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Germany/ 3. Competence, decision-making and administration  

3.2 Overall description of the system

Germany is a federally organised country with different tiers of government: the Bund or Federal Government (i.e. national authorities, Parliament etc), the Bundesländer / Länder (federal states) and the municipalities (cities, towns, counties). The German Constitution (Grundgesetz) stipulates the division of responsibility and competencies among the different levels of government.

Article 30 of the German Constitution assigns most competencies to the federal states (Länder): "the exercise of state powers and competencies lie with the federal states (Länder), except where specifically stipulated or permitted by the German Constitution". At the moment, there is no general constitutional clause giving the Federal Government responsibility for areas such as culture or education. Hence, the federal states (Länder)are the main public actors in the cultural field and are responsible for setting their own policy priorities, funding their respective cultural institutions and for supporting projects of regional importance.

Article 28 (2) of the German Constitution affirms the role of municipalities in cultural affairs at the local level. The respective Constitutions of each federal state (Land) reinforce this provision and further define specific cultural responsibilities for local governments.

Within this federal and highly decentralised system, there are a number of bodies which formulate and implement cultural policy: legislative or self-governing bodies (i.e. parliaments, councils), government administrations (i.e. ministries or departments for cultural affairs), or consultative bodies (i.e. expert committees). The size and structure of these bodies will differ across the country.

Within their fields of competence, the Federal Government, the federal states (Länder) and the municipalities are largely free to shape cultural policy as they see fit, in other words, to determine the form, extent and priorities of their cultural programmes.

Federal level

The Federal Government has jurisdiction over foreign cultural policy, including schools and higher education. The extent to which the federal authorities have competence in other areas of culture having a nationwide or international impact is currently being discussed.

In 1998, the Federal Government created, for the first time, a Federal Government Commissioner for Cultural Affairs and the Media (today: Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs / der Beauftragte für Kultur und Medien); thus creating a central contact point for cultural affairs at the federal level. The Commissioner post was held by Michael Naumann (SPD) from 1998 to 2001, Julian Nida Rümelin (SPD) from 2001 to 2002, Christina Weiss (Independent) from 2002 to 2005, Bernd Neumann (CDU) from 2005 to 2013 and since 2013 Monika Grütters (CDU).

Since 1998 the German Bundestag (Parliament) subsequently set up a Committee on Cultural and Media Affairs. It acts as a supervisory body for the work of the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs (BKM) and for the department responsible for foreign cultural policy at the Auswärtiges Amt (German Federal Office)

One of the most important responsibilities of the Parliamentary Committee on Cultural and Media Affairs is to examine all legal initiatives and changes with respect to their possible effect on culture (Kulturverträglichkeit), e. g. tax laws including special provisions for non-profit organisations. It also initiates cultural policy debates on issues of nationwide importance such as the setting up a monument for the victims of the Holocaust, the refugees after the Second World War or the victims of bombing. The Committee makes decisions concerning the budget. The Parliamentary Committee on Cultural and Media Affairs was chaired by Elke Leonhard (SPD) from 1998 to 2000, Monika Griefahn (SPD) from 2000 to 2005, Hans Joachim Otto (FDP) from 2005 to 2009, Monika Grütters (CDU) from 2009 to 2013 and since 2013 Siegmund Ehrmann (SPD).

The Parliamentary Committee is sub-divided into specialised bodies such as the sub-committee for "Foreign Cultural Relation and Education Policy" "Civic Engagement" or "New Media". In autumn 2003, a Commission of Enquiry or "Enquete-Kommission" on culture in Germany was set up for a limited period. It was comprised of 11 members of Parliament and 11 independent experts. The main task of the Commission was to examine a broad range of issues related to cultural policy in general and to the support of culture in particular. The final report of 1 200 pages lists 459 concrete recommendations for policy-makers on the federal and regional level and was presented on 13 November 2007 (see  chapter 4.1). It is still regarded as one of the key documents for German cultural policy.

During the 17th legislative period (2009-2013) a Commission of Enquiry on "The Internet and digital society" and on "Growth, Wellbeing and Quality of Life" was established. Their results were presented and discussed by the Plenary of the German Bundestag.

Bundesländer and municipalities

The Bundesländer and municipalities are the main actors responsible for cultural policy in Germany. The scope and priority areas can vary greatly from federal state to federal state (Länder) and from municipality to municipality.

All of the 16 Bundesländer (see details of the federal states (Länder), their size and their capitals: have their own Parliaments, Parliamentary Committees that deal with cultural affairs and Ministries responsible for culture. As a rule, culture is combined at the Ministerial level with other policy areas, mainly education or science. In such cases, there are specific departments for cultural affairs. In 2004 and 2005, some federal states (Länder) abandoned this tradition and transferred responsibility for cultural affairs to the Staatskanzlei (Office of the Prime Minister), as has occurred in North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Berlin and Bremen. Currently most of the federal states (Länder) Meanwhile, all of the Bundeslander – with the exception of Berlin – embedded a department for culture / cultural affairs in the ministries, only Berlin and Thuringia locate those responsibilities at the Staatskanzlei.

On the municipal level, cultural affairs fall, in most cases, under the responsibility of specific Kulturdezernenten (Cultural Commissioners) with their own administrative structures. They are responsible for programmes, public cultural institutions such as local theatres, libraries, museums or music schools, etc. Municipal and county councils have their own cultural affairs committees.

The individual federal states (Länder) can transfer budgetary resources for culture to the municipalities at their own discretion. The "Act on the Cultural Areas in the Freistaat of Saxony" is one important example. This Act was initially passed in 1993 for a period of 10 years, and was extended for a limited period. In 2008, the limitation on the Act was lifted. It stipulates that at least 86.7 million EUR should be transferred from the budget of the Land to 5 rural and 3 urban areas to support cultural institutions and activities of regional and trans-regional importance. The Act was last amended in 2011/2012 to integrate the financing for the Repertory Theatre of Saxony (Landesbühne Sachsen) which had been the responsibility of the federal state (Freistaat) before then.

In other federal states (Länder) (e. g. Baden-Wurttemberg), support for individual sectors, for example theatre, is given in the form of co-financing, the amount of which is determined on the basis of a fixed percentage of the total spending invested by the municipality. In some cases, resources are transferred from the federal states (Länder) to the municipalities for activities which are not necessarily cultural.

On 1 September 2006, a reform of the federal system came into effect. This has involved a re-distribution of competences between the federal government and the federal states (Länder) in some policy areas. In the field of culture, the federal government (or level) assumed more responsibilities with respect to culture in the capital, Berlin, and to the conservation of cultural heritage. German representation in the field of cultural policy within the European Union (Article 23, Abs. 6 GG) has been given greater weight. Because the federal government is prohibited from co-financing cultural projects (Article 91b GG), the possibilities of supporting cultural education projects are limited.

Non-governmental actors

In addition to government bodies and actors, there is a host of actors involved in supporting different forms of cultural work and cultural programmes such as: radio and television broadcasters, business-sector institutions, various groups in society (churches, unions, and associations), civic organisations and initiatives, clubs and private individuals.

This extensive network of intermediaries between the state and the culture scene complements public-sector activity and is indispensable for a vibrant and progressive cultural life in Germany. Pluralism of sponsors and vehicles of culture is a structural and important element of the system which is also indicated in the Constitution and the laws governing Germany's cultural sector. The various forms of commercial cultural activities likewise play an important role in the nation's cultural life.

As a rule, there is no organised form of co-operation or coordination of cultural activities between "the state" and this diverse network of non-governmental actors. There are, however, more and more instances where public cultural affairs administrations at the Federal, Land and local level are cooperating with intermediaries (arms-length bodies) in order to implement their support programmes or to generate sponsorship for cultural institutions.

Chapter published: 30-08-2016

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