Project without external funding

Die britische Verfassungspolitik in Nordwestdeutschland, 1945-1952

Project Details
Project duration: 07/20022005

British influence on German constitution-making
The three Western occupation powers followed closely the elaboration of democracy?s most important document ? the constitution(s) of post-war Germany. Today, the considerable British part in influencing Allied opinion on the Basic Law has been acknowledged. Adolf M. Birke has shown that the specific British contribution lay in the liberal, non-interventionist policy pursued. In contrast, Allied policy concerning the earlier Länder constitutions, which preceded the Basic Law discussions, has stirred much less interest. More than any of the other occupation powers, the British felt that true democracy would only flourish in Germany when ”decent political institutions? were successfully installed. To them, it was quite clear that democratic revival firstly ought to start at the bottom and secondly would take its time. After their initial preoccupation with local government and voting system reforms the British ? in contrast to their own tradition ? concentrated on the establishment of Land Constitutions. Military Governor Robertson, unlike his American counterpart Clay, did not want to impose a strict timeline for the adoption of the Land Constitutions. For the British, the process of elaborating a constitution was much too important to carry it out in a hurry. In their opinion the Germans, whom they considered as politically infantile, were best gradually acquainted with the ideas and functioning of democracy. Also, Military Government themselves needed time to contemplate the drafts that were handed in. Although the British never came as near as bearing pressure on the fathers of the constitution, they did analyse the drafts more closely and commented in more detail on them than did their Allies. Evaluation took place at several stages; at Land level, at Zonal level and finally at the Foreign Office. At all three institutions, several different departments studied and commented on the drafts. Analysing the British suggestions is interesting. The occupation power stressed e.g. the inclusion of a small catalogue of essential Basic Human Rights, the idea of collective responsibility, strict impartiality of the civil service and the adoption of the Constitutions via referenda among others. Some of the above can be explained by British political culture, others not. The fact that by 1949 the four Länder of the British Zone were the only states which were still unable to table a permanent Land Constitution was to some extent due to the gradual, time-consuming British approach. Nevertheless, the British neither imposed any political idea nor vetoed any accepted constitutional draft against German opposition. As they have learned a lot about the constitution-making process during this time, the British behaviour on the federal theatre cannot be explained without analysing the respective earlier developments on zonal level. Their experience at zonal level taught the British that democracy (or rather special democratic provisions) cannot be imposed ? this was something the French and Americans still had to learn in the Basic Law discussions in 1949.

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Last updated on 2017-11-07 at 15:01