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Landtage (State Diets) in the COVID-19 Crisis: Neither Idle nor Left Behind

Results of a Study by Researchers at Freie Universität Berlin on the Influence of the COVID-19 Crisis on Federalism / Project Funded by the Berlin University Alliance

News from Apr 20, 2022

According to a study by researchers at Freie Universität Berlin, the COVID-19 crisis posed challenges to parliamentarianism in the federal states; nevertheless, the Landtage (state diets) and deputies performed their functions. The team led by political science professor Sabine Kropp proved this empirically for the first time. “The dominance of federal and state governments in pandemic management has not undermined parliamentarianism as a central pillar of democracy,” emphasizes Prof. Dr. Sabine Kropp. She said that the state diets had performed their core functions – legislation, supervision of the government, and communication – even under the complicated conditions of the pandemic. The research was funded by the Berlin University Alliance (BUA) and the Volkswagen Foundation.

In a policy brief now published, the researchers summarize their key findings and make recommendations for action to state diets and their deputies.

State diets fulfill their core functions – even during the pandemic

Measures to contain the pandemic were coordinated and implemented primarily by the federal and state governments. This gave parts of the population the impression that the state diets were no longer being consulted and were thus being reduced to spectators. The question arose as to whether the separation of powers – a central pillar of the Federal Republic's democracy – were or were not being undermined. However, the empirical assessment of parliamentary activities by the research team at Freie Universität paints a more optimistic picture.

As the researchers found, state diets have made particular use of their communication function. “Public debates in parliaments are not merely ornamental accessories, but elementary prerequisites for the legitimization of political decisions. Communication, as the pandemic has just taught us, is essential for a successful and citizen-oriented policy,” emphasizes Dr. Antonios Souris, who is on the research team.

The researchers therefore recommend that state diets consistently emphasize, especially in public discourse, that public communication is one of their core functions and wherefore. According to the research team, the key role of the state diets in the federal system should also be addressed beyond this – ideally by the members of parliament themselves, because they decisively shape the public perception of parliamentarianism. “State diet groups and their deputies should avoid discursive strategies that cast doubt on the importance of parliaments and their position in the system of government, or even delegitimize them,” the researchers recommend.

The research was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation under the project “Political cohesion under conditions of fiscal scarcity – German federalism in the time of COVID-19” and by the BUA under the project "The Laws of Social Cohesion (LSC)". This is one of six projects of the Grand Challenge Initiative Social Cohesion funding line of the BUA that explore the cohesive forces of society in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary context.

For more information and recommendations for action, see the policy brief “Landesparlamente in der COVID-19-Krise: Weder untätig noch abgehängt” [Landtage (State Diets) in the COVID-19 Crisis: Neither Idle nor Left Behind], implemented as part of the Research Forum Social Cohesion. The Research Forums promote multidirectional and transdisciplinary exchange between science and society and are part of the Objective 2: Fostering Knowledge Exchange of the Berlin University Alliance.

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The Berlin University Alliance is a consortium consisting of three major Berlin universities – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin – and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, established to shape research and education in Berlin. The four partners joined forces to further develop Berlin as a research hub with international drawing power. Together the partners explore major societal challenges, increase public outreach, promote the training of junior researchers, address issues of quality and standards in research, and share resources in the areas of research infrastructure, teaching, diversity, equal opportunities, and internationalization. The Berlin University Alliance is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the state of Berlin under the Excellence Strategy of the Federal Government and the Länder.

Joint press release from Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin along with Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

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