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Berlin’s jurisdictional chaos – the causes of a dysfunctional city

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In Berlin there will be another election on February 12th. But that won’t solve the problems because they are favored by the system in the capital – thinks our guest author.

A guest post by Mesut Yavuz

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After the election disaster and New Year’s chaos, it has to work this time. The worst-managed western metropolis can prove it again on February 12th. The governing mayor Franziska Giffey with her Berlin state government as well as the district assemblies are up for election. And there are six city council positions in each of the 12 boroughs. That’s neat, one would think. But there is a catch: the administration suffers from the diffusion of responsibility between the Senate and the districts. Worse, as a result, the district offices experience politicization down to the lowest level.

In fact, Berlin’s House of Representatives and Senate are both parliament and government for the state and local authorities. What is unique in Germany, however, is that 12 district councils are also elected, which formally do not represent any parliament at all, just as the districts are not independent municipalities. This means that Berlin can afford 60 city councillors. Plus 12 borough mayors who have no authority over councillors. That sounds like grass-roots democracy, but it’s actually a problem of jurisdiction. In fact, the Senate delegates administration to the districts. It just doesn’t work properly: Appointments at the Citizens’ Registration Office, building applications, approval procedures, issuing passports, registrations and deregistrations, vehicle registrations, continuous cycle paths across district borders, digitization of schools, etc. With the elections and the New Year’s perplexity; the list grows every day.

The consequences for Berlin

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Mesut Yavuz, owner of YES Automation, consults as a business economist and IT expert Berlin health authorities in process and organizational management. During the pandemic, Yavuz developed new concepts for the modernization of the digital landscape in the public health service as part of the digitization initiative of the Federal Ministry of Health. Here he gained intensive insights into the organizational structure of local and state administration.

This Germany-wide peculiarity of Berlin is not only dysfunctional for citizens, but also has consequences for the federal capital itself.

The following is the quartet of reasons for the administrative chaos in Berlin.

First, the district administration is thoroughly politicized. Specialist offices are no longer managed by experts. Due to politicization, there is a lack of specialists right down to the lowest level of government offices, and that at a time when nobody was talking about a shortage of skilled workers. This fuels the second Berlin-typical peculiarity: wrangling over competences between the Senate and the districts, but also between and in the districts. This leads to the paralyzing ping-pong of jurisdiction for companies and citizens.

The third special feature of Berlin are the district counting communities, a kind of coalition that decides on city council positions and district mayors. The fact that a city council post does not require qualifications or skills is perhaps the greatest sin for the district administrations. For years, politicians without experience and qualifications have been appointed to the top of the administration. With fatal consequences, for example in data protection or digitization. City councilors are generously paid up to 10,250 euros. So incentive enough for qualified people, if it weren’t for the arithmetic of the census communities. And it’s about list positions and not about skills. Perhaps this scares off qualified people, in any case the lack of young people and skilled workers is also an increasing issue in parties. North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, shows that things can be done differently: Here the city council office is advertised and expertise and sufficient experience are required. In return for this selection process, the city councilors are given a mandate for a full eight years.

The fourth reason for the desolate state of Berlin is that the Senate does not oversee the district administrations. What was once intended to strengthen the districts turns out to be twelvefold wild growth, and that in one city. Whether cycle paths, building renovations, digitization or a school building offensive, Berlin’s administrative standards are as diverse as its districts and below average nationwide. That was certainly not the idea of ​​strengthening the districts, for the development of the city as a whole the lack of administrative supervision has become a nuisance for all Berliners.

Neukölln is representative of Berlin’s problems

The city-wide problem can be seen using the example of Neukölln: The governing mayor Giffey and Neukölln’s district mayor Hikel, both SPD, play the New Year’s Eve chaos out of their areas of responsibility. And this despite the fact that both have been responsible for the district for a long time. However, moderating Berlin’s problems away is no solution, nor is Berlin’s typical diffusion of responsibility. Nobody was to blame for the Berlin election chaos in 2021. And the problem has diffused away. It’s that easy to do in Berlin.

The political rise of Giffey and Hikel began in Neukölln. With the New Year’s Eve chaos, the paths for both SPD comrades cross again in Neukölln. And while one rotated into state politics, the other took over the helm of the Neukölln administration. Sure, neither of them invented the two-tier system with the Senate and districts in Berlin. But both are at the head of a large administrative apparatus and thus bear responsibility that cannot simply be passed on to the Berliners. Except for February 12th: The Berliners are responsible for how to proceed.

Source: Stern

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