An interview with Dr. Herta Däubler-Gmelin

Published on 7 January 2013 in Interview
Nadia Al-Sakkaf (author)

Nadia Al-Sakkaf

“In Germany, strong regional states have to support weaker states so that all citizens across the country enjoy similar living conditions.”  (YT Photo by Tim Petschulat)

“In Germany, strong regional states have to support weaker states so that all citizens across the country enjoy similar living conditions.” (YT Photo by Tim Petschulat)

Dr. Herta Däubler-Gmelin is a former German National Minister of Justice, a longtime member of the German Parliament and Chair of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance Committee.

She was recently invited to Yemen to speak at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation. She gave a presentation entitled, “Options of Political Decentralization - An Introduction to Federalism: Chances, Challenges and Preconditions.”

Although she says she does not want to tell the Yemeni people what they should want or need, she believes that what Yemen may require is a shift in power from individuals to institutions.

“If this were to happen, there would not be such strong resistance to letting go of power,” she explains. “It is a question of power sharing.”

The bottom line is that if there is adequate power distribution among the bodies governing the country, it does not leave space for corruption or dictatorship, she says.

Däubler-Gmelin explains that there are two accepted structures for power sharing.  One being the common horizontal model - that is utilized in countries throughout the world - where three branches of government, legislative, executive and judiciary split power.  The other is a vertical power share between a national government and regions or states.

To illustrate the point of where such structures are successful, she explains, small, homogenous countries can usually thrive with just a horizontal or central power sharing system, provided there is an independent judiciary and a strong, efficient and accountable lawmaking body. However, when there are historical, religious, ethnic or political divisions, an additional measure for power sharing is necessary to ensure equal citizenship, good governance and genuine democracy for all.

Levels of regulation

Speaking in terms of political theory, Däubler-Gmelin says a genuinely central state has only one level of control and that is national. With non-central states there are other levels of management that include  elements of power sharing.

The levels of regulation in such systems are usually divided into three levels:

The first is a national regulatory body. This falls under the responsibility of the national state and is the same for all regions.

The second level is the local or regional control whereby each state or region has certain control and the authority to assert itself in rules and regulations.

The third level is the joint cooperation between the national level and the regions. Such cooperation takes into account the requirements and needs of the central/ national government and each of the regions individually.

Through the three layers of control, states or regions maintain a certain level of autonomy, but they are responsible for the welfare of the nation collectively, Däubler-Gmelin says.  

Giving an example of her own country, she adds, “In Germany, strong regional states have to support weaker states so that all citizens across the country enjoy similar living conditions.”

Through the German federal system, a living conditions index is calculated every year to guage how different areas are faring.   Additionally, the amount each region contributes to or takes from the nation is reviewed every year as a form of checks and balances.

The regions and the national government are involved in this review and in the collection of taxes and revenues so that each state knows how it is doing and how the others are doing comparatively.

Däubler-Gmelin says this shared power provides an element of trust between regional and national authorities and an element of shared responsibility for the welfare of the country as a whole.

“We have regionally elected governments and parliaments that are accountable to their constituencies in the region, and so they work for their best interest. We also have the federal parliament which legislates for the entire nation. These two levels work together in a transparent manner especially when it comes to national and regional budgets,” she says.

She emphasized that a structure with additional vertical power sharing helps limit corruption. The authorities at the regional level realize they are accountable to the constituencies that elected them, rather than to a central government that otherwise would have appointed them, she concludes.