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Yellow Light from Constitutional Court: Germany Cannot Ratify Lisbon -- Yet

Germany's highest court has ruled that the Lisbon Treaty is not fundamentally incompatible with the country's constitution. However, it has called a halt to the ratification process until the German parliament changes a domestic law to strengthen the role of the country's legislative bodies in implementing European Union laws.

With the process of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty hitting one speed bump after another, many would have expected that at least Germany would have given the treaty safe passage. However, an attempt by some German legislators to block its ratification has led to delays even in the European Union's biggest country.

The judges of Germany's Constitutional Court on Tuesday.
AP

The judges of Germany's Constitutional Court on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Germany's highest court rejected a petition by a group of around 50 lawmakers seeking to stop the treaty, with the judges arguing that the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with the country's constitution, the so-called Basic Law. Nevertheless, the Federal Constitutional Court laid one final hurdle before it can be ratified: A domestic law must be changed in parliament.

According to the court, based in the western city of Karlsruhe, the law which regulates the German parliament's involvement in the implementation of European law, needs to be strengthened before the ratification process can continue. The ruling applies to both parliament, the Bundestag, and Germany's upper legislative chamber, the Bundesrat.

"The Basic Law says 'yes' to Lisbon, but demands a strengthening of the parliament's responsibilities on a national level," Andreas Vosskuhle, the presiding judge, said on Tuesday.

Ratification Could Come in September

Germany is one of four countries that has still not ratified the Lisbon Treaty, which is supposed to streamline European Union institutions, increase their powers and responsibilities and make the bloc more democratic. Ireland rejected the treaty in a referendum last year and euro-skeptic presidents in the Czech Republic and Poland have refused to rubber-stamp the reform despite the fact that it has been approved by their respective parliaments.

The European Union's star-crossed attempt to ease decision-making among the now 27 member states began back in 2005 when French and Dutch voters rejected a proposed EU constitution. It was then replaced with a new watered-down version, stripped of most of the trappings that might be perceived as an EU state.

Even Germany, one of the powerhouses of the European Union hasn't made things easy. Although the German parliament voted in favor of the treaty last year, a number of members from across the political spectrum petitioned the Constitutional Court to reject the treaty. While most are from the far-left Left Party, Peter Gauweiler, a member of Bavaria's Christian Social Union -- the sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party -- led the challenge. He argued that the Lisbon Treaty would enable the EU to circumvent national parliaments and thus undermine Germany sovereignty.

President Horst Köhler had refused to sign the treaty until after the Karlsruhe court had made its ruling. The parliament will now be under pressure to rapidly bring in new legislation so that the ratification process can continue. The Lisbon Treaty is supposed to be implemented by the beginning of 2010 at the latest. Vosskuhle said on Tuesday that he was sure that the "last hurdles" would soon be overcome. The German parliament is to gather for a special sitting on August 26 for a first reading of the new law, a spokesperson for the Social Democrats parliamentary party announced on Tuesday. The vote in the lower house would then take place on Sept. 8, just weeks before Germany's national election.

Chancellor Merkel welcomed the court's decision, saying that it was "a good day for the Lisbon Treaty." She told journalists that the treaty had "passed another important hurdle" and that she was happy that Berlin's ruling grand coalition of her conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) had been able to agree on a rewording of the law on the rights of the parliament.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is the SPD's candidate for chancellor in the Sept. 27 election and was in Karlsruhe for the ruling, said that he was pleased that the court had found the treaty to be "completely compatible" with the constitution. He predicted that the Lisbon Treaty would come into force by early 2010 at the latest.

If the German Constitutional Court had ruled against Lisbon, it would likely have killed the treaty. It would have given the Czech Republic and Poland a reason not to ratify it and it also could have derailed plans to hold a second referendum on the EU reform in Ireland in early October.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the German ruling. "I am confident we can complete the process of ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon in all countries by the autumn," he said.

smd -- with wires

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