The Domestic Politics of German Unification

By Christopher Anderson; Karl Kaltenthaler et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
The Basic Law Under Strain: Constitutional Dilemmas and Challenges

Donald R. Kommers

When and under what circumstances should a people give to itself a new constitution? This question assumed considerable importance in Germany at the beginning of the movement toward reunification. Constitutions usually come into being when a people wants to make a fresh start, either because it has thrown off the yoke of some colonial or imperial power, or because it wants to secure rights that have been or are being threatened, or simply because it feels the time has come to codify in a single document preconstitutional rules, traditions, and values it cherishes and would wish to perpetuate. None of these conditions applied to Germany in 1990, the year of German unity.

Yet conditions were ripe for a new constitutional settlement. After all, the creation of a single unified state would alter the fabric of German society, making it more Protestant, more Eastern oriented, and more culturally and regionally diverse. Still another measure of significant change would be the sudden presence of sixteen million people -- a full quarter of the population -- with little or no experience with democracy. In West Germany too, even before unity, stirrings of constitutional reform could be heard against the backdrop of widespread discontent rooted in economic woes, environmental blight, and accelerated social change, not to mention problems of governance spawned by a fragmented and ossified party system. Surely, many observers argued, these changes and conditions would trigger the start of a new era of constitutional government in Germany. 1


The Constitution and German Unity

Some Germans hoped that national unity would produce a fresh constitution right at the outset. The Basic Law itself provided an authoritative basis for just such a change; as the Preamble indicates, it was framed originally as a transitional document pending Germany's reunification. 2 Articles 23

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