Berlin’s Political Structure

Berlin is one of the 16 federal states and, at the same time, the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is part of Berlin’s mandate to act as a host and partner to the institutions of the federal government and the other federal states, as well as to diplomatic missions, the media, and associations. The Governing Mayor of Berlin is the head of government of the federal state of Berlin and, at the same time, head of the city of Berlin.

Iris Spranger (l-r vordere Reihe, SPD), Bürgermeisterin Franziska Giffey (SPD), Regierender Bürgermeister Kai Wegner (CDU), Bürgermeister Stefan Evers (CDU), Dr. Felor Badenberg (parteilos für die CDU), Joe Chialo (l-r, hintere Reihe, CDU), Dr. Ina Czyborra (SPD), Katharina Günther-Wünsch (CDU), Cansel Kiziltepe (SPD), Dr. Manja Schreiner (CDU) und Christian Gaebler (SPD), stehen als neue Senatorinnen und Senatoren mit Blumensträußen auf der Treppe im Roten Rathaus.

The Berlin Senate

Berlin is a city-state, and the Berlin Senate is Berlin’s state government. As the executive branch, the Senate is responsible for state policy and heads Berlin’s administration.

The Berlin Senate is made up of the Governing Mayor of Berlin and at most ten Senators. The House of Representatives elects the Governing Mayor, who appoints the other members of the Senate. The Governing Mayor plays a special role in the Senate. She determines the guidelines of government policy and is in charge of government business.

The Senators are responsible for different policy areas (Senate Departments), e.g., for finance, social services, education, or urban development. The members of the Senate meet to discuss political topics and draft legislation. Draft legislation must be referred to the House of Representatives (the legislative branch) so that its members can vote on it.

The government needs a majority in parliament to vote for government proposals. It is rarely the case that one political party holds the majority in parliament, and that is why the strongest party usually forms a coalition with at least one other party. At the beginning of a legislative period, the coalition partners come to an agreement on their shared goals. While negotiating this coalition agreement, the parties involved need to consider each other’s interests and make compromises.

List of Berlin’s Senators

Central Administration and Borough Administration

Berlin’s administration has two tiers: the central administration and the borough administrations.

The central administration plays an overarching administrative role and comprises the Senate Departments and their subordinate authorities. The central administration is responsible for all areas of significance to Berlin as a whole, such as the police, finance, and the judiciary. It is headed by Berlin’s state government, the Senate, which is headed by the Governing Mayor.

The twelve borough administrations make up the lower tier of Berlin’s administration. The borough administrations are first and foremost responsible for local borough affairs, such as culture, green spaces, or schools. Each borough administration consists of a borough assembly (BVV) and a borough office. The borough office is a collegial administrative body, the members of which are the borough mayors and the councillors.

As a result of Berlin’s two-tier administration, every borough is also a municipality.

Berlin’s borough mayors meet with the Governing Mayor at the Council of Mayors on a regular basis to discuss fundamental administrative and legislative matters.

Berlin’s boroughs

Senate Departments and Subordinate Authorities

In Berlin’s two-tier administration, the Senate Departments and their subordinate authorities are part of the central administration. The central administration is responsible for all matters that are of significance to Berlin as a whole and that require uniform regulation.

The Senate Departments are headed by the members of Berlin’s state government, the Senate. Every Senator is responsible for one Senate Department. In their organizational structure, the Senate Departments can be compared to the ministries of the other federal states. The Senate Department for Finance is a typical policy area, for example. The portfolios of the individual Senate Departments are usually defined at the beginning of a new electoral term (legislative period).

Berlin’s Senate Departments

The 40 bodies, offices, and authorities that are subordinate to the Senate Departments are also part of the central administration. They function independently, but are subject to the administrative and technical supervision of the respective Senate Department. The Berlin Fire Department, for example, is a subordinate authority of the Berlin Senate Department for the Interior, Digital Transformation and Sport, while Berlin’s State Agency for Civic Education is a subordinate body of the Senate Department for Education, Youth and Families.

Structure of Berlin’s administration

Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin

House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus Berlin)

The Berlin House of Representatives

The Berlin House of Representatives (AGH Berlin) is Berlin’s state parliament and its highest constitutional body. The House of Representatives scrutinizes the work of the Berlin Senate and elects the Governing Mayor. The House of Representatives is responsible for legislation, i.e., it passes Berlin’s state budget, for example.

Since the last elections held on 26 September 2021, the House of Representatives has comprised 147 members. Political parties need to pass the five-percent threshold if they want to be represented in Berlin’s state parliament. A legislative period has a duration of five years. However, it can end earlier if a two-thirds majority of parliamentarians vote in favor of it or as the result of a referendum.

Website of the Berlin House of Representatives

Berlin’s Electoral System

State parliamentary elections (House of Representatives) and borough parliamentary elections (borough assemblies) are held every five years on the same day. The members of parliament and the parties are elected in general, direct, free, equal, and secret elections.

Every German citizen who is registered in Berlin and is at least 18 years old is eligible to vote in the elections for the House of Representatives. Every person who is eligible to vote can run for office.

First vote
All voters have two votes. With the first vote, a candidate from one of Berlin’s 78 constituencies is elected to parliament. If a candidate gets sufficient votes, they win a direct mandate.

Second vote
Voters cast their second vote to choose a party. The second vote is key when it comes to the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives. The more second votes a party gets, the more seats it wins in the House of Representatives. If a party receives less than five percent of the second votes (electoral clause), it does not win any seats in the House of Representatives. In that case, it will only be represented in the House of Representatives if at least one of the party’s candidates wins a direct mandate.

Borough assemblies (BVV)
All Germans and all EU (European Union) citizens who are registered in Berlin and are at least 16 years old are eligible to vote in the borough assembly elections. Borough assembly elections are based on proportional representation, and each voter can only cast one vote. It is not possible to vote for an individual; only parties or voters’ associations can be voted for. If a party or a voters’ association does not receive at least three percent of the votes, it will not be represented in the borough assembly.

Original Text in German: © Berlin’s State Agency for Civic Education

English Translation: © Senate Chancellery