EU holds breath as German court rules on Lisbon Treaty
The Federal Constitutional Court hands down its judgement and a ruling against the Treaty -- designed to streamline decision-making in the EU -- would come as an embarrassing setback to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has campaigned vigorously for the reforms.
Berlin -- Germany's top court will on Tuesday decide whether the European Union's proposed Lisbon Treaty breaches the country's constitution and could potentially halt the landmark reform in its tracks.
The Federal Constitutional Court hands down its judgement at 10 am (0800 GMT) and a ruling against the Treaty -- designed to streamline decision-making in the EU -- would come as an embarrassing setback to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has campaigned vigorously for the reforms.
Although Germany's parliament has approved the Treaty, the president, Horst Koehler, has not signed it -- the final step needed to complete its ratification -- pending the court's decision.
The judges will consider complaints lodged by conservative member of parliament, Peter Gauweiler, and a group of deputies from the far-left political party Die Linke.
They argue that the proposed treaty calls into question the principle of democracy -- a cornerstone of Germany's constitution -- as it undermines the Bundestag, the country's parliament.
In a sign that Merkel is taking the case very seriously, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble were despatched in February to give statements in favour of the Treaty at a court hearing.
The ministers dismissed the idea that the Treaty makes the EU less democratic.
"Exactly the opposite is the case: the Treaty of Lisbon expressly strengthens the democratic fundamentals of the European Union," Steinmeier told the court.
For his part, Schaeuble insisted the document "does not harm the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany."
While a rejection of the Treaty would be a surprise, several commentators have noted that, during the hearing, many of the judges on the panel expressed doubts that the proposed reforms would strengthen democracy in Germany.
And the judges' ruling will be awaited with bated breath not just in Berlin but also in Brussels where the decision is seen as one of the last stumbling blocks in the long and painful ratification process of the Treaty.
Ireland, which plunged the EU into crisis by rejecting Lisbon in a referendum last year, is poised to vote again in October after receiving guarantees the Treaty would not affect issues close to Irish voters, such as military neutrality and abortion.
Following the shock 53-47 percent vote against the reforms, opinion has swung in favour of the Treaty as the global financial crisis has hit the former "Celtic Tiger" economy harder than most.
Another hurdle sits in Prague in the shape of the Czech Republic's eurosceptic president Vaclav Klaus who said last week he would wait until the last possible moment to sign the Treaty.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has also been reluctant to sign the text, despite its endorsement by the Polish parliament, saying he would wait for the Irish vote and then decide.
And fears are growing in Brussels that Britain could yet torpedo the Treaty if, as polls suggest, the eurosceptic Conservative party comes to power in elections that must be held before June 2010.
Conservative leader David Cameron has vowed to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if he becomes Prime Minister, with surveys indicating that Britain would vote decisively against it.
Supporters of the Treaty -- which has been ratified in the vast majority of the 27 member states -- insist the reforms are vital to ensure the smooth running of the enlarged union and boost Europe's voice on the world stage.
Opponents say the Treaty is the latest in a series of power grabs by Brussels, which seeks to pull influence away from national capitals with the aim of creating a federalist superstate.