German Politician Behind Lisbon Suit High Court Ruling 'A Huge Success'

CSU politician Peter Gauweiler led the challenge to the Lisbon Treaty before Germany's highest court. The court rejected most of the petition, but in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Gauweiler explains why he still thinks the ruling is good for Germany.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Gauweiler, you were one of the people who brought the challenge against Germany's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty before Germany's Federal Constitutional Court, which is based in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe. You're viewed as a bit of an outsider in your party's parliamentary group. But now, in the wake of your partial success, even Peter Ramsauer, the parliamentary leader of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) party, is welcoming the court's decision. Do those who simply didn't have the courage to back the complaint now deserve to share in the victory?

The Brandenburg Gate in silhouette behind the EU flag: Germany's parliament is about to get a much bigger say in decision-making in Brussels.
AP

The Brandenburg Gate in silhouette behind the EU flag: Germany's parliament is about to get a much bigger say in decision-making in Brussels.

Peter Gauweiler: That's not at all the way I think about these things. I'm still digesting the decision. If there's praise coming from different quarters, I think that's great -- even if it's coming from my own party. I can only say that I feel that I was carrying out what I believe to be my duty as a parliamentarian.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: By strengthening Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag, doesn't the decision strengthen you, as well?

Gauweiler: Without a doubt. It's a very sweeping decision on the Lisbon Treaty as a whole. In 91 pages, the Federal Constitutional Court expressly held that the treaty and its accompanying law must conform to Germany's constitution, the so-called Basic Law, and that each element must be elaborated "to the constitutionally required extent." If you take out the jargon, what the justices were saying is that legislators still have a lot of work ahead of them.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Members of the Bundestag is now move forward to approve a new accompanying domestic law for the Lisbon Treaty by early September, and Germany's parliamentary elections take place just a few weeks later. Isn't that a fairly serious piece of work for the grand coalition government -- made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) -- to take up right smack in the middle of a campaign season?

Gauweiler: It's a Herculean task. But I would expressly warn against cobbling together a new accompanying law just to save face. The new law will have to be substantially different.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you provide an example?

Gauweiler: The (court) criticized the unconstitutional accompanying law for being too vaguely and imprecisely formulated -- just like the extremely general pact between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber, when in comes to collaborating on EU matters. The Federal Constitutional Court also held that Germany can't simply approve a measure in Brussels by having a minister or a ministry official raise his or her hand, as is stipulated in the new Lisbon Treaty. In the future, in order for something EU-related to get Germany's approval, it will first require legislative procedures -- and this will happen in quite a few individual cases.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does that mean that the German parliament will have to get more involved in EU matters than it already has been?

Gauweiler: Of course. The Bundestag is once again being empowered to do exactly what it -- as a legislative body -- was created to do. Karlsruhe has now decided in favor of something that is completely different than the nodding-through procedure that we've used for EU affairs up until now -- and sometimes things were added on in silence.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will this mean than German parliamentarians will be more involved in EU proceedings?

Gauweiler: Yes, and that's probably how things should also be in a democracy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Part of your challenge to the treaty had to do with whether the European Court of Justice would pair down the rights of the Federal Constitutional Court. What can we expect on that issue now?

Gauweiler: In its decision, the court interpreted Declaration No. 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets forth the decision-making authority of the European Court of Justice, and expressly clarified that when the European Union has legal acts that are at variance with German laws ...

SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... meaning, when the European Court of Justice makes decisions that overstep its authority ...

Gauweiler: ... then German citizens have the right to legal protection by the Federal Constitutional court -- even against EU regulations. Karlsruhe can rule that EU laws that go too far cannot be applied in Germany. For the citizens of Germany, that is a huge success.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Over the years, Germany's federal government has accused the European Court of Justice of overstepping its authority on a number of occasions. In light of that, do you think your success has also meant a victory for the government?

Gauweiler: You could see it that way. There's no doubt that Germany's justice minister has complained about the high-handedness of the European Court of Justice on several occasions.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you see any other successes?

Gauweiler: Particularly in the area of criminal law. On this issue, Karlsruhe clarified that criminal law belongs to the most immediate areas of the sovereignty of a nation-state and that, when it comes to this matter, German lawmakers must retain the most immediate control. In the European Court of Justice's recent decision on profiling and mining computer data, which just came down several weeks ago, the European Court of Justice claimed that its jurisdiction included issues that are not spelled out in treaties. In the future, that will no longer be the final word -- and individuals can fight against such decisions in Karlsruhe. It's also significant that Karlsruhe made clear statements about referendums -- should people one day support the idea of a federal European state.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So, the court was looking far into the future?

Gauweiler: Yes. People who want to establish Europe as a nation will now know for sure that they will first need to amend Article 146 of Germany's constitution. It expressly states that the constitution loses its validity and a new constitution will take effect after the German people have had a chance to make that decision in a free election.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: As people are working out the new accompanying law, do you think Merkel's government will really respond to Karlsruhe's decision?

Gauweiler: I really hope so. We had disastrous turnout for the most recent European elections; more than half of the population just stayed at home. Both parties (the CDU and the SPD) would have to be blind not to have seen what was going on. If not, in the future, they will rob themselves of all credibility and of an opportunity to help shape affairs.

Interview conducted by Severin Weiland

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