The Systems of Government in Germany and Russia

As a field in political science, comparative politics seeks to understand the political institutions, domestic politics, and conflicts in countries based on the comparative method. The study entails comparing nations with an emphasis on significant patterns of differences or similarities. Comparative politics uses a case study approach, which is a scientific method, applied to test the reliability and validity of theoretical prepositions. A full understanding of a country’s political system is best attained by comparing the system to others. The research paper embarks on analyzing the systems of government in Germany and Russia. A system of government is responsible for distributing power among various parts and levels of a country. Power use and its distribution are concepts studied in political science, and with this, there is the understanding that the amount of power under the central government act as the determinant of a country’s system of government. Three central systems of government exist in the modern day, namely, federal systems, unitary systems, and confederate systems.  The research paper is a case study that compares the systems of government of Germany and Russia (post-communist Russia) is such aspects as the political executive, legislature, and territorial organization of power or authority.

Overview of the Concept of Systems of Government

            A system of government portrays how power is distributed among various parts and levels of a country. The amount of authority by the central government is a significant indicator of the system of government in a given state. As had been indicated, three primary systems of government exist, and they are discussed in the section.

Unitary System of Government

            A government with a unitary system is described to have the highest level of centralization, with the central administration holding all the power and control. Lower-level governments like states, counties or provinces, if they exist, only implement the policies set by the national government (Rodden, 2004). In a country that is purely unitary, the same set of law is applied without variation throughout the nation. In essence, unitary systems of government create a national policy that is then used uniformly in all regions within the national boundary. The creation of an atmosphere of uniformity by the unitary system is, to some extent, considered beneficial in that individuals and businesses are aware of the legal requirements despite the differences in a geographic area. However, the system has its shortcomings, such as its tendency to overlook local variations that might require different policies or rules. Most tyrannies and absolute monarchies are under unitary systems. Examples include Great Britain, France, Bulgaria, China, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, and many African and Latin American countries (Bardes, Shelley, " Schmidt, 2010).

            Differences among unitary systems of government exist. However, the major variation is observed in the procedures and institutions used by the central governments to connect with their territories. Three types of unitary system are identified in the section. One type of the system is where decentralization of power among lower-level governments is outwardly identified, even though not in constitutional principle, almost to resemble federal administrations. For example, in Great Britain, there is considerable regional independence in the ties between Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland and the central government in London, and the complex system of local governments that are elected in office. The relationship in constitutional theory is subject to repeal by Parliament, whereas in practice, it is fixed and formidable element of the British government. Nonetheless, there are variations to unitary systems of this type, with the constitution providing for decentralization on a territorial basis. The power or authorities of officials who are elected locally are fully described in the constitution. For instance, the Japanese constitution states the independent roles of local administrative bodies.

            Another type of unitary system only has provisions for token decentralization. Under the subtype, the central government appoints officials to manage the affairs of the different territories. In addition, the role of officers who are locally elected is either nonexistent or minimal. Various nations that were formerly communist and German under Adolf Hitler are classic examples of this arrangement. The third type of unitary system has limited provision for territorial decentralization of power (Bardes, Shelley, " Schmidt, 2010). In such governments, there are strict procedures used by the central state to supervise local governments. Pre-1982 France is the classic example of the variation of the unitary system.

Federal Systems

            A federal system is made up of national and local governments. As explained by Rodden (2004), the federal government overdoes local administrations in such aspects as foreign policy and defense. However, local governments contribute in most other policy matters. The federal system can be described as a political entity where partially self-governing states or regions under the central administration are united (Remington, 2015). There are variations in federal system from place to place, for instance, the local government can administer national policies.

            In federal systems of government, there is a division of political authority between various autonomous governments, i.e., with one national and the other local, both operating directly upon the citizens. Bardes, Shelley, and Schmidt (2010) further explain that constitutional division of power is laid down between the central government and the sub-national or provincial administrations that have the independent authority within their boundaries. The national government controls the entire national territory. Examples of countries organized on federal systems include seven of the eight largest nations in the world by area namely, the United States, Russia, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Australia. As was stated in the previous section, China (the third largest) has a unitary system of government. Other federal states include Belgium, Austria, the Federal Republic of Germany, Nigeria, Mexico, Switzerland, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The boundary between central and local power is often unclear. The strengths and weaknesses of federal systems of government are opposite to those of unitary systems (Bardes, Shelley, " Schmidt, 2010). Even though states with federal systems excel at incorporating local needs, they face challenges in attempts to put in place harmonious national policy.

Confederate Systems

            A confederate system of government, compared to a unitary system, at the extreme concerns centralization (Bardes, Shelley, " Schmidt, 2010). A confederacy entails a loose nexus among various smaller political entities. The local government has significant political power with the central federal power being in possession of minimum authority. Therefore, local administrations have the autonomy to act as they wish, but in most scenarios, the freedom causes conflicts between federal and state governments. An example of the modern-day confederacy in Belgium which is an alliance between two primary independent regions, i.e., Wallonia (South) and Flanders in the north.

Similarities between Germany and Russian System of Government

            Both Germany and Russia have a federal system of government, implying that the central government is not in possession of absolute power. Nonetheless, there are minor variations in the federal system of each country. In Germany, political power is shared between the central government and the governments of the 16 states. Under the country’s constitutional law, Germany is a federal nation with 16 Länder that form the constituent states. In the country, both the states and the national administration have their independent power as the constituent states are not departments or provinces but independent states possessing their Land constitution, administrative structures and parliaments (Schnapauff, 2018). The sovereign authority is divided between the Federation and the Länder by the constitution, known as the (Basic Law). Therefore, the assumption of the Basic Law, as stated in Article 30, 70, and 83, is that the Länder are equipped with the necessary competence (Schnapauff, 2018).

            In a federal state like Germany, political developments and decisions are more balanced and transparent and are intended to attain a consensus thus ultimately avoid extremes. In addition, the federal system of Germany has the powers of the Länder and Federation being limited with mutual interdependence (Schnapauff, 2018). The two entities in the country are designed to work together for the efficient discharge of their specific functions. In this way, the balance of powers as well as the apparent “system of checks and balances” is maintained by the co-operation.

            Russia has a federal system of government where the power is shared between the two primary levels of government, i.e., the federal and state governments (the country has 85 federated states or regions). At the federal level, the president, parliament (Federal Assembly), the federal government and the courts hold power. The balance of power, since the adoption of the Constitution in the year 1993, favors the president by granting the presidency more numerous powers. The Russian Constitution provides for the local government to enjoy self-governance (Remington, 2015). The 2003 local self-government law standardized the local government competences and structures. Among the aspects introduced include two tiers of local government, i.e., upper and lower tier. The second form of standardization consists of the provision for municipal councilors to be elected by universal suffrage. The third most significant included the description of the city roles. The responsibilities entail local supply of gas and electricity, provision for roads and transport services, childcare, police, education, waste management, medical facilities, sports facilities and spatial planning.

            The second similarity between the system of government in Russia and Germany is on citizen participation, which follows a democracy. In both countries, citizens hold the absolute power, mainly through voting. Regarding the concept of citizen participation, the two countries share similarities in that the legislative arm of the government is bicameral or divided into two houses. However, there exist slight variations in the form of democracy practiced. In Germany, the political system entails that of a liberal democracy where all citizens have a right and freedom to make public their opinions regarding some government policies. Besides, Germans hold the power n the country whereby they can vote for a political party of their choice. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the Germans do not directly elect leaders except the Bundestag (Parliament), but the citizens (of every German state) are represented as they choose members of the Bundestag. German's citizens profoundly participate in national matters and further possess similar fundamental freedoms like the ones enjoyed in the United Kingdom and the United States. Freedom of assembly and speech are guaranteed in the Constitution, and therefore, citizens are protected from any form of threat due to expressing their opinion towards the government. In Germany, each citizen is considered equal, making the liberal democracy in the country mostly stable and free of violence. Other freedoms include right to a fair trial, right to security and own property.

In Russia, a federation democracy is the existing political system where political parties and citizens are entitled to freedom of assembly and speech, but the rights are set within boundaries. The limitation implies that the government may heavily punish the citizens overstepping the boundaries. In this sense, it is difficult to differentiate the liberal democracy from the personal authoritarian regime. The other similarity between the systems of government in Russia and Germany regards citizen's participation. In Russia, the Constitution also guarantees human and civil rights for every individual, with all people being equal (Remington, 2015). Besides, all Russians have the right to life, dignity and privacy and freedom of speech.

Differences between Germany and Russia Systems of Government

A significant difference between the two country’s systems of government regards the type of democracy. Germany has a parliamentary democracy with the leader being elected via the legislature or parliament as opposed to citizens directly voting. Germans periodically choose their representatives in free and fair multiparty elections. Regarding national parliament, as described by Roberts (2000), Germany has a bicameral parliament, i.e., made up of two houses or chambers namely Bundestag (Federal Parliament) and Bundesrat (Federal Council). Bundestag has more power and is elected by the citizens of every German state. Members of the house (Bundestag) then elect the Chancellor who is the chief executive or head of the federal government. The other legislative chamber, or the Federal Council, represents the 16 states or regions of the country at the federal level (Roberts, 2000). The house has members of the state administrations. Moreover, the Bundesrat represents the wishes of the state governments. Each of the 16 state administrations select representatives for the Federal Council and the number chosen depends on the population the state (Russell, 2015). The Bundesrat concerns itself with legislation impacting states, for example, local government and educational problems.

Russia, on the other side, has a presidential democracy with the leader being directly voted in by the citizens. The endeavor is a clear contrast to what is exercised in Germany as people do not directly elect the leader. In Russia, the parliament is known as the Federal Assembly that comprises two houses, i.e., the State Duma (lower house) and the upper house or the Council of the Federation (Remington, 2015). The State Duma is directly elected by the universal voters depending on the number of representatives and dominance. According to Russell (2015), the State Duma is the most popular and common of the houses in the politics of the country. However, it lacks direct importance to the connection between state and federal government.

The upper house, as with the Bundesrat in Germany, is the weaker half of the parliament, but still possesses significant power under the 1993 constitution. The Council of Federation represents the states that are federated or united regions in making laws in the federal government. As the upper house, it comprises 170 seats with each region or state having an allowance for two representatives. The upper house has 178 deputies, with the 89 regions of Russia choosing two (Roberts, 2000). One of the deputies is the executive head who is locally elected, while the other heads the regional parliament. A significant aspect to emphasize in assessing the existing differences is that States appoint the members of the council; thus citizens do not directly take part in the election.

The deputies have the authority to approve changes in territorial boundaries within the federation. Other powers of the deputies include sanctioning the introduction of a state of emergency by the president and launching of martial law. Besides, the constitution of Russia states that the country's armed army may strictly be used outside the territories of the country. However, the deputies can vote on the deployment of the forces outside the stated borders. A major duty of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly is to approve the choices of people proposed by the president to take up various government jobs. The Council has other significant authorities. For instance, schedule presidential elections and also sanction the designation of Supreme Court and Constitutional judges (Schnapauff, 2018).

The Federal Assembly’s State Duma is considerably larger than the Council of Federation. The Duma consist 450 members who are directly voted in by citizens. State Duma is an influential institution, and as set out in the constitution, it can hold a confidence vote on the Russian administration (Roberts, 2000). Other major roles of the lower house are making laws, controlling the budget, and approving the choice of the president for a prime minister. In addition, the State Duma has the right to announce amnesties and start proceeding for impeaching the president.

The next significant difference between the systems of government in the two countries is on national leadership. In Germany, the Chancellor, as had been highlighted earlier, is the chief executive, whereas the president is the head of state and a symbol for the nation. Elected by the Bundestag or legislature, the Chancellor runs the government (Roberts, 2000). On the other hand, the responsibilities of the president are mostly ceremonial. The president is chosen by the representatives of the states and legislature. In Russia, the president is the chief executive possessing the most power. Considering that the country follows presidential democracy, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the president is elected by citizens (Remington, 2015). Among the powers of the president is that he or she can disband the parliament. As further explained by Remington (2015), the president supervises the making and execution of national and foreign security policy. Moreover, he or she is charged with selecting a Prime Minister, who is similar to the vice president of the United States. The Prime Minister helps in the daily running of the administration.


The research paper briefly described the three major systems of government, with the paramount distinguishing factor being level of decentralization. The two countries compared in the research paper follow a federal system of government in which the country’s territory is divided among smaller regions for ease of management and dispersing of power. The Germany government sovereign power is territorial whereby it is shared between the central administration and the 19 Länder as mentioned in the paper. The two countries are also similar in that they are divided into various state or provincial governments.

Despite the similarities, the paper has identified numerous differences between the system of governments of Russia and Germany. The major aspects considered when analyzing the variations include citizen participation, type of democracy, leadership, and rights of citizens. The research paper has acknowledged that even though both countries have a federal system of government, there are other significant differences in how the political systems of the nations are presented.


Bardes, B. A., Shelley, M. C., " Schmidt, S. W. (2010). American government and politics today: The Essentials. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Remington, R. F. (2015). Politics in Russia.

London: Routledge.

Roberts, G. K. (2000). German Politics Today.

Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Rodden, J. (2004). Comparative Federalism and Decentralization: On Meaning and Measurement. Comparative Politics, 36

(4), 481-500.

Russell, M. (2015). Russia's constitutional structure: Federal in form, Unitary in function. European Parliamentary Research Service, 1-20.

Schnapauff, K. D. (2018). The Federal System of the Federal Republic of Germany. Retrieved February 5, 2018, from Forum of Federations:

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