Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
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|Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany|
|Original title||Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland|
|Jurisdiction||Federal Republic of Germany|
|Ratified||8 May 1949|
|System||Federal parliamentary republic|
|Head of state||President of Germany|
|Judiciary||Supreme: Federal Constitutional Court, Judiciary of Germany|
|Commissioned by||Herrenchiemsee convention|
|Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany at Wikisource|
|Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland at German Wikisource|
The West German Constitution was approved in Bonn on 8 May 1949 and came into effect on 23 May after having been approved by the occupying western Allies of World War II on 12 May. It was termed "Basic Law" (German: Grundgesetz) to indicate that it was a provisional piece of legislation pending the reunification of Germany. However, when the latter took place in 1990, the Basic Law was retained as the definitive constitution of reunified Germany. 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 Allies stipulated the implementation of a number of amendments.
The German word Grundgesetz may be translated as either Basic Law or Fundamental Law. The term "constitution" (Verfassung) was 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 was approved by all four Allied Powers in 1990 (who thereby relinquished their reserved constitutional rights), it was never submitted to a popular vote, neither in 1949 nor in 1990. However, the Basic Law as passed in 1949 also contained Article 23 which provided for "other parts of Germany" to "join the area of applicability of the Basic Law" which was the provision that was used for German reunification from the constitutional standpoint. As the overwhelming consensus thereafter was that the German question was settled and to reaffirm the renunciation of any residual German claim to land east of Oder and Neiße, the article was struck the same day as reunification came into force. An unrelated article on the relationship between Germany and the European Union was instead inserted in its place two years later.
In the preamble to the Basic Law, its adoption was declared as an action of the "German people", and Article 20 states "All state authority is derived from the people". These statements embody the constitutional principles that 'Germany' is identical with the German people, and that the German people act constitutionally as the primary institution of the German state. Where the Basic Law refers to the territory under the jurisdiction of this German state, it refers to it as the 'federal territory', so avoiding any inference of there being a constitutionally established 'German national territory'.
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 first article is a protection of the human dignity ("Menschenwürde") and human rights; they are core values protected by the Basic Law. The principles of democracy, republicanism, social responsibility, federalism and rule of law are key components of the Basic Law (Article 20). Articles 1 and 20 are protected by the so-called eternity clause ("Ewigkeitsklausel") Article 79 (3) that prohibits any sort of change or removal of the principles laid down in Articles 1 and 20.