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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Structural framework > State

The role of local government

Local government as the constitutional, executive body for state responsibilities


Responsibilities of local authorities in their own right

Devolved responsibilities

1. Voluntary responsibilities 2. Statutory responsibilities of
3. Statutory responsibilities by
4. Responsibilities discharged
    on behalf of the state

Leisure facilities; local public transport; playgrounds; grants for child and youth work

Refuse collection; water and power supply; building nurseries and schools, child and youth services

Availability of fire brigade, emergency services and  civil protection; payment of income support and housing benefit

Holding Bundestag and local elections and carrying out the national census; recording persons liable to military service


Local government as the constitutional body for local and democratic self-government


The Federal Republic of Germany is home to towns, cities and municipalities (known collectively as local authorities) of varying sizes: from small municipalities consisting of a few thousand inhabitants – which generally join forces to form districts – to extremely large municipalities with millions of inhabitants (such as Cologne or Munich). The responsibilities of the Federation, the federal states (Länder) and the municipalities are contained in the Basic Law (Grundgesetz/GG). Article 28 (2) guarantees municipalities the right, "[…] to regulate all local affairs on their own responsibility within the limits prescribed by the laws." This basic right is referred to as a guarantee of autonomy and forms the basis for local self-government. The right to local self-government is an integral part of the Council of Europe's European Charter of Local Self-Government, which took effect on 1 September 1988, and is fleshed out in the state constitutions of the individual Länder. The local authorities act on the basis of the local municipal code (also known as the local constitution).

In order to perform local self-government functions, Article 28 (1) GG states: "In each Land, county and municipality the people shall be represented by a body chosen in general, direct, free, equal and secret elections." The municipality looks after affairs within its own area of responsibility. These include tasks rooted in or directly relatable to the local community and which the local community can handle autonomously and independently. The effective and reliable performance of basic tasks is essential to the co-existence of people in the local district.

The tasks of the municipalities are split into responsibilities of local authorities in their own right and devolved responsibilities.

The responsibilities of local authorities in their own right include important municipal affairs. These are split into voluntary responsibilities (1) and statutory responsibilities of self-government (2). The municipalities are free to decide on the structure and execution of voluntary responsibilities provided they remain within the prescribed limits of the law. The state has no influence in this context; rather, it is local demand and available funding that generally dictate which responsibilities are fulfilled and how. The statutory responsibilities of self-government are enshrined in federal or Land laws. Here, the municipalities can only choose how (but not whether) they fulfil the responsibilities. The responsibilities of child and youth services (Book 8 of the Social Code [SGB VIII]) constitute statutory responsibilities of self-government: fulfilling them falls to the local authorities, although the manner of fulfilment is decided by the municipalities (specifically, the local organisations providing child and youth services).

Devolved responsibilities of local authorities are responsibilities which have been handed over by the Federation and Land and transferred to the municipalities by way of federal or state laws. They fall into one of two categories: statutory responsibilities by direction (3) and responsibilities discharged on behalf of the state (4). The municipalities have no discretionary scope here: the government obliges the municipalities to assume the responsibilities and specifies how they must be fulfilled. It issues instructions and reviews execution so as to safeguard consistent fulfilment nationwide.

Article 28 (2) guarantees financial autonomy for the municipalities to enable them to fulfil the devolved tasks. The municipalities need to generate revenues in order to realise their responsibilities. These are derived from taxes and non-tax fees and contributions, as well as subsidies granted by the Federation and Länder (see Public finance).

Further reading
  • Andersen, Uwe/Bogumil, Jörg/Marschall, Stefan/Woyke, Wichard (eds.) (2020): Handwörterbuch des politischen Systems der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 8th fully revised, extended and updated edition. Wiesbaden.
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