federal states’ fiscal capacities, a more vertical notion of solidarity has been established that strengthens the duties of the federal government in, for instance, the distribution of financial aid. This project thus observes the effect of COVID-19 in the context of a general trend of de-federalisation that it may exacerbate. Emerging patterns of competition between the Länder challenge the cooperative nature of German federalism and reveal how well its institutions and constitutional mechanisms cope with this tendency.

In fact, federalism often promotes opportunistic behaviour: it allows governments to shirk from their responsibility, to shift the blame to other federal entities while enabling the federal government to encroach on the responsibilities of sub-federal units (Kropp 2021). Adopting this sceptical view, one would expect incumbents, following electoral logics, to exploit the COVID-19 crisis so as to play out opportunistic, or even populistic, strategies. When scarce fiscal resources must be reallocated and electoral campaigns organised, this problem will become even more acute. In order to reveal the actors’ strategies, the research involves a large-scale, systematic analysis of discourses about fiscal and non-fiscal measures relating to the pandemic in different arenas, including the Bundestag and the Länder parliaments.

Kropp, Sabine (2020): Zerreißprobe für den Flickenteppich?: Der deutsche Föderalismus in Zeiten von Covid-19, VerfBlog, 2020/5/26, https://verfassungsblog.de/zerreissprobe-fuer-den-flickenteppich/, DOI: 10.17176/20200526-133725-0.


SFB 700