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U.S. Delegation Minutes of the Meeting between the Western Military Governors and the German Minister Presidents regarding the German Reply to the London Documents (July 26, 1948)

What to call the West German constitution and how to ratify it were among the topics discussed in detail at a meeting between the West German minister presidents and the western military governors in late July 1948. The minister presidents preferred the term Basic Law. They opposed a referendum and favored ratification of the constitution/Basic Law by the state parliaments [Landtage], since they were eager to avoid a referendum campaign given the country’s tense political situation. The question of how to redraw the boundaries of the Länder remained open, since it could not be decided on short notice. In the end, the minister presidents did not insist that their requests be met, but accepted in principle the directives agreed upon by the Allies in London.

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July 26, 1948

General KOENIG, as Chairman, opened the Meeting. He stated that the meeting had been called to allow the Minister Presidents to give their final reply concerning Documents I, II and III and he therefore asked Minister President STOCK (Hesse) to speak.

Herr STOCK stated that the Minister Presidents had examined very closely the observations made at the last meeting. They were glad to be able once again to discuss the problems as a whole with the Military Governors. The Minister Presidents were prepared to create, within the framework of the London Agreements, a political and economic organization for Western Germany and they were very anxious to reach agreement with the Military Governors. They had chosen two from amongst their number to discuss the specific questions. Minister President ARNOLD would present the point of view of his colleagues on Document I and Minister President LUEDEMANN would discuss Document II. As far as Document III was concerned the Minister Presidents had not found it necessary to discuss this for the present.

Herr STOCK further stated that he and his colleagues would be glad to hear the comments of the Military Governors after the statements of Herr ARNOLD and Herr LUEDEMANN and to be able to withdraw for a final consultation after having heard them. The Military Governors stated that they were in agreement with this procedure and the Chairman asked Minister President ARNOLD to speak.

Herr ARNOLD (North-Rhine–Westphalia) wished, first, to make a few general remarks on the question of the referendum and the ‘Basic Law’. He indicated that there was general agreement that a solution must be reached as quickly as possible. According to the original proposals, the ‘Basic Law’ or ‘Provisional Constitution’ should be accepted by the population by means of a referendum. Obviously the problem of the referendum was of the greatest importance. The Minister Presidents were also of the opinion that the Basic Law should be ratified on as broad a democratic basis as possible.

They had, however, certain serious objections to the referendum as provided in Document I. The Minister Presidents feared, in fact, that the submission of the ‘Basic Law’ to a referendum might provoke a very violent electoral campaign throughout Germany. The communists and all other destructive elements would certainly take advantage of this electoral campaign to aggravate the schism which already existed between the West and the East. In particular, in view of the position of the communists, it was very probable that they would do their utmost to present the ‘Basic Law’ not as a German law, but as a law imposed by the Allied Powers. There was therefore the risk that an electoral campaign, in these conditions, would result in a vote against the Occupying Powers. The destructive forces of the left as well as of the right would combine to destroy the proposals made. Recalling that in conformity with the original proposals, the veto of one-third of the Länder would be sufficient to overthrow the proposals, Minister President ARNOLD stressed that if, as a result of an electoral campaign, the ‘Basic Law’ was rejected, this would mean not only the rejection of the Koblenz proposals but also the rejection of the London decisions. Such a development would be a catastrophe not only for Germany but for the whole of Europe. But whatever the results of such an electoral campaign, it was certain that it entailed the risk of introducing an element of uncertainty into any future development.

Minister President ARNOLD repeated that he and his colleagues were entirely in agreement with General CLAY on the point that this ‘Basic Law’ should be ratified on as broad a popular basis as possible but after having closely examined the psychological conditions and the political situation the Minister Presidents wondered whether it would not be preferable to have the 'Basic Law' ratified by the Landtage [state parliaments] of the different Länder instead of having it ratified by means of a referendum. The members of the Landtage had been elected by general and secret ballot and could therefore be considered as the legitimate and democratic representatives of 45,000,000 inhabitants. If therefore, as was probable, the Landtage accepted this ‘Basic Law’ by a large majority, it could be said that it had been adopted on a broad democratic basis. The Minister Presidents were of the opinion that this proposal took more into account the interests both of the Military Governments and of the German people than did the initial proposal.

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