The Domestic Politics of German Unification

By Christopher Anderson; Karl Kaltenthaler et al. | Go to book overview

Federalism, an institutional feature strongly rooted in German history, might, under certain conditions, help to counteract some of the trends outlined in my scenario. Before formal unification was accomplished, the GDR returned to the federal structure it had until the early 1950s. That is, the five Länder created in 1946 by the Soviet military administration and abolished in 1952 in favor of a strictly centralist reorganization, were restored. Their accession to the federal structure of the Basic Law poses some quite intricate problems, in particular for the system of revenue sharing. It is difficult to see how this system can persist in its present form, and it is equally difficult to see how a consensus can be found about a workable alternative. A parafiscal institution run jointly by the federal and the West German state governments (and mostly funded by borrowing) has been set up. But this could probably only be a transitory solution.

In spite of these difficulties, the insertion of East Germany into the federal framework had broad support on both sides. In the past, the federal structure of West Germany has eased the regional disparities that existed after the war. Moreover, it has played an important role in the resolution of political and social conflicts by allowing for a limited degree of diversity, in particular in the field of education. When it comes to economic and fiscal policy, West Germans have had a strong preference for homogeneity of welfare and state subsidies and have therefore opted for coordination in a system of "interlocking politics" (Politikverflechtung). This system has accommodated a diversity of interests within a bargaining structure that became legitimate even though it was complex and cumbersome. Thus, the federal framework should, at least in theory, help to disaggregate some of the problems and conflicts that are likely to arise from unification and help to solve them. 2 Again, however, the enormous disparity in wealth creates a structural asymmetry that puts the East German state in a strongly inferior bargaining position. Because its administrative structures will have to be reconstructed practically from scratch, the institutions of the eastern Länder will remain extremely weak for a considerable period of time. This will further accentuate the asymmetry between East and West.


Notes

This chapter was presented as a guest lecture at Princeton University, February 26, 1990; and at a workshop on "Gorbachev and the Germans" held May 10 and 11, 1990, at the Graduate Faculty, New School for Social Research, New York. It has been updated for this book.

1
Since the 1950s the egalitarian features of the educational system of the GDR had become perverted by strong discrimination based on social background and political conformity ("social engagement"). But the fundamental organizational patterns go back to earlier reform movements that were defeated early in West Germany but had strong affinities to the public school system in Scandinavia or in the United States.

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