The World from Berlin 'Brussels Is No Longer Just a Side Dish'

Germany's highest court has said "yes" to the Lisbon Treaty, a piece of legislation aimed at bringing EU member states even closer together. Although the decision delays ratification, German commentators argue the conditions imposed could reduce Europe's democratic deficiencies.


On Tuesday, Germany's highest court ruled on the constitutionality of the Lisbon Treaty, an agreement aimed at streamlining various functions of the European Union. So far 23 out of 27 countries have ratified the treaty which would give the EU a full-time president, a foreign minister and a diplomatic service. The majority of EU leaders hope to see the treaty go into effect by Jan. 1, 2010.

The German constitution and the Lisbon Treaty: Germany's parliament will soon have a far greater say in the decisions the country's chancellor and ministers make in Brussels.
DPA

The German constitution and the Lisbon Treaty: Germany's parliament will soon have a far greater say in the decisions the country's chancellor and ministers make in Brussels.

The court ruled that, yes, the Lisbon Treaty is basically compatible with German law and therefore can eventually be ratified. But before it can be, further legislation must be introduced in Germany that would strengthen the national parliament's involvement in any major decision-making in Brussels.

The treaty's opponents in Germany, a political minority, claimed that the Lisbon Treaty was undemocratic, that it would strip too much power from the individual EU member states and claimed that, at its core, it is just a repackaged version of the defunct European constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty has also proven difficult in a handful of other EU counties. In a national referendum held last year, Irish voters rejected the treaty; they will vote on it again later this year after getting guarantees that it will not affect issues such as abortion and military neutrality. Although the parliaments of Poland and the Czech Republic have approved Lisbon, the treaty still hasn't been signed by their euro-skeptic presidents, who appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to see what happens in Germany and Ireland.

Surveys say that most Germans would like a referendum of their own on the issue. Instead they got a coalition of 50 German members of parliament -- some from the right, including prime challenger Peter Gauweiler of the conservative Christian Social Union in Bavaria, but mostly from the far left -- asking Germany's Constitutional Court, based in the western city of Karlsruhe, to look at whether the treaty is actually compatible with the country's own law.

While most local commentators praised Tuesday's verdict, it seemed that Germany's most eminent judges didn't provide a particularly clear example to follow. Editorialists at the country's leading national newspapers say the verdict can best be described as a meaningful "Yes. But." Ultimately, the ruling appears to be meeting approval in both the pro- and anti-Lisbon camps. Those in favor point out it is a victory that it didn't get rejected and euro-skeptics are pleased by the new limits it imposes on the EU and the fact that ratification could still be months away.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The verdict sounds a little bit American. It's: 'Yes, we can.' Yes, we can build Europe. Yes, we can make European integration happen. Yes, we can make Europe stronger. But we can only do all this if we keep the principles of democracy in mind, because they represent the people's will. And that's the basic message of this major verdict from Karlsruhe."

"The verdict doesn't moan about European integration. It doesn't point out all the problems. Instead it has suggestions for the future."

"It also takes the German parliament to task. German politicians will need to become involved with every new law, no matter how small. The excuse: 'Oh, those people in Brussels did it,' just won't fly anymore. And with this decision European integration becomes part of Germany's domestic politics. Brussels is no longer just a side dish but a main course and local politicians are going to have to come to grips with what happens there."

"This spectacularly clever verdict artfully says that European integration will not be stopped -- but it will be making a little detour through Germany, where it will benefit from some added democracy. In this way a dialogue is starting between Berlin and Brussels. It's going to take some time to implement but it's also going to fend off apathy about the EU."

"As long as the constitution remains valid, (and it can only be superseded by a national referendum) Karlsruhe is likely to have the last word on issues of jurisprudence and the constitution -- even over the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. This could cause some tension and conflict. But anything is better than apathy."

"And of course, one cannot praise the verdict without praising the man who made it happen: Peter Gauweiler. In this case, the (conservative) Christian Social Union party maverick and his allies from across the political spectrum have done democracy a good turn."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"This is the end of European integration as we know it -- Germany will support the Lisbon Treaty but only under strict conditions. And anyone who wants to found a European state must now ask for the permission of the German people."

"The national government is going to be a lot more tied up with Brussels in the future. And how this works out in reality, only time will tell. Certainly, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe is getting back into the game. The judges had actually already reserved the last word for themselves 16 years ago in the Maastricht verdict (in which the German Constitutional Court considered the Maastricht Treaty, which originally formed the European Union and laid the foundations for the euro common currency). But really that was just theory. It's only now that it will be put into practice."

"The court in Karlsruhe is dreaming if they think there are only going to be a few cases for them to work on. Issues are lining up for adjudication and there will be more. Ageism, abortion, euthanasia, torture. But generally, the message is loud and clear: We wear the pants."

"Also interesting is the fact that this verdict is the result of a case brought by a combination of far right and far left politicians. The grand coalition (Angela Merkel's right-left government) seems to have slept through most of the current European action. Maybe that's why alarm bells are ringing so loudly."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"This verdict will not stop the EU integration bandwagon but it might sabotage the engine a little bit. It's a pragmatic verdict, albeit one characterized by mistrust. European integration must happen -- it is the only way for the EU to become stronger politically. But there are plenty of concerns about German nationhood, sovereignty and democracy. And the judges in Karlsruhe seem to see more problems than opportunities in it. In that way this is actually a very German verdict."

"It's also a verdict that matches the moods of other nations. The danger is that courts in other countries follow Karlsruhe's example and make themselves overseers of the EU too. They need to be aware that too much sand in the motor can stop even the most robust engine."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"It is customary in Germany to whine about the fact that our Constitutional Court has too much power. But now is a good time to compliment them. This decision is groundbreaking."

"Still, the fact that politicians are full of praise for this decision isn't without hypocrisy. Because there are huge problems with the process of European integration. While the political class thinks the process is unstoppable, they also think the topic is too sensitive to discuss openly ... which means that European integration has had a whiff of the undemocratic about it."

"The verdict from Karlsruhe is a good remedy for that. It helps heal old wounds sustained by Europe enthusiasts and Eurocrats. In a lather about integration, they forget that this continent also requires a good balance between the EU Parliament and national governments."

"All in all, this is good federal policy. It says that European integration should not take away from sovereignty of a democratic German state. When it comes to basic democracy, the Karlsruhe verdict should be seen as a healthy move."

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