Germany's leading political parties reached an agreement on Tuesday on a law that will enable the country to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, which aims to streamline the administration of the 27-member European Union. Germany's highest court ruled in June that parliament could ratify the treaty, but only if it changed the language of an accompanying domestic law in order to require the Bundestag, the country's federal parliament, to take on a greater role in Germany's negotiations in Brussels.
The agreement came despite objections by the conservative Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, whose party members had sought 14 concessions in the legislation, including the right to hold national referenda on major EU decisions as well as the addition of a clause in the treaty stating that the Lisbon Treaty would only be valid according to the German Constitutional Court's interpretation of it. In addition, the CSU wanted provisions that would require the German government to conduct negotiations in Brussels based on the positions of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, the upper legislative chamber that represents the interests of Germany's 16 states. In the end, an agreement was reached without concessions to the CSU.
"The CSU's demands are now off the table," said Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary secretary for the center-left Social Democrats, who share power in government with the conservatives. He said his party had reached a "broad consensus" with the CDU, the Free Democrats and the Greens. Oppermann criticized the CSU for its demands, arguing that the referenda it was seeking would have been discriminatory and would have stoked resentments. Oppermann said neither his party nor other major political groups would tolerate that. If a referendum clause were included, it is unlikely EU accession candidate Turkey would become a member anytime in the foreseeable future.
The EU isn't usually a major issue in German federal election campaigns, but SPD officials are hoping to profit from the CSU's failed push to force greater restrictions on EU decision-making. It was the CSU's case against ratification of the Lisbon Treaty that led the Constitutional Court to order a greater role for parliament in EU decision-making.
The CSU had sought to have parliamentary positions on EU policy be binding for the government. The compromise legislation is expected to be put before a vote in the Bundestag on August 26 and Sept. 8, well before the German election. Shortly thereafter it will be put up for a vote in the Bundesrat on Sept. 18, with the treaty then going into effect in Germany by Oct. 1.
Norbert Röttgen, the CDU's parliamentary secretary, said that even with the new rules, Germany would still have plenty of negotiating wiggle room in Brussels. When German leaders head to the European capital, they must take the Bundestag's negotiating positions with them in their suitcases, but they are not legally binding. And that, he said, would enable Germany to preserve its status as a "motor for European integration."
The package of laws agreed on Tuesday includes one that stipulates that the Bundestag must approve any decision that would shift responsibility to the EU-level in any new areas. Another law states that members of parliament must be provided with better information regarding EU decisions and also be given the opportunity to express their positions. However, the laws stop short of requiring all EU decisions to go before a parliamentary vote -- instead there should be an "understanding" between parliament and the government. And in most domestic and foreign policy issues, the government won't be bound to parliament.
"There won't be a requirement that the Bundestag has to vote on every EU legal decision," Oppermann said.
'Euroskeptics Stand no Chance'
However, compromises have been made in the legislation. The position of German cities and municipalities vis-a-vis Brussels has been strengthened. And the government will also have to inform the Bundestag about negotiations on global trade agreements at the World Trade Organization.
"It was a tough fight," said Wolfgang Reinhart of the CDU, who as the state of Baden-Württemberg's Europe minister was in charge of negotiating the states' position. "The interests of (Germany's) states have been sufficiently addressed."
Hartmut Koschyk, who negotiated on behalf of the CSU, said his party didn't come out that badly in the end. "We don't feel like we're the losers," he said, "because all in all, we are strengthening the Bundestag's rights."
Matthias Groote, a member of the European Parliament representing Germany's Social Democrats, welcomed the decision. "The agreement between the SPD and CDU on the EU accompanying law is an important step that will enable the Lisbon Treaty to go into effect in Germany as soon as possible. I am happy we were able to reach an agreement and that this won't become an issue in the federal election. We have made clear to euroskeptics that they stand no chance."
At the end of June, Germany's Constitutional Court had ruled that the Lisbon Treaty could be ratified, but only if an accompanying law were passed that would require parliament and the Bundesrat to have a greater say in EU decision-making. The CSU's push for greater restrictions in recent weeks has angered other mainstream political parties and fuelled fears that Germany might not ratify Lisbon before Irish voters head to the polls on Oct. 2 for a second referendum on the issue in October. Ireland rejected Lisbon just over a year ago, but sentiment has since shifted -- partially as a result of the economic crisis. The Czech Republic and Poland must also still ratify the treaty.