How Germany's sense of its past makes federalism work
Unlike the Philippines, Germany has a strong sense of its past that it still influences the way they govern today.
If social media in the Philippines is filled with #NeverAgain, in Germany, more than a hashtag, they have taken concrete steps in making sure that the horrors of World War II would not be repeated.
During a week-long federalism study tour in Berlin and Munich, I got to understand how complicated this form of government could be. The German type of federal government, despite its ups and downs, continues to work for them primarily because they clearly know what they are rejecting.
As an outsider looking in, I have come to understand that Adolf Hitler played a central role in German government. That is, the country’s current system was put in place to ensure in all ways possible that power would never again rest on one person alone. Germans, as early as grade school, are already taught about the horrors of World War II.
While I was there, I thought about how different it is in the Philippines. Aside from the capability to move forward quickly, Filipinos are used to belonging to a nation that functions under one operational system. Although the sense of regionalism exists in the country, in the same way it does in Germany, Filipinos have always had a central type of government that controls and facilitates everything. The idea of dividing the system has not been met well.
In Germany, it’s the other way around. It was consolidation. Their member-states (16 all in all) had their identities and independence before they were formed into the German federal government. Plus, federalism has been a centuries-long tradition for Germany, even at the time when it was still a kingdom.
At present, each state remains self-governing, with the central government – yes, Angela Merkel has limited control or say on the states’ affairs. It has its downside, sure. Like on the issue of education, the state has a say on how many years its primary schooling should be, which is confusing to say the least.
Even legislation has to have the nod of the states through the Bundesrat or the Federal Council. It primarily defends the interests of the state vis-à-vis the Federation and, indirectly, the European Union.
While members of the Bundesrat are not elected unlike those of the Bundestag (parliament), it nonetheless plays a vital role. The federal government must present all its legislative initiatives first to the Bundesrat, only then can a proposal be passed to the Bundestag.
The presence of multiple layers for checks, balances, and autonomy is also present even in Germany’s state media to ensure there would be no repeat of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda.
The system is far from perfect, with many protesting and opposing it. But I guess, that’s how democracy works.
With all the efforts the country has put in place to avoid another central authority, it remains to be seen if this continues to be effective in the age of “alternative facts.”
Recently, Germany's populist right-wing party “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) won 93 seats in parliament, the first time a far-right party has entered the parliament in nearly 60 years.
But as long as Germany knows and is reminded of what they have been rejecting all these years, the federal type of government has a very good chance of withstanding the winds of change. – Rappler.com