Ausgabe 28/2009

Germany's Lisbon Treaty Ruling Brussels Put Firmly in the Back Seat


Part 3: EU Supporters Are in for a Bumpy Ride

"The European train is no longer headed toward an arbitrary destination with no stops along the way," says former constitutional judge Paul Kirchhof, adding that the court has marked the Lisbon Treaty as a "clear terminus." There will be "no European state under the provisions of the German constitution." And Schorkopf summarizes the ruling in one sentence: "The European Union is a contract-based association of sovereign states, and as such, takes a political back seat."

And with Germany in the front seat, EU supporters are in for a bumpy ride. No matter what the representatives of the Berlin government decide at the Council of Ministers in Brussels, their decisions will be subjected to three possible tests back home. First, the court wants to ensure that the EU does not overstep its contractual competences. Second, the judges intend to enforce the "subsidiary principal" enshrined in EU law, which largely prohibits Brussels from taking action if a member state can handle the issues in question just as effectively on its own. Third, the judges now reserve the right to conduct an "identity check," in other words, to test whether Germany still performs the functions that the Constitutional Court itself has defined as national tasks of government.

In order to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty will be treated in future as the Karlsruhe Treaty, the court has submitted a highly unusual request to the Bundestag to pass a new trial law. This could allow every citizen to file a special EU suit with the German Constitutional Court against unpopular European regulations and standards.

Given the new severity on European issues in Karlsruhe, such a procedure could make it almost impossible for Berlin to pursue its own European policy. No matter what German representatives agree to in Brussels, they will now always run the risk of receiving a phone call from Karlsruhe because a clever lawyer like Gauweiler has filed a complaint. This would create an untenable situation for the other 26 member states on the Council.

Limiting Berlin's Highhandedness

At the same time, however, by more strongly tying the Germans to the political body in Brussels, the court has limited the highhandedness of the German government, which has all too often pushed through political goals that were difficult to achieve back home by going behind the back or against the will of the Bundestag. One example that comes to mind is a statement by the former Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement, a member of the Social Democrats, who voted in favor of an EU software patent guideline in 2005, overriding an explicit decision on the matter by the vast majority of the Bundestag. He said that the will of the German parliament "could not be conveyed internationally." And the latest violation of the constitutional principles of data self-determination, namely data retention, was also pushed through by the German government, via Brussels, and against the will of the Bundestag.

The European Union directive, by which all European member states must oblige their telecommunications companies to retain data on their customers' traffic, will presumably be the first test case for the new Karlsruhe rules. The constitutionally guaranteed protection of private space is one of the areas that the court has placed within the context of national identity. And there would be no need to even file a new lawsuit against the directive. After all, a number of constitutional complaints against data retention have been awaiting a decision from Karlsruhe for quite some time.

The judges have never before openly come out against an EU directive. But there's a first time for everything.


Translated from the German by Paul Cohen


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