Can parliamentary sovereignty be abolished?

German democracy

Horst Poetzsch

To person

Until 1992, the historian and political scientist Horst Pötzsch was head of the "Political Education in Schools" department of the Federal Agency for Political Education.

Popular sovereignty, separation of powers, respect for human rights: the German constitution defines basic principles of order in Germany. The Basic Law was initially only intended as a provisional solution.

The President of the Parliamentary Council, Dr. Konrad Adenauer at the signing of the Basic Law on May 23, 1949 in Bonn. (& copy AP)

On October 3, 1990, the GDR joined the Federal Republic of Germany and thus the "scope of the Basic Law". This fulfilled the mandate of the preamble of the Basic Law to the German people "to complete the unity and freedom of Germany through free self-determination". All Germans live in a state with borders secured by international law and a constitution that has proven itself over 60 years and is viewed by the vast majority of Germans as the best constitution in its history.


Paulskirche constitution

Entry of the parliamentarians into the Paulskirche. (& copy AP)
The first liberal constitution of the Germans was passed by the National Assembly in Frankfurt's Paulskirche in 1849. The hopes of the liberal and democratic movement to achieve national unity as a sovereign decision of the German people through parliamentary channels were not fulfilled. The German nation-state was not to be founded by Bismarck as a union of German princes until 1871. The German Reich was a constitutional monarchy with the features of an authoritarian state, which came to an end as a result of the defeat in the First World War.

Weimar Constitution

On July 31, 1919, the National Assembly meeting in Weimar passed the "Constitution of the German Reich", the Weimar Constitution. The empire became a democratic parliamentary republic. This second attempt to create a parliamentary democracy with Western characteristics in Germany met with considerable reservations right from the start. The democratic forces in politics, administration, economy and society remained weak. The republic failed because of the burdens of the lost war and economic crises that led to political radicalization and the turning away of many citizens from democracy.

Founding democracy

The third attempt at German democracy began under even more difficult conditions. The Basic Law was created in a time that was marked by unprecedented hardship in the wake of a devastating war, under the moral burden of the crimes of the National Socialist regime, in a divided country that was under the rule of the victorious powers.

As the tensions between the Western powers and the Soviet Union intensified and an agreement on the restoration of an all-German state became increasingly unlikely, the Western powers agreed to establish a part of a West German state. The military governors of the three western zones asked the prime ministers of the western German states to convene a national assembly to work out a constitution. It should be put into effect by a referendum. The Prime Ministers feared that this would also seal the division of Germany under constitutional law. They insisted that there should not be a fully valid state, but a provisional arrangement. Therefore, an assembly elected by the state parliaments in the three western zones of 65 members worked out a basic law for the uniform administration of the western zones, which was to be adopted by the parliaments of the states.