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 is the head of government of both the federal state and the city of Berlin.

Gruppenbild: Berliner Senatsmitglieder

The Berlin Senate

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 consists of the Governing Mayor of Berlin and up to ten Senators. Berlin’s parliament, the House of Representatives, elects the Governing Mayor, who appoints the Senators. In addition, the Governing Mayor determines the guidelines of government policy and is in charge of government business.

Each Senator is responsible for a Senate Department covering a specific policy area, such finance, social services, education, or urban development. The Senators meet to discuss political topics and draft legislation. After proposed laws are drafted, they are sent to the House of Representatives so that its members can vote on them.

Passing proposals requires a majority in parliament. Since a single political party rarely has a majority, the strongest party usually forms a coalition with at least one other. At the beginning of a legislative period, these coalition partners reach 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 administration at the borough level.

The central administration consists of the Senate Departments and their subordinate authorities. In its overarching administrative role, the central administration is responsible for all areas significant to Berlin as a whole, such as law enforcement, finance, and the judiciary. It is headed by Berlin’s state government, the Senate, which is headed in turn by the Governing Mayor.

The twelve borough administrations make up the lower tier of Berlin’s administration. They are primarily responsible for local borough affairs, such as culture, green spaces, or schools. Each borough administration consists of a borough assembly (Bezirksverordnetenversammlung) and a borough office (Bezirksamt) made up of the borough mayor and councilors elected by the borough assembly.

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 (in German)

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 significant to Berlin as a whole and require uniform regulation.

Every Senator is responsible for one Senate Department, which covers a specific policy area. In their organizational structure, the Senate Departments are comparable to the ministries of other federal states. The portfolios of the individual Senate Departments are usually defined at the beginning of a new 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 supervision of a Senate Department. The Berlin Fire Department, for example, is a subordinate authority of the Berlin Senate Department for the Interior 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 (Abgeordnetenhaus 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. It is also responsible for legislation; for example, it passes Berlin’s state budget.

Since the last elections held on 12 September 2023, the House of Representatives has had 159 members. Political parties need to pass the 5-percent threshold if they want to be represented in Berlin’s state parliament. A legislative period is normally five years. However, it can end earlier if two-thirds of the representatives vote for it or a referendum on the question is successful.

Website of the Berlin House of Representatives

Berlin’s electoral system

Elections to the House of Representatives and borough assemblies are held every five years on the same day. Under German law, elections are general, direct, free, equal, and secret.

Every German citizen who is registered as a resident of Berlin and is at least 16 years old is eligible to vote in elections for the House of Representatives. Eligible voters who are 18 years old or older on Election Day can run for office.

First vote

All voters have two votes. The first vote goes to a specific candidate from the voter’s electoral district – one of 78 in Berlin. The candidate with the most votes wins a direct mandate.

Second vote

Not all representatives are elected by direct mandate. Voters cast their second vote for a party. The second vote is counted for Berlin as a whole. The more second votes a party gets, the more seats it wins in the House of Representatives. If a party receives less than 5 percent of the second votes, it does not win any proportionally allocated seats. In that case, it will only be represented in the House of Representatives if at least one of its 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. Like the second vote for the House of Representatives, borough assembly elections are based on proportional representation. Each voter can only cast one vote. There are no individual candidates – votes are cast for parties or voters’ associations. A party or a voters’ association must receive at least 3 percent of the votes to be represented in the borough assembly.

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

English Translation: © Senate Chancellery