Berliners Have More Political Rights than Washingtonians

May 5, 2021 | By eric.terzuolo | Filed in: DC Statehood, Germany.
Berlin Coat of Arms
Berlin Coat of Arms

Berliners have more political rights than Washingtonians. Like Bavaria or Hesse (where Frankfurt is located), Germany’s capital is a full-fledged unit of the German federation. A Land in German parlance, akin to states in the US system. Berliners elect their own house of representatives, currently with 160 members, which can legislate with broad authority.

Berlin governs itself

The majority in the legislature designates Berlin’s executive authorities – the mayor and 12 others, who carry the title of “senator,” admittedly confusing for Americans. Interestingly, the mayor of the city of Berlin is also “minister president,” in essence governor of Berlin as a component state of the German federation. This all undermines the notion that Washington, DC cannot become a state because it is a city.

The political rights of Berliners include naming 4 of the 69 members of the Bundesrat, vaguely equivalent to the Senate in the US. Berliners also get to vote for the Bundestag, Germany’s counterpart to the US House of Representatives. Their share of the seats is in line with their percentage of the total German electorate. Bottom line: there is no real difference between how Berliners are represented in the German legislature and how citizens of other federal units are represented.

Small states not penalized

Political rights in Germany don’t really depend on the size of a given Land. There are a lot more Berliners (not quite 3.7 million in 2019) than there are Washingtonians (currently close to 690,000). But the north German city of Bremen, with fewer residents than Washington, is also a distinct unit of the German federation, with 3 members in the Bundesrat. The Germans take federalism very seriously and the Bundesrat, somewhat like our Senate, ensures generous representation to the smaller federal units. Even North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous Land with roughly 18 million people, only has three more Bundesrat seats than “little” Bremen.

The US once again looks out of step in denying key political rights to capital city residents.  Germany has long been a mature democracy, a crucial US ally, and is certainly now the leading state in the European Union. Though the countries also differ in important ways, comparing the US and German practices does seem fair. And there are other relevant examples.

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