Signing Globally, Implementing Locally: Protecting Endangered Wildlife and the Predicament of Germany’s Federalism

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Germany has signed numerous international treaties for the protection and conservation of endangered wildlife and has transposed these, as well as related EU directives and regulations, into national law over the years with due diligence. It has been traditionally considered one of Europe’s environmental leaders. Yet, despite its reputation, Germany often seems unwilling and/or unable to enforce environmental laws and regulations. Germany’s federalism has led to a patchwork of enforcement of environmental laws, via either centralised, decentralised, or cooperative enforcement regimes. We aim to address this seeming contradiction through the theoretical lens of street-level bureaucracy to understand how federalism expands and/or constrains discretion. Our study relies on a mixed-methods approach incorporating qualitative and quantitative data. The qualitative analysis utilises about forty interviews of German street-level bureaucrats (SLBs), other government officials, politicians, and NGO representatives. We corroborate this through multivariate panel regressions on environmental crime outcomes using data regarding crimes recorded and solved at both the municipal (2016–2020) and state (2013–2021) level from the Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA). Our results indicate that decentralisation of enforcement authority down the municipal level has considerable drawbacks, while cooperative and centralised arrangements perform more favourably.

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German Politics