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Germany's Basic Law ensures 'Well Fortified' Democracy

Richard A. Fuchs

German democracy was born in 1945, in the wake of the catastrophe of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. At the time, its constitution was provisional, but that is no longer the case.

Grundgesetz und Spritzen
Image: Sascha Steinach/ZB/picture alliance

Germany is a country with a free democratic basic order. The laws anchored in its constitution were hard-won.

Germany's Basic Law was passed in Western Germany in 1949. It was supposed to be a temporary constitution, until the other newly founded German state, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) rejoined the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).

But since reunification on October 3, 1990, there has been only one Germany, and the temporary solution has morphed into the constitution for all of Germany. It’s the basis for Germany's free democratic basic order.

The German Basic Law: separation of powers

Three-level state

The Basic Law protects individual freedoms, guarantees human dignity, and treats every citizen as equal under the law — no matter their race, origin, language or religion.

Moreover, a separation of powers subjects the state to strict controls. Their aim is to prevent Germany from ever again producing a dictator.

The law decrees a federal state with three levels: federal and state governments share political power and pass laws together. Local governments represent the third and lowest level.

'Well-fortified democracy'

Furthermore, barricades were built to hinder radical and undemocratic movements. The "well-fortified democracy" allows the government to ban political parties that aren't democratic. Radical Communist parties were banned.

Konrad Adenauer signing the Basic Law
Konrad Adenauer signed the Basic Law in 1949Image: picture-alliance/ dpa

Moreover, not every party makes it into parliament: they first need to get 5 percent of the popular vote before they can earn a seat there. It is a rule that aims to maintain the stability of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court acts as a sentinel for the separation of powers, the Basic Law and democracy. That judicial body looks to see if the laws are in accordance with the constitution and help any citizen protect his or her rights and freedoms against possible breaches by the state.

The German Basic Law: human dignity

Constitutional court: no longer unique

For a long time, the constitutional court remained unique. But it has since been copied many times — for example by Spain.

Germany’s political parties are responsible for debating social conflicts and mobilizing voters to take part in local and national elections.

Two main parties have traditionally been strong in the decades since the Federal Republic was founded: the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in concert with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD). But other concepts find support in the federal and state parliaments, too. Neoliberals, Greens and populists from the far right and the far left battle for votes.

In addition, the political system addresses social questions via the medium of associations, unions and interest groups.

This article was originally written in German.

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