Saturday, December 4, 2010

Essay on Bundesrat as Federal Institution

Essay on Bundesrat as Federal Institution

Around the world there are many different relationships between federal governments and regional or state governments. Much of the time the federal government has so much power that it is difficult for certain regions or states to gain power and advantage for themselves. A country that has a unique structure of power is Germany.

They have a federal government, the Bundesrat, that have more power than many and most second chambers in the world. Although they have this great amount of power, the regions in Germany, or Lander, have a relationship that grants them the ability to gain the resources that are needed for their region to become prosperous and truly reap the benefits of federalism. To illustrate this point it is important to compare the German federal structure to that of a less fair federal system. Canada is a centralized country that does not give the necessary power and resource to their individual provinces. The Lander have power through jurisdiction and law making, while Canada’s provinces are unable to affect laws in a significant way. Both countries have representation in their federal government based on population, but Canada has such a large margin in the portion of the country that houses the federal government, that it causes disproportional regionalization. As well, funding in the Lander is distributed equally with poorer Lander receiving financial help from the Bundesrat, while Canadian provinces struggle to attain resources and are in a constant fight with the federal government. In regards to cooperative politics, the mediation committee in Germany is represented equally with one member of each Lander, while Canada’s House of Commons is regionally misrepresented. Finally, Germany is united and has a strong federal system, while Canada is centralized and has problems with provinces, which is illustrated by the problems with Quebec wanting to separate. In all, Germany’s Federal system is fairer and more dependable than Canada’s is.

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First, the Bundesrat has more power than most second chambers, there is a great deal of power that the 16 Lander posses. Prior to the Bundesrat being created the Lander was already in existence as a political structure. This means that they were already established as a structural power and were fully capable of maintaining there own political system. For example, the regions that made up the all encompassing Lander had already dealt in a responsible way with issues such as policing, education and local government. As well, the Lander representatives have power to administer federal laws, (Roberts 2000, pg. 100). This is unlike most countries. Most regions that are inferior to the higher governmental power, in this case the Bundesrat, do not have any such a prominent role in deciding what will be law federally. They would usually have a minor say as a part of the country and not a full fledged initiator of laws. The Lander possess powers that can allow for a proper political fight for the government. They give politicians a chance to challenge the Bundesrat and have a say in politics. The Lander is “the best opposition for politicians,” (Silvia 1999, 169). Since the Lander has a voice, the German government has more stability and makes Germany a more legitimate and prosperous federation. The reason the Lander have so much power in the German governmental structure is because of the provisions set out by the Basic Law. Of course, there are too many examples that would illuminate the decisive power that the Lander have, but a few would indicate this trend. For instance, Article 73 gives exclusive federal jurisdiction over legislation involving foreign affairs, citizenship, money, customs, etc.. As well, the Lander maintains its power because of the extensive amount of residual powers that they possess, (Mahler 2002, pg. 289) This means that unless the federation does not take jurisdiction from them because of any legislative stipulations, they are able to exercise there power in most matters. The German political structure gives the Lander this type of power which allows them to maintain a fair stake in the governmental process.

In contrast, Canada’s regional influence is less pervasive. The provinces in Canada do not have the same say in the federal policies as the Lander do in Germany. The Lander were already a political system before the Bundesrat was created so they could maintain structure properly. Although provinces stood alone before the British gave the power to the central government and federalism was implemented, there was a more distinct sense of centralized government that took power away from the individual provinces and gave them less relative power, especially compared to the Lander.

Another separating factor is that there is a fair Lander representation in the Bundesrat. There is representation according to population, which is an almost ideal scenario so that there is not an unfair regional discrepancy between population and seat representation. Each Lander has at least three votes in the Bundesrat. Ones with more than two million receive four votes; more than six million have five votes and more than seven million have six votes. This idea helps the smaller Lander so that they are not overrun by the heavier populated Lander, (Silvia 1999, 170).

Similarly, Canada has a somewhat fair idea of population representation in the house of common. Ontario is the largest population so they have the most seats, representing 103 of the 301 seats. Since most of the population is in Ontario, the regional representation is overwhelming and could cause an unfair majority because regional issues are quite different and could be drastically affected by this.

Also, in many countries it is difficult for regions or states to get funding from the federal government. There is a difficulty attaining funds because most of the money from taxes and grants go directly to the federal government for them to disperse as they please. In the German political system, as stated by article 106 of the Basic Law, taxes such as: motor vehicle tax, beer tax, some property tax, inheritance tax and betting tax go entirely to the Lander, (Roberts 2000, pg. 102).

This gives each Lander the freedom to prosper as an individual region while giving the smaller, less resourceful Lander the right to an equal share of the product of the income tax. The federal government also gives grants and financial assistance to the poorer Lander, which is called “vertical equalization, while the wealthier Lander offer assistance to the poorer Lander in a system called “horizontal equalization (Roberts 2000, pg. 103). Ultimately, there will always be resources for the Lander because they are not always fighting the federal government for money for their programs and regional concerns.

In Canada, there is a constant battle between the provincial and federal governments when dealing with funding. Many of the small provinces have a great degree of difficulty getting financial assistance for education, hospitals and social programs. Many of the more powerful provinces have with them the ability to attain financial support when needed. If Canada had the same distributional makeup as the German government did, perhaps there would be more unity and less provincial tensions.

Furthermore, many countries do not have such an interwoven relationship from the federal sector of government to the regions. In the German political structure there is a unique relationship between the Bundesrat and the 16 Lander. The Basic Law states that the power of the German government is to be dispersed through various branches of Lander and federal government, (Silvia 1999, pg. 172). By doing this, there is less conflict. Both the federal and Lander systems have power and ultimately, the means to make their voices heard. The cooperation of the federal government is evident in the way that the Mediation committee is set up. There are 16 representatives of the Bundesrat, which are from each of the Lander and sixteen from the Bundestag, the lower chamber of the federal government. This makes outside influence difficult because the power and representation is so widely spread out. As well, the German idea of an interwoven government is illustrated when speaking of the “joint tasks” between the different levels of government. They Bundesrat share responsibilities regarding such measures as agriculture, coastal protection, regional and economic structure, as well as educational planning and scientific research, (Roberts 2000, pg. 102). By doing this they are allowing the essence of true federalism to be explored and are giving the Lander a chance to affect the national scale.

Of course, Canada has an interwoven system where the provinces are represented in the federal government. However, there is a great disparity between the power the Lander has in influencing the German government and the Canadian province’s influence on the Federal government. If you compared the mediation committee to the House of Commons you could see that there is one representative from each Lander thus giving each Land a fair chance to influence decision. On the other hand, Ontario, one of ten provinces, has one third of the seats and will have much more power to gain influence for their region over others.

Since the Lander has a fair and influencing partnership with the Bundesrat, they should be content with their part of a united Germany. They have financial support and are able to have a part in decisions that affect their country. On the other hand, Canada does not give their provinces the same rights and freedoms. Ultimately, the lack of unity for Canada has lead to one of its regional members trying to gain sovereignty and separate from the county. Quebec wants to be a distinct nation and have a unique, personal identity. Of course, the federal government wants to maintain the unity and have a homogenous country. Although it seems fair that Quebec wants to be distinct, they will always be different from what Canada wants of them.

This makes federalism and the attempt at unity failed and unattainable. In this case, money and support is not the only underlying cause to problems between the federal and provincial governments, but it is the fact that the two sides are never content with each other and they allow the problems to escalate. If the Canadian federal government was more fair to Quebec, perhaps they would cooperate more and respond the federal government with less haste.

In conclusion, there is no perfect way to do anything, especially something so detailed as running a federal governmental system. Federalism is challenging because the relationship between the federal government and the regions or states should be fair while at the same, allowing each province to have a structured voice in the decisions being made for the country. In Germany, the Lander have an intricate role in the government decisions and are able to address issues that affect their region.

Canada does not have as fair a system, and regions that need help are not always able to voice their concerns and are left to fail more and more as a province. The Bundesrat help the poorer Lander, only after they equally split all income that is attained through taxes and other means. The mediation committee represents the fairness and equal regional representation of Germany, while Canada Ontario’s advantageous discrepancy from the other provinces allow for an unfair representation in the federal government. Germany does not have a perfect structure but in comparison to Canada’s, they are fair and have a more effective system of government.


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