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Cultural Federalism on the Defensive (April 20-21, 1978)

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From the sovereignty of the federal states and from their responsibility, as members of the federation, to the state as a whole, comes the right, but also the duty, to cooperate with each other and with the federal government in the fulfillment of tasks.

The Institute for Joint Tasks, which was established in 1969 after an amendment to the Basic Law, led to two new forms of cooperation between the federal and state governments in the area of objective and framework planning: the planning committee for the establishment of universities, whose organization and tasks are described in the University Construction Act [HBFG], and an optional institution for joint educational planning. With the administrative agreement on the establishment of the Federal-State Commission for Educational Planning and Research Promotion, the states and the federal governments created such an instrument of cooperative federalism in 1970.

[ . . . ]

Objective and framework planning in the educational system is the jointly approved framework within which the development of the educational system should take place. Therefore, to realize common goals, the coordination of the implementation and actualization process is exceedingly important.

In the interest of creating more equitable living standards in the Federal Republic, this ongoing coordination is being carried out by the Conference of Ministers. The form of the states’ joint work can vary from loose collaboration (exchange of opinions, mutual briefings) to intensive cooperation (this includes, especially, the broad category of joint efforts in various areas, especially state cooperation in foreign cultural policy), to circumscribed cooperation by way of arrangements or agreements, whether between administrations, governments, or even the conclusion of inter-state treaties. As for government cooperation: this involves the cooperation of ministers who are appointed by the [state] parliament and who answer to that parliament. All of the individual states have the same sovereignty, and this gives rise to the principle of unanimity. Regardless of the difficulties associated with unanimous decision-making, which rules out majority decisions, this principle has one important advantage, and that is that significant changes, especially in the educational system, can be carried out in an ongoing fashion and on the basis of a broad consensus among all participants. In terms of implementation, the results of this joint cooperation are political declarations of intent, which, regardless of how politically binding they are on the cooperation, are generally meant as recommendations directed at the states, whose constitutional competencies are not affected. This means that these sorts of recommendations and agreements only become binding state law after they are transformed by the competent state organs in accordance with the form prescribed by state law.

Note: At a meeting of the minister-presidents of the federal states on May 11-12, 1978, the states governed by the CDU or the CSU (Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein) declared, “that they do not agree with any of the conclusions in the federal government report that call for the centralization of responsibilities in the area of education by way of an amendment to the Basic Law.”

Source: “Stellungnahme der Kultusministerkonferenz zum Bericht der Bundesregierung über die strukturellen Probleme des föderativen Bildungssystems (Strukturbericht) vom 20./21. April 1978” [Statement of the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Federal States [Kultusministerkonferenz] on the Federal Government’s Report on the Structural Problems of the Federal Education System (Structural Report) of April 20-21, 1971”]; reprinted in Oskar Anweiler, et al., ed., Bildungspolitik in Deutschland 1945-1990. Ein historisch-vergleichender Quellenband [Education Policy in Germany 1945-1990. A Historical-Comparative Overview]. Opladen, 1992, pp. 86-89.

Translation: Allison Brown

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