Competencies of the German Federation and the Länder

Federal law takes precedence over Land law

The Federal Republic of Germany is a federal state made up of 16 constituent states - the Länder. Accordingly, there are federal laws that apply for the whole territory of the Federation, and Land laws that only have validity in the Land in question.

Land laws may not conflict with federal laws. Article 31 of the Basic Law states that “Federal law shall take precedence over Land law.” This is intended to ensure that, as far as possible, “equitable living conditions” prevail throughout the federal territory.

The legislative competencies of the Federation and the Länder are regulated in detail by the Basic Law. Articles 71 to 74 list the legislative powers of the Federation. In all other cases, the Länder are responsible.

Exclusive legislation

In the fields subject to the exclusive legislation of the Federation, the Länder only have the power to adopt legislation where they are expressly empowered to do so by a federal act.

The Federation holds exclusive legislative competence in the following fields: all foreign policy issues, defence, including the protection of the civil population, citizenship, currency and money, the unity of the customs and trading area and cooperation between the Federation and the Länder concerning criminal police work.

Concurrent legislation

In fields subject to concurrent legislation, the Länder have the right to adopt legislation provided and in so far as the Federation makes no use of its legislative powers in the same field. The Federation has the right to adopt legislation in these fields provided it is intended to establish equitable living conditions in the federal territory or maintain Germany’s legal and economic unity. Civil law, criminal law, the prison system, road traffic, the law of association and assembly, the law relating to the residence and establishment of foreign nationals, business law, consumer protection and the benefits granted to members of the public service are all among the fields subject to concurrent legislation.