Country profile - Distinguishing factors (Germany)

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SOER Country profile from Germany
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German Federal Environment Agency
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German Federal Environment Agency
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Last updated
23 Nov 2010
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German Federal Environment Agency
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original


Germany is a country in central Europe. As a federal state, the Federal Republic of Germany today consists of 16 German Länder (states). According to its constitution, the Federal Republic is a social and federal constitutional democracy. Through the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and by its signature of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, the Federal Republic of Germany became one of the founding members of the European Communities.

The partition of Germany came to an end on 3 October 1990 with the accession of the Länder of the German Democratic Republic (DDR), and Berlin became the capital of the reunited Germany. The seat of parliament was relocated from Bonn to Berlin in 1999 in accordance with the 1991 decision of the German Bundestag (Lower House of the German Parliament). The functions of government were divided between Berlin and Bonn. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) still has its principal seat in Bonn. A quarter of its staff, including the Policy Unit and the European Division, are based in the second seat in Berlin.

The constitution of Germany is its Basic Law. The head of state is the Federal President, and the head of government is the Federal Chancellor.

Germany is organised on a federal basis, with competencies shared between the federal and the Länder level. The municipalities have a constitutionally guaranteed self-governing status. Each level has its own personnel and administrative and financial autonomy. Legislative competence lies with the federal states, unless the Basic Law assigns legislative power to the federal level. The Bundestag (Lower House) and the Bundesrat (Upper House) are the legislative bodies of the federal level.

The legislative responsibilities of the federal level and the Länder are regulated differently in the field of environmental protection. The federal level has competence in so far as the provision of equivalent living conditions throughout the federal territory or the observance of legal and economic unity necessitates federal statutory regulation..The implementation of environmental legislation lies predominantly in the hands of the authorities in the Länder.

Since the 1970s, the environmental policy of Germany has embodied fundamental principles for the protection of the environment:

  • The precautionary principle, according to which, with a view to prevention, environment-friendly concepts, instruments and measures in accordance with the latest scientific and technical knowledge are intended to prevent potential adverse effects on and damage to the environment.

  • The ‘polluter pays’ principle, according to which the costs of avoiding or eliminating any adverse effects on the environment are apportioned to whoever caused them.

  • The cooperation principle, according to which the parties concerned should participate in environmental policy decisions.

Environmental protection was included in the Basic Law as a public responsibility in 1994.


With 82 million inhabitants and an average population density of 230 inhabitants per km2, Germany is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. A reversal in the demographic trend has been observed in Germany since 2002: whereas the population continued to grow between 1990 and 2002, it has been falling ever since. This is explained by the fact that the surplus of deaths over births is no longer being compensated for by the net migration inflow. The population will decrease significantly and will ‘age’ in the coming decades because of continuing lower birth rates of around 1.4. According to calculations made by the Federal Statistical Office, the total population could, under certain assumptions, decrease to 67 million by the year 2050 (see the graph below).

Climate and land use

All of Germany falls within the temperate climate zone in the west wind zone and the country is located in the transition zone between the maritime climate of western Europe and the continental climate of eastern Europe.

The surface area of Germany in 2004 was 35 704 964 ha, not including the jointly administered German-Luxemburg condominium. The composition and quality of the soils exhibit very considerable regional differences, ranging from fertile soils such as the marshlands of northern Germany, the loess-rich soils in western and eastern Germany and the productive soils along the rivers in southern Germany to very poor soils formed in the Ice Age. In total, 47.4 % of the surface area of Germany is used for agriculture (2008), and forests cover a further 29.5 %. 12.3 % is used as settlement and transport areas (trend still rising). Water areas account for 1.8 %, and the remaining 2.4 % are distributed among other areas, mostly wasteland and open-cast mining.


Economic conditions in Germany are strongly influenced by local circumstances and the population density. Germany’s trade relations benefit from its position at the centre of Europe. The fact that Germany, as one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, possesses only a few mineral resources led to a focus on advanced technology and efficiency. Germany is a highly industrialised country, one of the greatest economies on the planet and a leading export nation above all for industrial goods. A long tradition in the manufacturing of advanced technologies, together with the early introduction of ecological standards, has encouraged eco-innovations. The result is market leadership in a broad range of environmental protection technologies. In recent years, the environmental protection sector has contributed increasingly to growth and employment in Germany.

With a gross domestic product (GDP) of approximately EUR 2.4 billion, Germany is the world’s fourth-largest economy and industrialised nation and has the fifth-largest energy consumption in the world after the USA, China, Japan and India. Measured in terms of its per capita GDP, Germany comes in 19th place in the world, and in 13th place in the EU (OECD statistics, status: January 2009).


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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