Update this article: Export
How to cite:
Muenter, A., Reimer, M. (2021): Germany. (date of access).


The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) is a federal nation consisting of 16 federal states (Länder) and is constituted as a free democratic and social constitutional state. It is located in central Europe. Germany is a founding member of the European Union, a member of the European Monetary Union and, with 83 million inhabitants, its most populous country and one of the most densely populated territorial states in Europe. Germany borders on nine states (Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands). In the north, it also borders the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, while the southern border regions comprise parts of the Alps and Lake Constance. The capital and most populous city is Berlin. Three other cities (Hamburg, Munich and Cologne) have more than 1 million inhabitants. The only official language and the mother tongue of the majority of the population is German. 21.2 million inhabitants have a migration background, of which 11.2 million are foreign nationals. The largest migrant groups are of Turkish (2.8 million people) and Polish (2.2 million people) descent (Federal Statistical Office 2020).

General information

Name of country Germany
Capital, population of the capital (2020) Berlin, 3,669,491 (Eurostat)
Surface area 357,590 km² (World Bank)
Total population (2020) 83,160,871 (World Bank)
Population growth rate (2010-2020) 1.69% (World Bank)
Population density (2020) 238.0 inhabitants/km² (World Bank)
Degree of urbanisation (2015) 32.79% densely populated areas (European Commission)
Human development index (2021) 0.942 (Human Development Reports)
GDP (2019) EUR 2,962,395 million (World Bank)
GDP per capita (2019) EUR 35,651 (World Bank)
GDP growth (2014-2019) 8.72% (World Bank)
Unemployment rate (2019) 3.14% (World Bank)
Land use (2018) 9.37% built-up land
56.5% agricultural land
30.48% forests and shrubland
0.81% nature
2.84% inland waters
(European Environment Agency)
Sectoral structure (2017) 68.6% services and administration
30.7% industry and construction
0.7% agriculture and forestry
(Central Intelligence Agency)

To ensure comparability between all country profiles, the tables were prepared by the ARL.

Administrative structure and system of governance

The foundations of government of the Federal Republic of Germany are anchored in the German constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG). Germany is a democratic and social federal state (Article 20 (1) of the GG). To understand the administrative structure and system of governance in Germany it is crucial to understand the underlying principle of federalism. The federal state is composed of a central government (Bund – federation) and 16 federal states (Länder or Bundesländer), each having its own constitution, elected parliament and government. This means that not only the federation itself but also the Länder possess statehood and state authority, which is distributed between the Länder and the federation (Pahl-Weber et al. 2007). The distribution of functions between the federation and the Länder is defined in the Basic Law. The Länder thus have a genuine core of vested, non-derivative powers that encompass certain areas of legislation. German federalism is conceived as a federalism of cooperation (cooperative federalism): the federation is responsible for the majority of legislation (alone or in cooperation with the Länder), while the Länder bear most of the responsibility for implementing the laws, i.e. for administration (Klaeren 2013). The principle of federalism is of crucial importance for spatial development in Germany, as this decentralised system takes into account regional characteristics and favours the development of numerous economic and political centres and thus more balanced spatial structures (Pahl-Weber et al. 2007).

The division of legislative competences between the federation and the Länder follows the principle of subsidiarity, upon which the federal structure of the country is based: each political decision should be made on the lowest political level on which this is possible. In the course of the German federal reform of 2006, the federation lost its legislative authority in relation to establishing spatial planning frameworks. Since then, the Federal Spatial Planning Act (Raumordnungsgesetz, ROG) is only legally binding for federal spatial planning, while the Länder have had the right to deviate from the federal framework, although to date (2020) only two Länder (Bavaria and Lower Saxony) have made use of this right.

In addition, according to the principle of subsidiarity, the Basic Law equipped the municipalities with the right of municipal self-government: ‘Municipalities must be guaranteed the right to regulate all local affairs on their own responsibility within the limits prescribed by the laws’ (Art. 28 (2) No. 1 GG). Crucial components of the right of municipal self-government are financial autonomy (including the right of municipalities to a source of tax revenues) and local or municipal planning autonomy, which gives the municipalities the right to structure their urban development independently within the legal framework of land-use planning. Based on these fundamental principles guaranteed by the Basic Law, the German federal government only possesses a local administrative apparatus of its own in very few fields. As a rule, the Länder and local authorities are responsible for administration. Institutions, functions and tasks in the multi-level system of German administration are distributed as follows:

Figure 1: Administrative structure of Germany

Figure 1: Administrative structure of Germany

Levels of Governance

Federation (Bund)

The federal government has only a very thin network of administrative authorities throughout the country. Only for some crucial tasks, the federal government sets up a system of authorities with their own substructures at all administrative levels acting as direct entities of federal administration. 

Sub-national level:

Federal states (Bundesländer/Länder) and government regions (Regierungsbezirke)

Since German reunification in 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany has consisted of 16 Bundesländer or federal states. According to this form of government, all German Länder are parliamentary republics. The delimitation of the individual federal states has different historical roots. They therefore differ considerably in size: from Bremen with 680,000 inhabitants to North Rhine-Westphalia with 18 million inhabitants in 2019. 13 Länder are ‘non-city states’ (Flächenländer), which are further subdivided administratively (see below), while the three ‘city states’ (Stadtstaaten) Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen simultaneously have the status of a Bundesland and an urban district (kreisfreie Stadt).

The exercise of federal state powers and the fulfilment of federal state tasks is primarily a matter for the Länder. The Länder therefore have highly differentiated administrative competences and structures. The direct federal state administration consists of the federal state government, the federal state ministries and their subordinate authorities and institutions. Subordinate to these are the government regions (Regierungsbezirke) as a link between the federal state government on the one hand and the municipalities, subordinate authorities, businesses, associations and citizens on the other. As regional authorities, they coordinate almost every administrative issue for their administrative region. This administrative level exists today mainly in the larger German Länder. In some Länder they have been abolished and the tasks have been bundled on the federal state level or shifted to the municipal level.
The organisation of regional planning varies significantly from state to state. Thus in some Länder the government regions also act as regional planning authorities. In other Länder regional planning is entirely the responsibility of the municipalities, carried out by municipal planning associations responsible for regional planning or the districts. In a third group of Länder, collective regional planning pertains, whereby an administrative regional planning authority bears responsibility for drawing up the regional plan, which must then be passed by a committee made up of municipal representatives (Blotevogel et al. 2014). There are also cases of regional planning being carried out by districts (Lower Saxony) or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, entirely by the federal state (e.g. Schleswig-Holstein). There were a total of 104 regional planning authorities in Germany in 2018 (Zaspel-Heisters/Benz 2020).

Figure 2: Planning system in Germany

Figure 2: Planning system in Germany

Local level

Counties (Kreise) and municipalities (Kommunen/Städte and Gemeinden)  

Territorial authorities at the local level include municipalities that are part of a district (Kreisangehörige Gemeinde) and urban districts (Kreisfreie Städte). The 401 districts (294 rural districts and 107 urban districts in 2019) perform functions assigned to them either by law or by statute. Municipalities (Kommunen) are either larger municipalities that historically have city rights (cities or towns) or smaller municipalities without city rights (Gemeinden). Nowadays all municipalities are local self-governing bodies and have the right to independently administer all matters of the local community within the limits set by law (tasks of self-government, see above). They are not subject to direction from above; merely the legality of their administrative activities is supervised. Municipalities with a significant financial deficit in their municipal budget are a major exception in this respect. These municipalities are placed under budget supervision by higher administrative levels: this severely restricts their budgetary sovereignty as their municipal budgets must be approved by higher supervisory authorities. In addition to dealing with matters of the local community, the municipalities must provide certain services on behalf of the federal and state governments (delegated functions) (Pahl-Weber et al. 2007).

There were around 11,000 municipalities in Germany in 2019. In the 107 urban districts, the municipality and district coincide. Around one-third of the German population lives in such urban districts. The size of municipalities varies considerably, depending on differences in settlement structure and federal state policy on merging municipalities during recent decades: North Rhine-Westphalia, with 18 million inhabitants, has only 396 municipalities, while Rhineland-Palatinate, with 4 million inhabitants, has around 2,250. Thus, in ten federal states, small municipalities form collective municipalities (Gemeindeverbände) for some administrative tasks (Pahl-Weber et al. 2007).

Article 20 of the Basic Law specifies representative democracy as the organising principle of government in the Federal Republic of Germany. State authority is not exercised directly by the people; they delegate it to elected representative or parliamentary bodies. The parliamentary body at the federal level is the federal parliament (Bundestag), and in each state it is the state parliament (Landtag). The representative elected body in districts is the district council (Kreistag), in cities it is the city council (Stadtrat), and in municipalities (Gemeinden) it is the municipal council (Gemeinderat). The constitutional bodies or institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany are: (1) the federal parliament (Bundestag), (2) the federal council (Bundesrat), (3) the Federal President (Bundespräsident), (4) the federal government (Bundesregierung), and (5) the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). 

Constitutional bodies at the federal level

Federal Parliament (Bundestag)

The Bundestag is the federal parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is elected by direct universal suffrage in a free and secret ballot for a four-year term. By statute there are 598 members of parliament (plus overhang and compensatory mandates resulting structurally from German electoral law). The present (2020), 19th Bundestag has 24 standing committees (aided by several ad-hoc committees). The Bundestag chooses its president and vice-presidents from among its members. They form the Presidium of the Bundestag. The Council of Elders (Ältestenrat) is composed of the Presidium and a further 23 members. The functions of the Bundestag president include representing the Bundestag, organising its business, and exercising proprietary and police powers. The Bundestag elects the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler), exercises parliamentary control over the federal government, adopts the budget and controls finances. Article 73 of the Basic Law lists the areas in which the federation has exclusive legislative powers to regulate matters uniformly for all federal states. The main fields are foreign affairs, defence, border protection, currency, money, and coinage, matters relating to the registration of residence or domicile and to identity cards, air transport and protection against international terrorism. Article 72 of the Basic Law gives states the right to pass laws in matters of concurrent legislation so long as and to the extent that the federation does not exercise its legislative powers.

Federal Council (Bundesrat)

Through the Bundesrat, the federal states participate directly in the decision-making and legislative processes of the federation. The Bundesrat has 69 full members and therefore a total of 69 votes. Depending on their population, the 16 federal states delegate between three and six members to the council. In contrast to members of the Bundestag, who exercise a free mandate, members of the Bundesrat are bound by the instructions of their federal state government and can be instructed on how to vote (imperative mandate). The minister-presidents of the federal states serve as president of the Bundesrat in turn for a period of one year. Their duties include convening and chairing plenary sessions. The Presidium of the Bundesrat includes the president and three vice-presidents. The main tasks of the Presidium are the annual preparation of the budget and decision-making on certain internal matters unless they are the concern of the plenum. As in the Bundestag, much of the actual work of the Bundesrat is carried out in committees.

Figure 3: System of powers in Germany

Figure 3: System of powers in Germany

Federal President (Bundespräsident)

The Federal President is the head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany. He/She is elected for a period of five years. A re-election is only permitted once. His/Her main functions include representing the Federal Republic of Germany at home and abroad (e.g. through public appearances at state, social and cultural events, through speeches, state visits abroad and the reception of foreign dignitaries), representing the country under international law, entering into treaties with other countries, certifying/appointing German diplomatic representatives and receiving (letters of credence from) foreign diplomats. Although the federal president’s functions are predominantly ceremonial, its neutral position allows him/her to help reconcile political interests and provide citizens with guidance on socio-political issues. The federal president is not directly elected by the people but by a Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) convened only for this purpose. It consists of the members of the Bundestag and an equal number of members elected by the state parliaments on the basis of proportional representation of the whole population (Article 54, Basic Law).

Federal Government (Bundesregierung) and Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler)

The federal government consists of the federal chancellor (Bundeskanzler) and the federal ministers (Bundesminister). The Basic Law states that the federal chancellor, the head of government of the Federal Republic of Germany, is elected by the federal parliament for a period of four years (Bundestag). The federal ministers are appointed and dismissed by the federal president on the proposal of the chancellor. The federal government is a collegial body in which the federal chancellor occupies a prominent position by determining and bearing responsibility for general policy guidelines. Federal ministers independently manage the area of responsibility assigned to them within the framework of the government policy guidelines set by the chancellor.

Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht)

The Federal Constitutional Court is both an independent constitutional body and part of the judiciary with competence for constitutional law. Its chief responsibilities are to assess the compatibility of federal and state law with the Basic Law, to decide conflicts between federal institutions or with the federal states, and to hear constitutional appeals brought by citizens or local authorities. The decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court are binding for the constitutional institutions of the federation and the states and for all courts and public authorities. The court consists of federal judges and is composed of two senates and six chambers with differing competences.  The Bundestag and the Bundesrat each choose half of the members of the court.

Federal Courts

Pursuant to Article 92 of the Basic Law federal courts are courts under the auspices of the Federation, through which it exercises parts of the judicial power of the state which, due to the fundamental allocation of competences to the Länder, is otherwise only exercised by them (see below). Therefore, the Federation may only establish courts that are expressly provided for in the Basic Law. According to Articel 95 of the Basic Law, these are the Federal Supreme Court, the Federal Administrative Court, the Federal Supreme Finance Court, the Federal Labour Court and the Federal Social Court. Each of these courts is the highest instance of the respective jurisdiction.


Federal state level

In keeping with the federal principle of government, the states have their own constitutions and territories, as well as independent state power encompassing the legislature, executive, and judiciary (see above). The federal principle is among the inviolable constitutional principles in Germany. The federal states perform the governmental functions allocated to them by the Basic Law and the federal state constitutions.

State Parliament (Landtag)

The legislative body of each federal state is the state parliament. The federal states have the right to legislate unless the Basic Law grants the federation exclusive legislative powers or the federation fails to exercise its right of concurrent legislation. The  state parliament is the representative assembly within the state. It is the only government institution that has direct, democratic legitimacy, in that it is elected by the people. Apart from legislation, the state parliament elects the minister-president and supervises the exercise of executive power by the state government.

State Government (Landesregierung)

The state governments each consist of the minister-president (Ministerpräsident) and the state ministers. The state parliament elects the minister-president – or the governing mayor (Regierender Bürgermeister) in the city-states of Bremen, Hamburg, and Berlin. The minister-president/governing mayor is the head of state government and responsible for appointing and dismissing ministers, in some federal states with the assent of the state parliament. 

State Courts

As far as no federal courts are competent, jurisdiction is exercised by courts of the Länder (Art. 92 GG). Jurisdiction in Germany is divided into the ordinary courts (civil and criminal jurisdiction), as well as into the specialised courts of administrative, finance, labour and social jurisdiction. The courts of the federal states decide the overwhelming majority of jurisdiction in the last instance. Each federal state has its own state constitutional court (Landesverfassungsgericht). At the state level the ordinary courts possess 3 instances: higher regional courts, the regional courts and local courts. The administrative and other specialized jurisdication usually possess 2 instances at the state level (e.g. for the administrative juristication: higher administrative court and administrative courts).  


Spatial planning system

Spatial planning system

People often regard Germany as the motherland of comprehensive spatial planning. The German system of comprehensive spatial planning is organised as a decentralised multi-level system and is rendered very complex by the federal structure of the country (see ‘Administrative structure’).

The German spatial planning system is embedded in several private and public legal rights:

Land ownership rights and expropriation: Article 14 of the Basic Law deals with property rights and expropriation. It both guarantees the rights of property (and inheritance) for individuals and states that property entails obligations and thus its use shall also serve the public good. Expropriation shall only be permissible for the public good and against an equitable compensation. Land ownership rights are transferable to other individuals via notarised contracts.

Development rights: Individuals can develop land they own within the framework of the stipulations of binding land-use plans (Bebauungspläne) (see below), or – in areas where the municipality has not established a binding land-use plan – the stipulations of Section 34 (built-up inner areas) and Section 35 (undesignated outlying areas) of the Federal Building Code (Baugesetzbuch, BauGB). The construction (as well as the alteration, removal or change of use) of a building requires permission (building permit) from the local authority, which must be granted upon application by the owner, provided the building project does not conflict with any regulations under public law.

Local planning autonomy: A central component of the right to local self-government (see ‘Administrative structure’) is local planning autonomy. This means that municipalities have the political and administrative freedom to decide on the use of land in their municipal area. For this purpose, local authorities use the instruments of planning law, which are embedded in the planning system and thus the framework guidelines at higher planning levels. In addition, municipalities have the right to participate in spatial planning at higher levels under the mutual feedback principle or countervailing principle; see figure 'The multi-level system of (formal) spatial planning in Germany' (Pahl-Weber et al. 2008).

In its basic structure, which is still valid today, planning law was established in Western Germany in the 1960s and 1970s based on the Federal Building Act (Bundesbaugesetz, since 1987: Baugesetzbuch, BauGB) adopted in 1960 and the Federal Spatial Planning Act adopted in 1965. Since then, planning instruments and procedures have remained almost unchanged; there have been only occasional modifications to address new issues and challenges (such as urban renewal, environmental protection or greater citizen participation) or – especially in the last two decades – requirements imposed by EU legislation. Following German reunification in 1990, the West German system of spatial planning was extended to cover the new federal states (Länder) in the East (Blotevogel et al. 2014; Danielzyk/Münter 2018). 

The distribution of competences and functions between the three levels of government results in a system with three legally, organisationally, and conceptually separate planning levels. The planning levels are vertically linked to each other via the mutual feedback principle and the requirements for mutual adaptation between the levels (see figure 'The multi-level system of (formal) spatial planning in Germany'). The distribution of competences between levels follows the principle of subsidiarity, according to which any political decision is to be taken at the lowest political level at which this is possible and appropriate. The most important planning instruments within this system are plans describing the desired future spatial structure of the entire country both cartographically and textually. The preparation of the plans at all levels follows standardised, legally normed plan preparation processes, which includes procedures for the participation of public agencies and the public as well as environmental impact assessments (Blotevogel et al. 2014).

The highest level of the German planning system is the federal level (Bundesraumordnung), whose most important function is of a legal nature. The Federal Spatial Planning Act (Raumordnungsgesetz, ROG) lays down the guiding vision for sustainable spatial development, which guides planning at all levels. In addition, it stipulates spatial planning principles (Grundsätze der Raumordnung), which are general provisions relating to the organisation of space, especially the structure of settlements, open space and infrastructure. These spatial planning principles are statutory and are to be taken into account in weighing up interests and making discretionary decisions throughout the country. Following the mutual feedback principle, different planning levels are obligated to adapt these principles. Additionally, the Federal Spatial Planning Act contains guidelines for the planning legislation of the federal states (Länder). The Federal Spatial Planning Act thus defines substantive guidelines within the multi-level system, which are taken into account and substantiated by downstream planning levels. In the past, spatial planning was the responsibility of various federal ministries. Since 2021, it has been the responsibility of the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building of the Interior, Building and Community. The federal spatial planning level also coordinates with the state planning level through the Conference of Ministers for Spatial Planning. This committee serves to exchange information on and coordinate spatial planning (in legal terms) and spatial development issues with countrywide significance. Among other things it adopts guiding principles (Leitbilder) including cartographic visualisations to provide guidance for joint federal/state action at irregular intervals (most recently in 2016, see fact sheet "National level") (Sinz 2018).

The Federal Spatial Planning Act confers extensive spatial planning competences on the federal states as the intermediate planning level. These are concretised in the Federal State Spatial Planning Acts (Landesplanungsgesetze) both for the federal state and for the regional level. The states substantiate the spatial planning principles stipulated on the federal level both sectorally and spatially in their spatial plans, and formulate goals and strategies for spatial development in their individual territories. The most important planning instrument at the federal state level (Landesplanung) is the Federal State Development Plan (Landesraumordnungsplan), which formulates conceptual and spatial objectives and strategies for spatial development in each state (Goppel 2018).

A distinction is made in these development plans between spatial planning goals and spatial planning principles. The goals are prioritised and laid down in a binding manner in the text or map of the state development plan. They must be taken into account by all public authorities in spatially significant planning and measures. Municipal urban land use planning must be adapted to the goals of spatial planning. The federal states’ spatial development plans also contain spatial planning principles which inform the weighing of competing interests or discretionary decisions at downstream regional and municipal level, and which are to be taken into account by public planning authorities (Runkel 2018). In most federal states, the development plans have a planning horizon of 15 to 20 years and have the character of legal ordinances issued by the state government. Since 2004, the process of updating these development plans has included the public participation of individual citizens, in addition to the previously legally anchored participation of public bodies. The federal state development plans are elaborated by the federal state spatial planning authorities, which are based in the federal state ministries responsible for spatial planning (Goppel 2018).

The task of regional planning (Regionalplanung), which is institutionalised very differently from state to state (see figure ‘Administrative structure’), is to coordinate demands for land use and spatial development at the regional level. From a legal point of view, regional planning is part of federal state planning, but it de facto represents an independent planning level. The central instrument of regional planning is the regional plan (Regionalplan). In accordance with the mutual feedback principle it resolves land use conflicts, defines the regional objectives for spatial development and integrates municipal development ideas into regional development by means of spatial planning goals and principles (Priebs 2018). Regional planning therefore navigates between the municipal, regional and large-scale interests in a region, as well as the interests that pertain to the entire area and the sectoral interests in the region. Regional plans have the same participatory elements and binding character as federal state development plans and also generally have a planning horizon of 15 years.

The municipalities, as the lowest planning level, are responsible for the final decision on land use in their territory. Spatial planning on the municipal level (urban planning – Stadtplanung) forms part of municipal self-government as guaranteed by the Basic Law. In a formal sense, urban planning primarily comprises urban land-use planning (Bauleitplanung). Urban land-use planning is a compulsory municipal task regulated throughout Germany by the Federal Building Code and subordinate regulations, the Land Utilisation Ordinance (Baunutzungsverordnung, BauNVO) and the Plan Notation Ordinance (Planzeichenverordnung, PlanZV). It is subject to the framework conditions specified by the higher planning levels (Steger/Bunzel 2012). Its task is to direct development or other uses of land within the municipality. This should result in sustainable settlement development and socially just land use (Section 1 of the Federal Building Code). It serves to shape urban development through two stages. The preparatory land-use plan (Flächennutzungsplan) defines the basic features of the type of land use for the entire municipal territory. It is binding only for public authorities and outlines the type of land use arising from intended urban development (Section 5 of the Federal Building Code) for a planning horizon of about 15 years. Where necessary for urban development, the municipalities prepare binding land-use plans (Bebauungsplan) for parts of the municipal territory. These binding plans define the type and amount of built development for each plot of land in the plan area (Section 8 of the Federal Building Code). The participation of public bodies and the public is a mandatory and established part of any plan preparation procedure at the local level (Schmidt-Eichstaedt 2018).

A special case of the binding land-use plan is the project-specific binding land-use plan (Vorhabenbezogener Bebauungsplan), which is increasingly used in lieu of the standard binding land-use plan. Project-specific binding land-use plans, which were anchored in the Federal Building Code in the 1990s, are drawn up by municipalities on the basis of contractual arrangements with developers and allow for the costs of the infrastructure needed for the construction area and the costs of preparing the plan (insofar as no sovereign rights are affected) to be transferred to the developer (ESPON COMPASS 2018).

The multi-level system of comprehensive spatial planning is shaped by three influencing factors. Firstly, a formal participation procedure is a component of every formal planning process, both for the bodies responsible for public interests and for a broadly defined public. Secondly, spatial planning interacts closely with spatially relevant sectoral policies as well as with (informal) spatial development horizontally (see ‘Practical examples/Fact Sheets’). Thirdly, the European Union influences the German planning system. Although the EU has no competence of its own for binding comprehensive spatial planning and thus does not represent a planning level within the multi-level system described above, it vertically influences the German planning system through its legislation, spatially relevant sectoral policies and informal discourses on European spatial development.

The institutional system of spatial planning in Germany has now existed for half a century and has proved remarkably enduring (Blotevogel et al. 2014, p. 84). This is true despite the fact that there have been fundamental transformations in the understanding of the character of public planning in terms of the social challenges that spatial planning aims to resolve and the top-down influences of European territorial governance (Münter/Reimer 2020).

During recent years, the most far-reaching impacts on the formal German planning system were structural influences due to the implementation of EU law. The influences of EU environmental legislation are particularly omnipresent in planning processes today. In some cases, this requires a different understanding of planning (e.g. the prohibition of areas protected by the ‘Natura 2000 network’ from any deterioration of their ecological status according to the Flora-Fauna Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC)). This considerably restricts the scope for balancing ecological, economic and social concerns, which is otherwise constitutive in German spatial planning (Chilla et al. 2016, p. 63). In addition, the implementation of the EU Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessments (2001/42/EC) in national law was accompanied by extensions to planning processes and extensive requirements for justification reports on all spatial levels (ESPON COMPASS 2018, Münter/Reimer 2020).

As in other European countries, the opportunities for public participation have also been expanded, not least in response to European legal requirements (EU Directive 2003/ 35/EC on public participation). Particularly noteworthy is the expansion of mandatory participation from the local to the regional and federal state level since 2004. At the same time, however, it can also be stated that in comparison to other European countries the structural top-down influences from EU law have not led to systemic transformations within the planning system in Germany, but only to gradual adjustments. The institutional structure of the system, the distribution of competences between the levels and the planning instruments have basically remained unchanged (ESPON COMPASS 2018, Münter/Reimer 2020).

Attachment 1: Planning System Germany

Attachment 1: The multi-level system of (formal) spatial planning in Germany (Danielzyk/Münter (2018), based on BBSR 2012, 128. Translated by the authors)

Important stakeholders

Institution/stakeholder/authorities Special interest/competencies/administrative area
Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building Federal spatial planning
Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) Spatial development
German spatial planning authorities Spatial planning authorities at federal state and regional level

Universities Spatial science faculties at universities and universities of applied sciences
Non-university research institutions Non-university research institutions active in the field of spatial science

Fact sheets


  • Attachment 1: The multi-level system of (formal) spatial planning in Germany (Danielzyk/Münter (2018), based on BBSR 2012, 128. Translated by the authors)

  • Attachment 2: Germany and the German federal states within central Europe (authors’ own illustration based on Eurostat/GISCO)

  • Attachment 3: Rheinland Bergisch district settlement structure (RBK)

List of references

Federal Building Code (Baugesetzbuch, BauGB) in the version of the announcement of 3 November 2017 (Federal Law Gazette (BGBl.) I p. 3634), as most recently amended by Article 2 of the Act of 8 August 2020 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 1728).

Blotevogel, H. H.; Danielzyk, R.; Münter, A. (2014): Spatial Planning in Germany: Institutional Inertia and New Challenges. In: Reimer, M.; Getimis, P.; Blotevogel, H. H. (ed.): Spatial planning systems and practices in Europe. A comparative perspective on continuity and changes. New York, NY, 83-108.

BBSR – Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (2012): Raumordnungsbericht 2011. Bonn.

Central Intelligence Agency (2017): GDP – composition, by sector of origin. Available at: https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/field/gdp-composition-by-sector-of-origin/ (Accessed 18 January 2023).

Chilla, T.; Kühne, O.; Neufeld, M. (2016): Regionalentwicklung. Stuttgart.

Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

Danielzyk, R.; Münter, A. (2018): Raumplanung. In: ARL – Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ed.): Handwörterbuch der Stadt- und Raumentwicklung. Hanover, 1931-1942.

Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment.

Directive 2003/35/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 26 May 2003 providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment and amending them with regard to public participation and access to justice Council Directives 85/337/EEC and 96/61/EC.

ESPON COMPASS (2018): COMPASS – Comparative Analysis of Territorial Governance and Spatial Planning Systems in Europe. Applied Research 2016–2018. Final Report. Luxembourg. Available from: https://www.espon.eu/planning-systems

European Commission (2015): Global Human Settlement Layer. Available at: https://ghsl.jrc.ec.europa.eu/CFS.php (Accessed 18 January 2023).

European Environment Agency (2018): Land cover country fact sheets 2000-2018. Available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/landuse/land-cover-country-fact-sheets (Accessed 18 January 2023).

Eurostat (2020): Population on 1 January by age group, sex and NUTS 3 region. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/DEMO_R_PJANGRP3/default/table?category=demo.demopreg (Accessed 18 January 2023).

Federal Statistical Office – Destatis (2020): Website of the German Federal Statistical Office. Available from: https://www.destatis.de/EN/Home/_node.html (Accessed 29 December 2020)

Goppel, K. (2018): Landesplanung, Landesentwicklung. In: ARL – Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ed.): Handwörterbuch der Stadt- und Raumentwicklung. Hanover, 1307-1322.

Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG) for the Federal Republic of Germany in the revised version published in the Federal Law Gazette Part III, classification number 100-1, as last amended by Articles 1 and 2 sentence 2 of the Act of 29 September 2020 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 2048); Official English translation: https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/

Human Development Reports (2021): Human Development Index. Available at: https://hdr.undp.org/data-center/human-development-index#/indicies/HDI (Accessed 18 January 2023). 

Klaeren, Jutta (2013): Editorial: Föderalismus in Deutschland. In: Informationen zur politischen Bildung 318/2013. Available from: https://www.bpb.de/izpb/159330/editorial (Accessed 29 December 2020)

Münter, A.; Reimer, M. (2020): Planning Systems on the Move? Persistence and Change of the German Planning System. In: Planning Practice and Research, 1-19. DOI: 10.1080/02697459.2020.1832362.

Pahl-Weber, E.; Henckel, D. (ed.) (2008): The planning system and planning terms in Germany. A glossary. Studies in spatial development. Hanover. In: Studies in spatial development, 7.

Pahl-Weber, E.; Henckel, D.; Klinge, W.; Lau, P.; Zwicker Schwarm, D.; Rütenik, B.; Besecke, A. (2007): The Structure of Government and Administration and Planning System in the Federal Republic of Germany. Promoting Spatial Development by Creating COMon MINdscapes. Berlin.

Priebs, A. (2018): Regionalplanung. In: ARL – Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ed.): Handwörterbuch der Stadt- und Raumentwicklung. Hanover, 2047-2062.

Federal Spatial Planning Act of 22 December 2008 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 2986), as last amended by Article 5 of the Act of 3 December 2020 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 2694).

Runkel, P. (2018): Ziele, Grundsätze und sonstige Erfordernisse der Raumordnung. In: ARL – Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ed.): Handwörterbuch der Stadt- und Raumentwicklung. Hanover, 2989-3000.

Schmidt-Eichstaedt, G. (2018): Bauleitplanung. In: ARL – Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ed.): Handwörterbuch der Stadt- und Raumentwicklung. Hanover, 139-160.

Sinz, M. (2018): Bundesraumordnung. In: ARL – Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ed.): Handwörterbuch der Stadt- und Raumentwicklung. Hanover, 325-336.

Steger, C. O.; Bunzel, A. (ed.) (2012): Raumordnungsplanung quo vadis? Zwischen notwendiger Flankierung der kommunalen Bauleitplanung und unzulässigem Durchgriff; Tagungsband. Schriftenreihe der Freiherr-vom-Stein-Akademie für Europäische Kommunalwissenschaften. Wiesbaden. In: Schriftenreihe der Freiherr-vom-Stein-Akademie für Europäische Kommunalwissenschaften, 2.

World Bank (2020): World Development Indicators. Available at: https://databank.worldbank.org/source/world-development-indicators/Type/TABLE/preview/on# (Accessed 18 January 2023).

Zaspel-Heisters, B.; Benz, C. (2020): Wie aktuell sind die Raumordnungspläne in Deutschland? Eine bundesweite Analyse der Landes- und Regionalpläne. Bonn. In: BBSR-Analysen kompakt, 2020, 03.