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The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany.
A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles or established precedents that constitute the legal basis of a polity, organisation or other type of entity, and commonly determine how that entity is to be governed.
Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.
The Basic Law was approved on 8 May 1949 in Bonn, and, with the signature of the occupying western Allies of World War II on 12 May, came into effect on 23 May. Its original field of application (German: Geltungsbereich) — that is, the states that were initially included in the Federal Republic of Germany — consisted of the three Western Allies' zones of occupation, but at the insistence of the Western Allies, formally excluded West Berlin. In 1990, the Two Plus Four Agreement between the two parts of Germany and all four Allied Powers stipulated the implementation of a number of amendments. In the subsequent Unification Treaty of 1990, this amended Basic Law was adopted as the constitution of a united Germany.
The Federal City of Bonn is a city on the banks of the Rhine in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with a population of over 300,000. About 24 km (15 mi) south-southeast of Cologne, Bonn is in the southernmost part of the Rhine-Ruhr region, Germany's largest metropolitan area, with over 11 million inhabitants. It is famously known as the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven in 1770. Beethoven spent his childhood and teenage years in Bonn.
The Allies of World War II, called the "United Nations" from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.
West Germany was the informal name for the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 to 1990, a period referred to by historians as the Bonn Republic, an era when the western portion of Germany was part of the Western bloc during the Cold War. It was created during the Allied occupation of Germany in 1949 after World War II, established from eleven states formed in the three Allied zones of occupation held by the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Its capital was the city of Bonn.
The German word Grundgesetz may be translated as either Basic Law or Fundamental Law (Grund- is cognate with the English word ground). The term Verfassung (constitution) was deliberately avoided as the drafters regarded the Grundgesetz as an interim arrangement for a provisional West German state, expecting that an eventual reunified Germany would adopt a proper constitution, enacted under the provisions of Article 146 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that such a constitution must be "freely adopted by the German people". Nevertheless, although the amended Basic Law would finally be approved in 1990 by all four Allied Powers (who thereby relinquished their continued reserved constitutional rights), it was never submitted to a popular vote, neither in 1949 nor in 1990.
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. Cognates are often inherited from a shared parent language, but they may also involve borrowings from some other language. For example, the English words dish and desk and the German word Tisch ("table") are cognates because they all come from Latin discus, which relates to their flat surfaces. Cognates may have evolved similar, different or even opposite meanings, but in most cases there are some similar sounds or letters in the words, in some cases appearing to be dissimilar. Some words sound similar, but don't come from the same root; these are called false cognates.
The German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic became part of the Federal Republic of Germany to form the reunited nation of Germany, and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz (constitution) Article 23. The end of the unification process is officially referred to as German unity, celebrated on 3 October. Following German reunification, Berlin was once again designated as the capital of united Germany.
The authors of the Basic Law sought to ensure that a potential dictator would never again be able to come to power in the country. Although some of the Basic Law is based on the Weimar Republic's constitution, the authors also elevated human rights and human dignity to core values protected by the Basic Law. The principles of democracy, republicanism, social responsibility, and federalism are key components of the Basic Law; the principles and fundamental rights underlying these articles are constitutionally entrenched and; although several of these articles have since been reworded, extended or refined, they are barred from being removed or repealed by the normal amendment process.
The Constitution of the German Reich, usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic era (1919–1933). The constitution declared Germany to be a democratic parliamentary republic with a legislature elected under proportional representation. Universal suffrage was established, with a minimum voting age of 20. The constitution technically remained in effect throughout the Nazi era from 1933 to 1945.
Republicanism is a representative form of government organization. It is a political ideology centered on citizenship in a state organized as a republic. Historically, it ranges from the rule of a representative minority or oligarchy to popular sovereignty. It has had different definitions and interpretations which vary significantly based on historical context and methodological approach.
Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. Social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems. A trade-off may exist between economic development, in the material sense, and the welfare of the society and environment, though this has been challenged by many reports over the past decade. Social responsibility means sustaining the equilibrium between the two. It pertains not only to business organizations but also to everyone whose any action impacts the environment. This responsibility can be passive, by avoiding engaging in socially harmful acts, or active, by performing activities that directly advance social goals. Social responsibility must be intergenerational since the actions of one generation have consequences on those following.
Fundamental rights (German : Grundrechte) are guaranteed in Germany by the Federal Constitution and in some state constitutions. In the Basic Law, most fundamental rights are guaranteed in the first section of the same name (Articles 1 to 19). They are subjective public rights with constitutional rank which bind all authorities of the state. In case of a violation of the fundamental rights and the legal protection to be granted by the courts fails, the Basic Law provides with the constitutional complaint an extraordinary appeal to the Federal Constitutional Court (Article 93 paragraphs 1 No. 4a Basic Law). These fundamental rights cannot be removed from the constitution, and no constitutional amendment may 'affect their essence'.
German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.
The Federal Constitutional Court is the supreme constitutional court for the Federal Republic of Germany, established by the constitution or Basic Law of Germany. Since its inception with the beginning of the post-WW2 republic, the court has been located in the city of Karlsruhe—intentionally distanced from the other federal institutions in Berlin and other cities.
According to this regulation the Federal Constitutional Court can be called not only because of a violation of fundamental rights, but also by violation "of the rights set out in Article 20 paragraph 4 and Articles 33, 38, 101, 103 and 104".Hence, these rights are called the rights identical to fundamental rights.
As with the Weimar Constitution before it, the 1949 Basic Law was explicitly irredentist; maintaining that there remained separated parts of 'Germany as a whole' in the form of German peoples living outside the territory under the control of the Federal Republic of 1949, with whom the Federal Republic was constitutionally bound to pursue reunification; and in respect of whom mechanisms were provided by which such other parts of Germany might subsequently declare their accession to the Basic Law. Since initially the Basic Law did not apply for all of Germany, its legal provisions were only valid in its field of application (German: Geltungsbereich des Grundgesetzes für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland). This legal term was frequently used in West German legislation when West German laws did not apply to the entirety of Germany, as was usually the case.
Article 23 of the Basic Law provided other de jure German states, initially not included in the field of application of the Basic Law, with the right to declare their accession (Beitritt) at a later date. Therefore, although the Basic Law was considered provisional, it allowed more parts of Germany to join its field of application. On one side, it gave the Federal Republic of Germany – composed as it was in 1949 – no right to negotiate, reject or deny another German state's declaration of its accession to the FRG, subject to the FRG's recognising that state de jure and being satisfied that the declaration of accession resulted from the free self-determination of its people; while on the other side an acceding state would have to accept the Basic Law and all laws so far legislated under the institutions of the FRG as they were. As the Federal Republic could not itself declare the accession of another part of Germany under Article 23, this provision could not be applied as an instrument of annexation; nor could accession under Article 23 be achieved by international treaty with third party states, although the Federal Constitutional Court recognised that a future declared accession could be framed de facto as a compact between the Federal Republic and the acceding state. It remained unclear whether accession under Article 23 could be achieved by a part of Germany whose government was not recognised de jure by the Federal Republic, and if so how; but in practice this situation did not arise. Article 23, altered after 1990, originally read as follows:
Former Article 23 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
For the time being, this Basic Law shall apply in the territory of the Länder of Baden, Bavaria, Bremen, Greater Berlin,Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein, Württemberg-Baden, and Württemberg-Hohenzollern. In other parts of Germany it shall be put into force on their accession.
Whereas the West German state had gained restricted sovereignty in May 1955, the Sarrois rejected in a referendum (1955) the transformation of their protectorate into an independent state within the emerging European Economic Community. The Saar Treaty then opened the way for the government of the Saar Protectorate to declare its accession to the West German state under Article 23, including the new Saarland into the field of application of the Basic Law. The Saar held no separate referendum on its accession. With effect from 1 January 1957 the Federal Republic regarded itself as including almost all of Western Germany such that the only "other parts of Germany" to which Article 23 might be extended were now to the east; hence relinquishing all claims to those western parts of the former German Reich that had been surrendered to France and Denmark. (cf. Little Reunification with the Saar). The towns of Elten, Selfkant, and Suderwick, which had been occupied and annexed by Netherlands in 1949, were reunited with the Federal Republic in 1963 by means of an international treaty without invoking Article 23.
Although the Basic Law, in its original form, maintained the continuing existence of a larger Germany, "Germany as a whole"; nevertheless, the extent of the associated wider German national territory is nowhere defined in the Basic Law, although it was always clearly understood that both East Germany and Berlin were included. In its judgement of 1973, confirming the constitutional validity of the Basic Treaty between East Germany and West Germany, the Federal Constitutional Court justified the recognition of East Germany as a valid German state, on the basis that this would enable the GDR in the future to declare accession to the Basic Law under Article 23. But the Court then explicitly acknowledged that this limited de jure recognition of the GDR also implied acceptance of the constitutional power of the GDR in the interim to enter into international treaties on its own account, naming in particular the treaty with Poland which confirmed the transfer of the "Eastern Territories" to Polish sovereignty.
The Communist regime in East Germany fell in 1990. Following free elections the parliament of the GDR (East Germany) declared the accession of the GDR according to Article 23 to the Federal Republic of Germany to come into effect on 3 October 1990, making unification an act unilaterally initiated by the last East German parliament. East Germany's "declaration of accession" (Beitrittserklärung) envisaged the East German territories being included into the field of application of the Basic Law; but subject to the Basic Law being first being amended in accordance with both the previously negotiated Unification Treaty between East and West Germany, and also the Two-Plus-Four Treaty, under which the Allied Powers had relinquished their residual German sovereignty. So, prior to the date of accession of East Germany to the Federal Republic of Germany Article 23 was repealed, representing an explicit commitment under Two-Plus-Four Treaty that, following the unification of East Germany, West Germany and Berlin, no "other parts of Germany" remained in east or west to which the Berlin Republic might validly be extended. Rather than adopting a new constitution under Article 146 of the Basic Law, the Bundestag (Parliament of Germany) amended Article 146 and the Preamble of the Basic Law to state that German unification had now been fully achieved; while also adding a further clause 143(3) to entrench in the Basic Law the irreversibility of acts of expropriation undertaken by the Soviet occupying powers between 1945 and 1949. Hence when the GDR's nominal accession to the Federal Republic under Article 23 came into effect on 3 October 1990, Article 23 was no longer in place. Strictly therefore, German reunification was effected by the Unification Treaty between two sovereign states, the GDR and the Federal Republic, and not by the GDR's prior declaration of accession under Article 23; although the former Article 23 was agreed by both parties to the Treaty as setting the constitutional model by which unification would be achieved.
As part of the process, East Germany, which had been a unitary state since 1952, was re-divided into its initial five partially self-governing states (Bundesländer), being granted equal status as the already existing Länder, with East and West Berlin reuniting into a new city-state (like Bremen and Hamburg). After the changes of the Basic Law, mostly pertaining to the accession in 1990, additional major modifications were made in 1994 ("Verfassungsreform"), 2002 and 2006 (2006 = "Föderalismusreform").
We must be sure that what we construct will some day be a good house for all Germans.— Karl Arnold speaking about the objective of the West German Basic Law at the Koenig Museum, 1948
Between February and June 1948, the London Six-Power Conference of the three western occupying powers (USA, United Kingdom, France) and the three Western neighbours of Germany (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) was debating the political future of the three western occupation zones of Germany. The negotiations ended with the conclusion that a democratic and federal West German state was to be established.
As an immediate consequence of the London 6-Power Conference, the representatives of the three western occupation powers on 1 July 1948, convoked the Ministerpräsidenten (ministers-president) of the West German Länder in Frankfurt-am-Main and committed to them the so-called Frankfurt Documents (Frankfurter Dokumente).These papers—amongst other points—summoned the Ministerpräsidenten to arrange a constitutional assembly, that should work out a democratic and federal constitution for a West German state. According to Frankfurt Document No 1, the constitution should specify a central power of German government, but nevertheless respect the administration of the Länder and it should contain provisions and guarantees of individual freedom and individual rights of the German people in respect to their government. With the specific request of a federal structure of a future German state the Western Powers followed German constitutional tradition since the foundation of the Reich in 1871.
The Ministerpräsidenten were reluctant to fulfill what was expected from them, as they anticipated that the formal foundation of a West German state would mean a permanent disruption of German unity. A few days later they convened a conference of their own on Rittersturz ridge near Koblenz. They decided that any of the Frankfurt requirements should only be implemented in a formally provisional way. So the constitutional assembly was to be called Parlamentarischer Rat (lit. parliamentary council) and the constitution given the name of Grundgesetz (basic law) instead of calling it a "constitution". By these provisions they made clear, that any West German state was not a definite state for the German people, and that future German self-determination and the reunification of Germany was still on their agenda. The Ministerpräsidenten prevailed and the Western Powers gave in concerning this highly symbolic question.
The draft was prepared at the preliminary Herrenchiemsee convention (10 – 23 August 1948) on the Herreninsel in the Chiemsee, a lake in southeastern Bavaria. The delegates at the Convention were appointed by the leaders of the newly formed (or newly reconstituted) Länder (states).
On 1 September 1948 the Parlamentarischer Rat assembled and began working on the exact wording of the Grundgesetz. The 65 members of the Parlamentarischer Rat were elected by the Parliaments of the German Länder with one deputy representing about 750.000 people. After being passed by the Parliamentary Council assembled at the Museum Koenig in Bonn on 8 May 1949—the Museum was the only intact building in Bonn large enough to house the assembly—and after being approved by the occupying powers on 12 May 1949, it was ratified by the parliaments of all the Trizonal Länder with the exception of Bavaria.The Landtag of Bavaria rejected the Basic Law mainly because it was seen as not granting sufficient powers to the individual Länder, but at the same time decided that it would still come into force in Bavaria if two-thirds of the other Länder ratified it. On 23 May 1949, in a solemn session of the Parliamentary Council, the German Basic Law was signed and promulgated. The time of legal nonentity ended, as the new West German state, the Federal Republic of Germany, came into being, although still under Western occupation.
Basic rights are fundamental to the Basic Law, in contrast to the Weimar Constitution, which listed them merely as "state objectives." Pursuant to the mandate to respect human dignity, all state power is directly bound to guarantee these basic rights. Article 1 of the Basic Law (in German legal shorthand GG, for Grundgesetz), which establishes this principle that "human dignity is inviolable" and that human rights are directly applicable law, as well as the general principles of the state in Article 20 GG, which guarantees democracy, republicanism, social responsibility, federalism, and the right of resistance should anybody undertake to abolish this order, remain under the guarantee of perpetuity stated in Article 79 Paragraph 3, i.e., the principles underlying these clauses cannot be removed even if the normal amendment process is followed.
There are no emergency powers such as those used by the Reichspräsident in the Reichstag Fire Decree of 1933 to suspend basic rights and to remove communist members of the Reichstag from power, an important step for Hitler's Machtergreifung . The suspension of human rights would also be illegal under Articles 20 and 79 GG, as above. The right to resist is permitted against anyone seeking to abolish constitutional order, if other remedies were to fail under Article 20.
The constitutional position of the federal government was strengthened, as the Bundespräsident has only a small fraction of the former power of the Reichspräsident; and in particular, is no longer in Supreme Command of the armed forces. The government now depends only on the parliament.
To remove the chancellor, the parliament has to engage in a Constructive vote of no confidence (Konstruktives Misstrauensvotum), i.e. the election of a new chancellor. The new procedure was intended to provide more stability than under the Weimar Constitution, when extremists on the left and right would vote to remove a chancellor, without agreeing on a new one, creating a leadership vacuum. In addition it was possible for the parliament to remove individual ministers by a vote of distrust, while it now has to vote against the cabinet as a whole.
Article 32 of the Basic Law allows the states to conduct foreign affairs with states with regards to matters falling within their purview, under supervision of the Federal Government.
Article 24 states that the Federal Government may 'transfer sovereign powers to international institutions'and Article 25 states that 'general rules of international law shall be an integral part of federal law'.
In seeking to come to terms with Germany's catastrophic 20th century history, much discussion has focused on the key theory of a German Sonderweg (special way); the proposition that Germany had followed a path to modernity radically different from that of its European neighbours, that had rendered it particularly susceptible to militaristic, anti-humanitarian, totalitarian and genocidal impulses.The theory is much contested, but formed the major context for the original formulation of the Basic Law. The Basic Law, sought "to correct the course of Germany's Sonderweg - to reclaim the German State from its special historical path, and to realise in postwar West Germany the Liberal Democratic Republic that had proved unachievable for the Frankfurt patriots of 1848 or the Weimar revolutionaries of 1919." In interpreting it, the Federal Constitional Court seemed to "have its eye on a Germany that might have been".
In the dominant post-war narrative of West Germany, the Nazi regime was characterised as having been a 'criminal' state,illegal and illegitimate from the outset; while the Weimar Republic was characterised as having been a 'failed' state, whose inherent institutional and constitutional flaws had been exploited by Hitler in his illegal seizure of dictatorial powers. Consequently, following the death of Hitler in 1945 and the subsequent capitulation of the German Armed Forces, the national institutions and constitutional instruments of both Nazi Germany and the Weimar Republic were understood as entirely defunct, such that the Basic Law could be established in a condition of constitutional nullity. Nevertheless, although the Weimar Republic was now wholly irretrievable, avoiding its perceived constitutional weaknesses represented the predominant concern for the framers of the Basic Law.
The experience of the Weimar Republic had resulted in a widespread public perception that the principles of representative democracy and the of rule of law ( Rechtsstaat ) were inherently in conflict with one another; and the Parliamentary Council drafting the Basic Law were well aware that their militantly pro-democratic ideals were far from generally shared in the bleak context of Germany in 1949. Hence they built into the Basic Law a strong instrument for guardianship of the "free democratic basic order" of the Federal Republic, in the form of the Federal Constitutional Court, representing a 'staggering conferral of judicial authority'.Unlike the United States Supreme Court the Federal Constitutional Court has jurisdiction only in constitutional matters, but also exclusive jurisdiction in such matters; all other courts must refer constitutional cases to it. The intention of the framers of the Basic Law was that this court would range widely against any tendency to slip back toward non-democratic ways; "a strict but benevolent guardian of an immature democracy that cannot quite trust itself". As such the Federal Constitutional Court had the power to ban political parties whose objectives or actions threatened the 'free democratic basic order".
The Basic Law places at its head its guarantee of inviolable fundamental rights. Initially it was intended to limit these to classic formulations of civil freedoms, as with equality before the law, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of occupation and freedom of religious conscience. In the event particular interests pushed for additional consideration; the Catholic Church (through CDU/CSU representatives) succeeded in inserting protection both for 'Marriage and the Family" and for parental responsibility for children's education; SPD representatives then amended this to protect additionally the rights of children born outside marriage; and Elisabeth Selbert (one of only four women on the 70-strong panel) was eventually successful in a largely lone campaign to gain constitutional protection for gender equality.Notwithstanding this, there was a striking disjunction between the social context of two-parent, family households assumed in the Basic Law, and the everyday reality of German society in 1949; where over half of adult women were unmarried, separated or widowed; where the effective working population was overwhelmingly female; and where millions of expellees, refugees and displaced families were still without permanent accommodation. It was not until 1994 that constitutional protection was extended against discrimination on grounds of disability; while protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation remains unspecified within the Basic Law.
As adopted by West Germany in 1949 as an interim constitution, the preamble of the Basic Law looked forward explicitly to a future free and united German state; "The entire German people is called upon to accomplish, by free self-determination, the unity and freedom of Germany." This was understood as embedding in the Basic Law both the proposition that Germany in 1949 was neither unified, nor free; and also as binding the new Federal Republic to a duty to pursue the creation of such a free and unified Germany "on behalf of those Germans to whom participation was denied". The Basic Law potentially provided two routes for the establishment of a reborn and unified German state; either under Article 23 whereby 'other parts of Germany' over and above the named States of the Federal Republic (Bundesländer) could subsequently declare their accession; or under Article 146 where constituent power (pouvoir constituant) could be exercised by elected representatives of the entirety of the German people in creating a new permanent constitution that would replace the Basic Law. Adoption of a constitution under Article 146 would have implied that the legal validity of a unified German State would rest on "a free decision by the German people" as a whole.
It is common ground that no effective national government of any sort existed in Germany in May 1945 following the surrender of the German High Command; and that all national military and civil authority and powers were thereon exercised by the four Allied Powers. The Allies then maintained that as the former German Reich no longer existed in fact; so, as the 'highest authority' for Germany, they were entitled to assume all sovereign powers without limitation of duration or scope, and could legitimately impose whatever measures on the German people within German national territory as any government could legally do on its own people—including validly ceding parts of that territory and people to another country. They argued furthermore that international conventions constraining occupying powers in wartime from enforcing fundamental changes of governmental system, economic system or social institutions within the territory under their control—the Hague Regulations of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions—did not apply; and could not apply, as the termination of Nazi Germany and the total Denazification of German institutions and legal structures had been agreed by the Allied Powers as absolute moral imperatives.Consequently, the Potsdam Agreement envisaged that an eventual self-governing state would emerge from the wreckage of WWII covering 'Germany as a whole'; but that this new state would have no claim to sovereignty other than as derived from the sovereignty then being assumed by the Allied Powers, and its constitution would also require the approval of all the Allies. From the 1950s onwards however, a school of German legal scholars developed the alternative view that the Allies had only taken custody of German sovereignty while the former German state had been rendered powerless to act; and that consequently, once a freely constituted German government had come into being in the form of the Federal Republic, it could resume the identity and legal status of the former German Reich without reference to the Allied Powers.
From the 1950s, the claim that there was a single continuing German Reich, and that in some sense the Federal Republic and the Federal Republic alone could represent that Reich, was adopted both by the Federal Government itself and by the Federal Constitutional Court. Initially, the 1949 constitution of the German Democratic Republic adopted a mirror image version of this claim; in being framed in anticipation of a future all-German constitution on its own political terms; but all references to a wider national German nation were removed in constitutional amendments in 1968 and 1974, and from that date the GDR maintained that from 1949 there had existed two entirely separate sovereign German states. The Federal Republic's Cold-war Allies supported its claims in part, as they acknowledged the Federal Republic as the sole legitimate democratically organised state within former German territory (the GDR being held to be a Soviet puppet state); but they did not accept the associated arguments for the Reich's continuing 'metaphysical' existence de jure within the organs of the Federal Republic alone.Subsequently, under the Ostpolitik , the Federal Republic in the early 1970s sought to end hostile relations with the countries of the Eastern Bloc, in the course of which it negotiated in 1972 a Basic Treaty with the GDR, recognising it as one of two German states within one German nation, and relinquishing any claim to de jure sovereign jurisdiction over East Germany. The Treaty was challenged in the Federal Constitutional court, as apparently contradicting the overriding aspirations of the Basic Law for a unified German state; but the Treaty's legality was upheld by the Court, heavily qualified by a reassertion of the claim that the German Reich continued to exist as an 'overall state' such that the duty to strive for future German unity could not be abandoned while East and West Germany remained disunited, albeit that without any institutional organs of itself the 'overall' Reich was currently not capable of action.
According to the 1973 decision of the Federal Constitutional Court, Article 23 of the Basic Law required the Federal Republic to be "legally open" to the accession of those former parts of Germany who were then organised into the German Democratic Republic; and they noted that this implied that the Federal Republic could recognise the capability of the GDR state, as then constituted, of declaring its accession. In this sense, the Basic Treaty's recognition of the GDR as a de jure German State and as a valid state in international relations (albeit without then according it within West Germany with the status of a separate sovereign state) could be interpreted as furthering the long-term objective of eventual German unification, rather than as contradicting it.On 23 August 1990 the Volkskammer of the GDR did indeed declare its accession to the Federal Republic under Article 23 of the Basic Law; but postdated to come into effect on 3 October 1990, and conditional on fundamental amendments being made to the Basic Law in the interim. These amendments were required to implement the series of constitutional changes to the Basic Law that had been agreed both in the Unification Treaty between the GDR and the Federal Republic, and in the 'Two Plus Four Treaty' (Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany); and had the general effect of removing or rewording all the clauses (including Article 23) on which the Federal Constitutional Court had relied in support of its claim to the continued legal identity of the German Reich as an 'overall state'. Specifically too, the Basic Law was then amended such that the constitutional duty of the German people to strive for unity and freedom was stated as now fully realised; and consequently that the expanded 'Berlin Republic' could no longer be "legally open" to further accessions of former German territories.
The Basic Law established Germany as a parliamentary democracy with separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
The executive branch consists of the largely ceremonial Federal President as head of state and the Federal Chancellor, the head of government, normally (but not necessarily) the leader of the largest grouping in the Bundestag.
The legislative branch is represented by the Bundestag, elected directly through a mixture of proportional representation and direct mandates, with the German Länder participating in legislation through the Bundesrat, reflecting Germany's federal structure.
The judicial branch is headed by the Federal Constitutional Court, which oversees the constitutionality of laws.
In Germany's parliamentary system of government the Federal Chancellor runs the government and the politics of the day. However, the German President has a role which is more than ceremonial. The Federal President, by his/her actions and public appearances, represents the state itself, its existence, its legitimacy, and unity. The President's office involves an integrative role and the control function of upholding the law and the constitution. It has also a "political reserve function" for times of crisis in the parliamentary system of government.The Federal President gives direction to general political and societal debates and has some important "reserve powers" in case of political instability (such as those provided for by Article 81 of the Basic Law). Under Article 59 (1) of the Basic Law (German Constitution), the Federal President represents the Federal Republic of Germany in matters of international law, concludes treaties with foreign states on its behalf and accredits diplomats. Furthermore, all federal laws must be signed by the President before they can come into effect; however, he/she can only veto a law that he believes to violate the constitution.
The Chancellor is the head of government and the most influential figure in German day-to-day politics, as well as the head of the Federal Cabinet, consisting of ministers appointed by the Federal President on the Chancellor's suggestion. While every minister governs his or her department autonomously, the Chancellor may issue overriding policy guidelines. The Chancellor is elected for a full term of the Bundestag and can only be dismissed by parliament electing a successor in a "constructive vote of no confidence".
The guardian of the Basic Law is the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) which is both an independent constitutional organ and at the same time part of the judiciary in the sectors of constitutional law and public international law. Its judgements have the legal status of ordinary law. It is required by law to declare statutes as null and void if they are in violation of the Basic Law. Although judgements of the Federal Constitutional Court are supreme over all other counts, it is not a court of appeal; the FCC only hears constitutional cases, and maintains sole jurisdiction in all such cases, to the exclusion of all other courts.
The court is famous for nullifying several high-profile laws, passed by large majorities in the parliament. An example is the Luftsicherheitsgesetz, which would have allowed the Bundeswehr to shoot down civilian aircraft in case of a terrorist attack. It was ruled to be in violation of the guarantee of life and human dignity in the Basic Law.
The Federal Constitutional Court decides on the constitutionality of laws and government actions under the following circumstances:
The Weimar Constitution did not institute a court with similar powers. When the Basic Law is amended, this has to be done explicitly; the concerning article must be cited. Under Weimar the constitution could be amended without noticing; any law passed with a two-thirds majority vote was not bound by the constitution. Under the Basic Law the fundamentals of the constitution in Art. 1 GG and Art. 20 GG, the fundamental rights in articles 1 to 19, and key elements of the federalist state, cannot be removed. Especially important is the protection of the division of state powers in the three branches, legislative, executive and judicial. This is provided by Art. 20 GG. A clear separation of powers was considered imperative to prevent measures like an over-reaching Enabling act, as happened in Germany in 1933. This act had then given the government legislative powers which effectively finished the Weimar Republic and led to the dictatorship of the Third Reich.
Article 95 establishes the Federal Court of Justice, the Federal Administrative Court, the Federal Finance Court, the Federal Labour Court and the Federal Social Court as supreme courts in their respective areas of jurisdiction.
Article 96 authorises the establishment by federal law of the Federal Patent Court, of federal military criminal courts having jurisdiction only in a state of defence or on soldiers serving abroad,and of a federal disciplinary court. Article 92 establishes that all courts other than the federal courts established under the Basic Law are courts of the Länder.
Article 101 bans extraordinary courts, such as the Volksgerichtshof.
Article 97 provides for judicial independence. Article 102 abolishes capital punishment. Article 103 mandates a fair trial, forbids retroactive criminal legislation and multiple punishment for the same criminal act. Article 104 mandates that deprivation of personal liberty must be provided for by statute and authorised by a judge before the end of the day following the arrest (analogous to the common law concept of Habeas corpus), and that a relative or a person in the confidence of the prisoner must be notified of a judicial decision imposing detention. The German Constitution (i.e. the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany) unmistakably outlines the presumption of innocence.
The main body of the legislative branch is Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, which enacts federal legislation, including the budget. Each member of the Bundestag has the right to initiate legislation, as do the cabinet and the Bundesrat. The Bundestag also elects the Chancellor, the head of government, usually (but not necessarily) the leader of the majority party or the party with a plurality of seats in the Bundestag, and takes part in the election of the Federal President.
The Bundesrat represents the Länder (states) and participates in federal legislation. The Bundesrat's power has grown over the years, as the fields of federal legislation were extended at the expense of state legislation. In return, the number of laws requiring the assent of the Bundesrat was also extended.
The Basic Law contains no clear provision to call early elections. Neither the chancellor nor the Bundestag has the power to call elections, and the president can do so only if the government loses a confidence vote if the chancellor so requests. This was designed to avoid the chronic instability of Weimar Republic governments. However, early elections have been called three times (1972, 1982, and 2005). The last two occasions were considered controversial moves and were referred to the constitutional court for review.
In 1972, Chancellor Willy Brandt's coalition had lost its majority in the Bundestag, so that the opposition (CDU/CSU) tried to pass a constructive vote of no confidence, thus electing Rainer Barzel as new chancellor. Surprisingly, two representatives of CDU/CSU voted for SPD's Willy Brandt so that the vote failed. Nevertheless, the coalition had no majority in the Bundestag, so that a new election was necessary. It was later revealed that the East German Ministry for State Security had bribed the two dissenting representatives.
In 1982, Chancellor Helmut Kohl intentionally lost a confidence vote in order to call an early election to strengthen his position in the Bundestag. The constitutional court examined the case, and decided that the vote was valid, but with reservations. It was decided that a vote of no confidence could be engineered only if it were based on an actual legislative impasse.
In 2005, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder engineered a defeat in a motion of no confidence after a power shift in the Bundesrat . President Horst Köhler then called elections for 18 September 2005. The constitutional court agreed to the validity of this procedure on 25 August 2005, and the elections duly took place.
In contrast to Weimar, political parties are explicitly mentioned in the constitution, i.e., officially recognized as important participants in politics. Parties are obliged to adhere to the democratic foundations of the German state. Parties found in violation of this requirement may be abolished by the constitutional court. In the Weimar Republic, the public image of political parties was clearly negative and they were often regarded as vile. At the same time there was no obligation to adhere to democratic standards (in contrast, the Basic Law stipulates that parties' "... internal organisation must conform to democratic principles", which precludes any party using the Führerprinzip, even internally).
The Weimar Constitution contributed to the Reichswehr becoming a state within a state, outside of the control of the parliament or the public. The army directly reported to the President who himself was not dependent on the parliament. Under the Basic Law, during times of peace, the Bundeswehr is under the command of the Minister of Defence, and during war-time under the Federal Chancellor. The Chancellor is directly responsible to the parliament, the Minister is indirectly responsible to the parliament because it can remove the entire Cabinet by electing a new chancellor.
The Basic Law also institutes the parliamentary post of the Wehrbeauftragter (defense commissioner), reporting once a year to parliament, not to the executive. The Wehrbeauftragter is a soldiers' ombudsman who can be petitioned directly by soldiers, bypassing the chain of command. Disciplinary measures against soldiers petitioning the Wehrbeauftragter are prohibited. From eleven defense commissioners until 2013 eight performed military or war services. Six hold an officer's rank (or reserve officer's rank), two of them, as Vizeadmiral Hellmuth Heye, were high-ranking and decorated admirals or generals of the Wehrmacht.
Although this is not explicitly spelled out in the Basic Law, a number of Constitutional Court cases in the 1990s established that the military may not be deployed by the government outside of NATO territory without a specific resolution of parliament, which describes the details of the mission and limits its term. There are also strict restrictions on the intervention of the military within Germany (i.e. a ban of the military being used for police-type duties), which generally only allow the military to act in unarmed roles within Germany (such as disaster relief).
Unlike the Weimar Constitution, the Basic Law only names referendums, concerning the federal level of legislation, on a single issue: a new delimitation of the federal territory. Baden-Württemberg was founded following a 1952 referendum that approved the fusion of three separate states. In a 1996 referendum the inhabitants of Berlin and Brandenburg rejected a proposed merger of the two states. After referendums on reestablishing to Länder borders as existed in the Weimar Republic all failed, this institution has not been used, as some little border changes can be done by state contract.
The denial of referendums in other cases was designed to avoid the kind of populism that allowed the rise of Hitler. Yet Article 20 states that "All state authority is derived from the people. It shall be exercised by the people through elections and other votes [Abstimmungen] and through specific legislative, executive and judicial bodies". [ original research? ] However, this could only be conferred by a constitutional amendment nevertheless.These other votes – the words are to be understood meaning votes on legislative issues – are, by now, common practice on the level of the Länder. Claims of extending this practice also to the federal level have an undisputed constitutional basis in the Article 20, being the general and unchangeable article on state structure.
Article 79 states the Basic Law may be amended by an absolute two-thirds majority of both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. Such a vote may not remove any of the principles underlying articles 1 and 20 as defined by the eternity clause, or remove or otherwise affect the essence of, any of the fundamental rights originally specified in articles 1 to 19;but may clarify, extend or refine those original principles and fundamental rights. Where however articles 1 to 20 have subsequently been amended or extended, any additional words and phrases are not protected by the eternity clause but may be further amended or removed through the normal constitutional process.
The Basic Law has been amended 50 times as of 2003.Important changes to the Basic Law were the re-introduction of conscription and the establishment of the Bundeswehr in 1956. Therefore, several articles were introduced into the constitution, e.g., Art. 12a, 17, 45a-c, 65a, 87a-c GG. Another important reform were the introduction in 1968 of emergency competences, for example Art. 115 Paragraph 1 GG. This was done by a grand coalition of the two main political parties CDU/CSU and SPD and was accompanied by heated debate. In the following year there were changes to the articles regarding the distribution of taxes between federal government and the states of Germany.
During reunification, the two states discussed the possibility of drafting a new common constitution followed by a plebiscite, as envisioned in Art. 146 (1990), but this path was ultimately not taken. Instead the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic decided to keep the Basic Law with only minor changes, because it had proved to be effective in West Germany. To facilitate reunification and to reassure other states, the FRG made some changes to the Basic Law. Article 23 was fulfilled by reunification itself, and then withdrawn to indicate that there were no other parts of Germany that existed outside of the unified territory.The question of "using″ Article 146 to draw a new constitution, and hold a referendum, was left to the twelfth (and first all-German) Bundestag, which after consideration, decided against a new draft. However, the Bundestag passed the constitutional reform of 1994, a minor change, but still fulfilling the constitutional question together with some other amendments between 1990 and 1994. For example, affirmative action was allowed in women's rights under Article 3, and environmental protection was made a policy objective of the state in the new Article 20a. Article 3 was also reworded to ban discrimination on grounds of disability. In 1992, membership in the European Union was institutionalised (new Article 23 GG). For the privatisation of the railways and the postal service, amendments were necessary as well. Since then, there have only been minor amendments, with the exception of the Balanced Budget Amendment added in 2009, which became fully effective in 2016. In 2002, the protection of animals was explicitly mentioned in Art. 20a GG.
The most controversial debate arose concerning the limitation of the right to asylum in 1993 as in the current version of Art. 16 a GG. This change was later challenged and confirmed in a judgment by the constitutional court. Another controversy was spawned by the limitation of the right to the invulnerability of the private domain (Unverletzlichkeit der Wohnung) by means of acoustic observation (Großer Lauschangriff). This was done by changes to Art. 13 Paragraph 3 and Art. 6 GG. The changes were challenged in the constitutional court, but the judges confirmed the changes. Other changes took place regarding a redistribution of competencies between federal government and the Länder.
Germany is a democratic, federal parliamentary republic, where federal legislative power is vested in the Bundestag and the Bundesrat.
The Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany is, under the German 1949 Constitution, the head of government of Germany. Historically, the office has evolved from the office of chancellor that was originally established in the North German Confederation in 1867.
The President of Germany, officially the Federal President of the Federal Republic of Germany, is the head of state of Germany.
Germany is a federal republic consisting of sixteen states. Since today's Germany was formed from an earlier collection of several states, it has a federal constitution, and the constituent states retain a measure of sovereignty. With an emphasis on geographical conditions, Berlin and Hamburg are frequently called Stadtstaaten (city-states), as is the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, which in fact includes the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven. The remaining 13 states are called Flächenländer.
The German Bundesrat is a legislative body that represents the sixteen Länder of Germany at the national level. The Bundesrat meets at the former Prussian House of Lords in Berlin. Its second seat is located in the former West German capital of Bonn.
Deutsches Reich was the official name in the German language for the German nation state that existed from 1871 to 1945. The Reich became understood as deriving its authority and sovereignty entirely from a continuing unitary German 'national people'; with that authority and sovereignty being exercised at any one time over a unitary German 'state territory' with variable boundaries and extent. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", the word Reich here better translates as "realm", in that the term does not in itself have monarchical connotations. The word Kaiserreich is applied to denote an empire with an emperor; hence the German Empire of 1871–1918 is termed Deutsches Kaiserreich in standard works of reference. From 1943 to 1945, the official name of Germany became – but was not formally proclaimed – Großdeutsches Reich on account of the additional German peoples and associated territories annexed into the state's administration before and during the Second World War.
The German Democratic Republic was founded in 1949 and was absorbed into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990. Its original constitution was promulgated on 7 October 1949. It was heavily based on the "Weimarer Reichsverfassung", such that the GDR would be a federal and democratic republic. Because the original version did not accurately reflect the actual political climate of the GDR, it was decided in 1968 to replace the old constitution with a new version.
The Parlamentarischer Rat was the West German constituent assembly in Bonn that drafted and adopted the constitution of West Germany, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, promulgated on 23 May 1949.
The Cabinet of Germany is the chief executive body of the Federal Republic of Germany. It consists of the Chancellor and the cabinet ministers. The fundamentals of the cabinet's organization as well as the method of its election and appointment as well as the procedure for its dismissal are set down in articles 62 through 69 of the Grundgesetz.
The German Emergency Acts were passed on 30 May 1968 at the time of the First Grand Coalition between the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. The Emergency Acts faced opposition from outside the German parliament. It was the 17th constitutional amendment to the Grundgesetz, adding emergency clauses to ensure the federal government's ability to act in crises such as natural disasters, uprisings or war.
An exclusive mandate is a government's assertion of its legitimate authority over a certain territory, part of which another government controls with stable, de facto sovereignty. It is also known as a claim to sole representation or an exclusive authority claim. The concept was particularly important during the Cold War period when a number of states were divided on ideological grounds.
The legal status of Germany concerns the question of the extinction, or otherwise continuation, of the German nation state following the rise and downfall of Nazi Germany, and constitutional hiatus of the military occupation of Germany by the four Allied powers from 1945 to 1949. It became current once again when the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990.
An eternity clause in the constitution or basic law of a country is a clause intended to ensure that the law or constitution cannot be changed by amendment. Eternity clauses are a type of entrenched clause in the constitutions of the Czech Republic, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Morocco, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Federative Republic of Brazil and Norway.
The title Chancellor has designated different offices in the history of Germany. It is currently used for the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, the head of government of Germany.
The Constitutional Convention at Herrenchiemsee was a meeting of constitutional experts nominated by the minister-presidents of the Western States of Germany, held in August 1948 at former Herrenchiemsee Abbey in Bavaria. It was part of the process of drafting and adopting the current German constitution, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz). The draft document prepared by the Herrenchiemsee convention served as a starting point for the deliberations of the Parlamentarischer Rat in Bonn during 1948 and 1949.
Fundamental Rights in the Federal Republic of Germany are a set of rights guaranteed to everyone in Germany and partially to German people only through their Federal Constitution, the Grundgesetz and the constitutions of some of the States of Germany. In the Federal Constitution, the majority of the Grundrechte are contained in the first title, Articles 1 to 19 of the Grundgesetz (GG). These rights have constitutional status, binding each of the country's constitutional institutions. In the event that these rights are violated and a remedy is denied by other courts, the constitution provides for an appeal to the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht).
The state of defence is the constitutional state of emergency in Germany if the country is "under attack by armed force or imminently threatened with such an attack". Established by a constitutional amendment in 1968 during the Cold War, this state of emergency gives the federal government extraordinary powers in wartime. It is laid down in the articles 115a to 115l of the German Constitution. As of March 2019, Germany has never been in the state of defence.
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