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The German Emergency Acts (Notstandsgesetze) were passed on 30 May 1968 at the time of the First Grand Coalition between the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. The Emergency Acts faced opposition from outside the German parliament. It was the 17th constitutional amendment to the Grundgesetz, adding emergency clauses to ensure the federal government's ability to act in crises such as natural disasters, uprisings or war.
The inclusion of emergency laws in the German Basic Law was one condition imposed by the Allies before they would transfer full sovereignty to the Federal Republic of Germany after the Second World War. This was in order to ensure the safety of their troops still stationed in Germany.
Because of the negative experience of the Weimar Constitution, Article 48, the Basic Law did not at first include any legislation about crises such as attacks or putsch attempts. In 1955, defence against an attack was made possible by changes to the constitution regarding defence.
The first plans for emergency legislation were put forward by the Ministry of the Interior in 1958; more followed in 1960 and 1963. These drafts included an extension of the power of the executive branch. However, they did not gain the majority of votes required for them to be accepted. Later, the Grand Coalition had the necessary two-thirds majority and considered the emergency laws absolutely necessary. The major aim was to prevent any misuse of the laws as had occurred during the Weimar Republic.
During the time leading up to the passing of the laws, there was fierce opposition to them, above all by the Free Democratic Party, the German student movement, a group calling itself Notstand der Demokratie (Democracy in Crisis) and the labour unions.
On 27 May 1968 the Allied Control Council declared that they would give up their right of control (Vorbehaltsrecht) if the Emergency Acts were passed. On 30 May, when the law was voted on, the FDP was the only party to stand firm against their introduction. Of the Grand Coalition, 54 members also voted against them. The laws came into effect on 28 June 1968, marking the end of the special powers the Allied forces had been given over Germany in the Statute of Occupation of 21 September 1949.
Contents of the law
Right to resist
To appease critics, a fourth paragraph was introduced in Article 20 of the Grundgesetz, giving the people of Germany the right, if no other remedy was possible, to resist anyone trying to go against the constitutional laws.
States of defence, states of tension, internal states of emergency, disasters
The law contains legislation on what happens in case of a state of defence, a state of tension, or an internal state of emergency or disaster comes about. In such cases, basic constitutional rights may be limited.
If, in a state of defence, the Bundestag (parliament) can not convene, its functions and those of the Bundesrat (federal council) are taken over by a Joint Committee. Two-thirds of this Joint Committee are members of the Bundestag and the other third are members of the Bundesrat. The Joint Committee is not allowed to change the Basic Law.
Limitations of basic constitutional rights
According to Article 10 of the Grundgesetz, limitations may be placed on privacy of correspondence, confidentiality of telecommunication and of postal communication, in order to protect the free and democratic constitutional order. Freedom of movement may also be limited under certain conditions. Occupational freedom (the right to pursue a career of one's choice) may also be altered.
According to Article 35, during a natural disaster, the Bundespolizei and the Bundeswehr may also be called in as well as the police. When catastrophes take place which concern more than one German state, the German government may also give instructions to the states.
- German student movement
- History of Germany
- Politics of Germany
- Freedom (political)
- European Convention on Human Rights
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