Compare and contrast the constitutions of France and Germany

Essay by xxaavviieerrUniversity, Bachelor'sB, April 2006

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Constitutions are codes of rules which aspire to regulate the allocation of functions, powers and duties among the carious agencies and officers of government, and define the relationships between these and the public (Finer 1979: 15). The German Constitution known as the Basic Law was adopted on 23 May, 1949 by the West German State and became the constitution of the entire Federal Republic of Germany with the 1990 reunification. Its French counterpart came into effect on October 4, 1958 leading to the proclamation of the Fifth Republic with Charles de Gaulle as first President. Both the French and German constitutions are formally codified and possess respectively 89 and 146 articles in their current form. In comparing and contrasting them, I will first focus on the impact of the historical context, on the importance given to rights, on the duties, powers and functions of the political executive and of the legislature, and finally on the amendment and judicial review procedures.

In order to understand the drafting of the two constitutions, it is essential to take their historical context into account. The two texts were adopted as part of a political fresh start with a clear will to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. The previous French Republic, as well as the Weimar Republic (1918-33), had notably been paralysed by unstable governments, for the use of proportional representation in the lower house elections had led to an overly fragmented system. A series of safeguards were therefore created in the two new texts so as to ensure durable and effective governments.

Many differences have also stemmed from their respective historical backgrounds however. Contrary to the 1958 French Constitution, the Basic Law involved a radical change of regime from the Third Reich dictatorship (1933-1945) to the Federal Republic of Germany. By naming...