Germany’s Deconcentrated Logic Helps It Win the Coronavirus Race | News from the world


As the coronavirus crisis tests the resilience of democracies around the world, Germany has gone from cursing its decentralized political system and wondering if the turtle / hare logic of federalism puts it in a better position to brave the pandemic than most of the others.

Under German federalism – whose roots go back to the Holy Roman Empire but which was entrenched after the Nazi era to weaken centralized power – key policy areas, such as health, education and cultural affairs, came under the jurisdiction of the country’s 16 states, or Länder.

At the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, such a highly decentralized system of governance made the woman in charge of the country strangely powerless: even when Angela Merkel announced the first package of social distancing, she could only make recommendations which federal states were free to implement or ignore.

As the social distancing measures came into effect, there were howls of frustration about the extent of the variability of blockages between states: in Berlin, for example, the purchase of a book in a shop is still allowed, but a picnic in the park is not. In Baden-Württemberg, the opposite is the case.

Federalism is useful for creating a dynamic business environment between different regions, but it can make it difficult to synchronize an entire country.

Eastern socialist states, less severely affected by the virus, were reluctant to close their schools, angering southern states who feared that their students would be disadvantaged.

However, a week and a half after the de facto lockdown, Germany is beginning to discover the benefits of a system that distributes rather than centralizes power.

The country suddenly finds itself seen as the model to emulate for its high test rates – considered by many to be the only strategy to be able to take a route outside the lockdown measures.

German public health services are not provided by a single central authority but by about 400 public health offices, managed by municipal and rural district administrations.

Such an environment allows for a variety of laboratories – some attached to universities or hospitals, others privately run, medium-sized – which operate largely independently of central control.

“I don’t have to wait for a call from the Minister of Health before I can get tested,” said Matthias Orth, from the Institute of Laboratory Medicine at the Marien Hospital in Stuttgart.

Some private laboratories started offering tests for the Covid-19 virus long before health insurers offered to pay for the tests, which gave Germany a head start. Today, approximately 250 laboratories perform between 300,000 and 500,000 tests for Covid-19 each week.

Not bad for a lead-footed turtle.


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