In 1949, only four years after the end of World War II and with Europe still in ruins, the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in the Western part of Germany. 40 years later, the political changes in Eastern Europe as well as the courageous and peaceful protests by the East German citizens against the communist regime paved the way for German reunification in 1990. During the past 60 years, Germany has enjoyed a time of freedom, peace, political stability and prosperity. We owe much of this to the German constitution – the Basic Law.
German Minister of Justice, Brigitte Zypries, speaks in an interview on the development, the strengths and the success story of the Basic Law.
Ms. Zypries, on May, 23rd Germany celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Basic Law. What was the greatest achievement of the Parliamentary Council that drafted the Basic Law?
Overall, the achievement of the Parliamentary Council was exceptional, particularly when you bear in mind the conditions under which it was drawn up: Germany had provoked and lost a world war with devastating consequences. The country lay in ruins and was burdened with culpability for the serious crimes of the Nazi regime. Germany was subject to occupation law and its state unity was threatened. Against this background, the Parliamentary Council faced the truly complex task of giving the free part of Germany a new state order with structures that would prevent a repetition of the errors of the past. Especially significant is the fact that the new state was strictly based on the rule of law. It is consistently shaped as a constitutional state and all state power is committed to the protection and respect of basic rights – first and foremost, human dignity.
The Basic Law begins with the 19 basic rights. What view of humanity does the Basic Law convey?
The Basic Law intentionally and unequivocally acknowledges human and civil rights at the very beginning of the constitutional text. Placing this outstanding emphasis on basic rights was the consequence of the experience with the National Socialist injustice regime. The mothers and fathers of our constitution wanted to stress the special significance of these rights for a liberal democracy and thereby emphasize the fact that the state is there for people – and not the other way round. In first place stands human dignity, which is not only irrevocable, but also inviolable. The subsequent catalogue of basic rights guarantees above all the rights of freedom and equality. On the basis of this concept, human beings are not isolated and authoritarian individuals. They are – as the Federal Constitutional Court emphasizes – oriented and tied to the community.
What are the seminal elements of the Basic Law?
The Basic Law stands for freedom that is realized primarily in the basic rights of the individual, which guarantee him or her rights of freedom in relation to state intervention, but also rights of performance and participation. Our constitution also stands for state unity, which the Basic Law always upheld and the preconditions for which it created. And it stands for democracy as the rule of the people, which the Basic Law firmly anchors in Germany. In addition to these, there is a fourth element, namely the social constitutional state, which combine freedom and democracy. It is characterized by the direct legal validity of the basic rights, the guarantee that citizens can challenge every measure of the state that places burdens upon them and, not least, the establishment of the Federal Constitutional Court.
What makes the Basic Law so attractive compared to the constitutions of other highly developed countries?
Every country has good reasons for its constitution. As a rule, it is an expression of the specific historical influences that a nation has experienced. You therefore cannot simply transfer constitutions from one country to another. But, of course, achievements that have proved especially positive in the constitutional reality of a country can develop model character for others. With regard to the Basic Law, this applies particularly to the direct validity of the basic rights, the guarantee of the judicial protection of rights against state action and the model of constitutional jurisdiction – all these are export articles of German constitutional law.
Text provided by the German Embassy in Bucharest