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70 years of the Basic Law

The adoption of the Basic Law on 8 Mai 1949 marked a fresh start for Germany.

picture-alliance/ZB - Basic Law
Dani Karavan: „Grundgesetz 49“, Berlin © picture-alliance/ZB - Basic Law

The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany was adopted by the Parliamentary Council on 8 May 1949 and subsequently approved by the Allies. The three Western occupying powers of France, Britain and the USA had commissioned the Germans with this task after the Second World War. Initially the Basic Law was not planned as a permanent constitution, because there were still great hopes that the Soviet occupation zone would soon be reunited with the Western zones. That was not the case: reunification eventually took over 40 years.

First, a preliminary constitutional convention met on Herreninsel, an island in Chiemsee, Bavaria, from 10 to 23 August 1948 to define fundamental principles. It was decided that there should be a strong Federal Government, no plebiscites and, after the experience of the past, the head of state was to have only limited powers. The “fathers and mothers” of the Basic Law then came together in Bonn on 1 September 1948. The committee was set up by the eleven minister presidents of the individual states and consisted of elected members of state parliaments, most of whom were lawyers or civil servants. Only 4 of the 65 members were women.

Antitotalitarian lessons of National Socialism

The most important goal was to draw lessons from the Weimar Republic and the National Socialist dictatorship. Special significance was accordingly attached to the strengthened basic rights of citizens. These lay down which rights all human beings and, in particular, all citizens have with regard to the organs of sovereign power. Among others, these include the protection of human dignity, freedom of opinion and the press as well as freedom of religion. The planned three months of consultations in Bonn eventually continued for nine months until the Parliamentary Council finally adopted the new Basic Law.

“Today is 8 May. It is therefore four years since the total war ended in total defeat,” said Heinrich von Brentano, Member of the Parliamentary Council and subsequent Federal Foreign Minister, in a speech at the time, making clear the historic significance of this event: “And today, four years later, we are here in Bonn to debate and adopt the foundation of a new and better state.”

The Basic Law became the constitution of the whole of Germany 41 years later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990.