The German Basic Law, enacted in 1949 after total defeat and the experience of totalitarian barbarism, has become a model for constitutions around the world and a prominent example of modern constitutionalism. It features five fundamental principles - democracy, rule of law/Rechtsstaat, the social state, republican government and federalism - each expressly guaranteed and protected against constitutional amendment. As such the German Basic Law is a prime example of a cooperative and predominantly executive federalism characterised by a high degree of unitarianism and equality of its member states. The institutional structure, featuring the principle of the separation of powers, is a parliamentary system of government, in which the Chancellor and the political parties play leading roles. The Bundestag remains a powerful Parliament, while the Bundesrat and the Prime Ministers of the Lander act as an important counterweight. The Constitutional Court, as interpreter of the Constitution and possessor of a broad range of competences, occupies an especially important position, acting as arbiter between the different Federal institutions as well as between the Federation and the Lander.
In the field of fundamental rights the Court has achieved far-reaching constitutionalisation and juridification of the whole political system, while at the same time creating a strong and consistent system of individual freedom and the liberalisation of society.
Werner Heun is Professor at the Law Faculty of the University of Gottingen and Director of the Institute for General Theory of State and Political Sciences.
1. Introduction: Some Peculiarities of German Constitutional Law and Jurisprudence 2. The Rise of Constitutionalism in Germany-Traditions and Concepts 3. The Fundamental Principles of the Constitution and Democratic Legitimacy Part I Foundations Part II The Democratic Principle Part III The Rechtsstaat Principle Part IV The Social State Principle Part V Republican Form of Government Part VI Federalism as Fundamental Principle Conclusion 4. The Federal System Part I Foundations Part II The Constitutional Principles of Federalism Part III Structure of Functions and Competences in German Federalism Part IV From Dual to Cooperative Federalism and Beyond Part V Federalism within a Multilevel Structure of Government Conclusion 5. Separation of Powers and Parliamentary Government Part I Separation of Powers as a Constitutional Principle Part II The People Part III The Political Parties as a Link between State and Society Part IV The Bundestag-The German Parliament Part V Parliamentary Government Conclusion 6. Government and Administration Part I Cabinet and Federal Government Part II The Federal President Part III Administration Part IV The Military Conclusion 7. The Constitutional Role of the Judiciary and the Constitutional Court Part I The Courts Part II The Constitutional Court Conclusion 8. The System of Fundamental Rights 9. Epilogue