Germany: Preserve Past, Build Future the Lawyers' Role in Shaping a Unified Germany

Article excerpt

WITH East Germany deciding to unite with West Germany on Oct. 3, 1990, the rapid movement toward German unification has left not only diplomats, but also lawyers, struggling to keep pace. While the diplomatic challenge of developing a new political structure for a unified Germany has absorbed much energy and attention, the immense challenge of revamping existing legal structures has received only sporadic international attention.

A unification treaty between the two Germanys governing legal and political issues was signed last Saturday. This treaty will do much to clarify the legal uncertainties surrounding the unification process, but much will remain to be done: the moral and structural rehabilitation of the legal system in East Germany, the resolution of legal questions that are impeding economic development, and the termination of the unique legal regime that has given the Four-Powers responsibility for "Germany as a whole" for the past 45 years.

The legal issue of greatest importance for the economic revival of East Germany is that of property titles. This issue reflects the convolutions of recent German history. It involves the legal effect of Nazi expropriations, Four-Power reparation seizures, and several expropriation decrees of the East German Communist regime. As a result of the legal confusion caused by these past acts, the ownership of much desirable property in East Germany has been unclear, and badly needed investment has been impeded.

It is not surprising that the negotiations toward the unification treaty addressing these issues contributed to the virtual collapse of the East German governing coalition. While that government has no desire to defend the legal structures implemented by its Communist predecessors, it understandably sought fair treatment of its citizens in a period of difficult transition. This goal has been difficult to achieve not only because of West Germany's much greater political and economic weight in the negotiations, but also because of real sociological differences separating the two societies.

On abortion, for example, West Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Party reflects its Roman Catholic origins in its restrictive stance on abortion, while East Germany, with far fewer Catholics, views the situation differently. …