75 years of the Basic Law should be an occasion for politics and society to return to the structures and functional conditions of the liberal constitutional state. Above all, it is about regaining the value of freedom and responsibility for each individual. We are all challenged now.

The Basic Law, passed by the Parliamentary Council 75 years ago as a provisional constitution for what was then West Germany, has undoubtedly become the tried and tested constitution of a united Germany. Unlike previous German constitutions, the Basic Law focuses on fundamental rights as enforceable freedoms of the individual against the state.

This is shown not only by the systematic position of the catalog of fundamental rights at the beginning of the constitution, but also very clearly by Article 1 Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law, which declares fundamental rights to be binding as directly applicable law for all state authorities, including the legislative authority.

The fundamental rights of the Basic Law are not just constitutional poetry, not just proclamations, promises and promises, but they establish justiciable, that is, enforceable rights. State interventions in these fundamental rights require justification, but not the exercise and assertion of civil liberties.

Hans-Jürgen Papier is a constitutional law scholar and was President of the Federal Constitutional Court from 2002 to 2010.

The pointed emphasis on fundamental rights in the Basic Law expresses the self-restriction of the modern constitutional and constitutional state in the interest of freedom. The state does not have its meaning in itself and does not have the task of “producing meaning or even giving human beings a moral meaning” (Herrmann Krings).

The state of the Basic Law is therefore not an end in itself, rather it has a serving function: It serves, first and foremost, to enable human freedom by ensuring peace and protecting people from their fears – especially their fear of violence, crime and hardship, but also freed from the fear of state arbitrariness and excessive state restrictions on freedom.

In addition to the classic liberal function of fundamental rights as defensive rights, there is a very crucial additional function of fundamental rights. In addition to complete defensive rights against state encroachments on freedom, fundamental rights are also an expression of an objective legal value decision.

In this way, they set standards in the interpretation and application of ordinary law, especially private law. This means that fundamental rights also become effective at the level of legal application and, in particular, in the relationship between private individuals.

As objective legal value decisions, fundamental rights also establish state obligations to protect when the goods protected by fundamental rights are threatened by third parties or by objective circumstances such as natural disasters, serious accidents or pandemics.

Although the freedom rights of the Basic Law may in principle be restricted by law or on the basis of the reservations contained in the constitution, these encroachments on fundamental rights must under no circumstances be disproportionate and affect the essence of the freedom rights.

75 years of the Basic Law should above all be an occasion for politics and society to return to the existing structures and functional conditions of the liberal constitutional state. It is about regaining the appreciation of freedom and self-determination of people on the one hand, but also the responsibility of each individual for the state and its free constitution.

It is also about the rule and unrestricted enforcement of law and justice. The value of our constitutional state must be demonstrated again and again. The anniversary should be a warning not to carelessly gamble away what has been achieved and the population’s trust in the rule of law, but rather to awaken appreciation and strengthen the will to defend freedom and the rule of law against attacks from whatever side.

We are all called upon to do so; without such virtuous willingness on the part of those in power as well as those being governed, democracy and the rule of law cannot survive in the long term. Despite the national and global challenges, we must work to preserve and strengthen the free constitutional state, but not to gradually dismantle or dismantle it.

“The most beautiful dreams of freedom are dreamed in prison” (Friedrich Schiller). We are certainly not in a “dungeon” in Germany and we don’t just have to “dream” about freedom.

But it is also time for us to defend it steadily and, above all, with more commitment – a freedom that Thomas Mann described in his famous speech “On the German Republic” in 1922: Freedom is not just fun and not pleasure, the other name for freedom is rather “responsibility”.