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Basic facts about the German constitution

Basic facts about the German constitution

May 23 marks the anniversary of the ratification of the Basic Law of Germany (Basic set) – the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, which was adopted in 1949. Although originally intended to be a temporary piece of legislation before German reunification, the Basic Law was ultimately retained and continues to be seen as the ultimate legal framework defining the fundamental rights and responsibilities of all people in Germany.

To celebrate its anniversary, we dive into the history of this important piece of legislation and explain what its content means to those who live and works in Germany.

A Brief History of the Basic Law of Germany (Basic set)

The Basic Law dates back to World War II and the efforts of the victorious allies – Britain, the United States and France – to create a democratic and federal state in the occupied regions of West Germany.

Following a conference between the occupying authorities and representatives of Germany’s western neighbors (The NetherlandsBelgium and Luxembourg), state prime ministers of West Germany federal states were convened to organize an assembly to work out the details of the democratic and federal constitution of West German state, which would guarantee the freedoms and rights of Germans, determine the central German government, and guarantee power to individual federal states.

Why is it called the Basic Law?

The state prime ministers did not want to write a constitution as the official basis for the West German state, fearing that it would jeopardize the prospect of Germany’s recovery.

Instead, they agreed that any constitutional legislation would be put forward only in a preliminary manner, which would be ready to be replaced by a constitution once unity is restored. Thus the symbolic name “Basic Law” (Basic set) was conceived as an alternative to the “constitution”.

From the Interim Legislation to the German Constitution

Then, on August 31, 1990, the governments of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) agreed to reunite Germany in the Unification Treaty.

But instead of drafting a new constitution – as the prime ministers of the states had thought back in 1949 – it was decided that East Germany would simply join the Federal Republic of Germany, creating five new federal states and a reunited city-state Berlin. When the reunification took effect on October 3, 1990 – German Unity Daya public holiday in Germany – The Basic Law has become a constitution for the whole country.

146 articles of Art Basic set

The Basic Law defines the fundamental principles that determine how society is organized in Germany. No law can contradict the Basic Law, for it is above all others. Although more than 60 amendments have been made to the Basic Law since 1949, its basic principles, consisting of 146 “articles”, have remained virtually unchanged over the past 70 years.

Fundamental rights

The first 19 articles of the Basic Law define “fundamental rights” (Grundrecht), which is guaranteed to all people. After World War II, this was considered particularly important given the experience of Germany’s recent and troubling past.

To protect these fundamental rights, additional articles have been added to ensure that they can never be removed from the constitution, and that no amendments can “affect their substance”. These basic rights and responsibilities include:

  • Human dignity (that is, the life of every person is precious and must be protected)
  • Personal freedoms
  • Equality before the law
  • Freedom of belief
  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of the press
  • Freedom with marriage and family
  • State supervision of the village school system
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Freedom of association
  • Confidentiality of correspondence and communication
  • Freedom of movement
  • Professional freedom (ie the freedom to choose where you want to work or study)
  • The inviolability of the home (i.e. private spaces are protected except when emergencies)
  • The right not to be deprived of citizenship and deprived of citizenship
  • The right to asylum
  • The right to petition

Constitutional principles

The remaining articles set out the foundations of the German state, based on the key principles of democracy, republicanism, social responsibility, federalism and the rule of law.

Equally important is the division of state power into legislative, executive and judicial. When the Basic Law was drafted in 1949, it was considered incredibly important to prevent a situation like in 1933, when the Permission Act gave the government the power to establish a National Socialist dictatorship.

For example, Article 20 explicitly states: “All state power comes from the people. This should be done by people through elections and by other voices and through certain legislative, executive and judicial bodies ”.

Constitutional institutions

The Basic Law also sets out the constitutional institutions that make up Germany’s parliamentary democracy, detailing how they should be set up and how they should function:

  • Executive: The mostly the ceremonial federal president as head of state and federal chancellor as head of the Bundestag
  • Legislature: Elected representatives of the Bundestag and Bundesrat
  • Judiciary: Federal Constitutional Court

The Basic Law also contains articles discussing the role of political parties (recognized as a founding part of a democratic German state), the role of the military (who are prohibited from preparing for or participating in an aggressive war), the German federal flag, and foreign relations.

Amendments to the Basic Law

Any changes to the Basic Law must be adopted by a majority of at least two-thirds of the votes in both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. Over the years, these changes have included amendments aimed at expanding ties between Germany and the West, measures to improve European integration, and changes conducive to German reunification.

The Basic Law remains an important part of German national identity

Although written constitutions across Europe may gradually lose their significance, Germany still attaches great importance to its basic law, the principles of which are the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. Baden-Württemberg instructed to maintain.

In addition, the Basic Law is still considered a cornerstone of Germany’s national identity, and questions about it are regularly asked in naturalization tests for those looking German citizenshipand its principles teach migrants in the integration courses.

While the horrors of German history make national pride a painful subject, a sober document that declares the inviolable dignity of all people is something that Germans can be proud of.

To read the Basic Law in full, you can find official translation into English via the Gesetze im Internet website.

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