Germany’s top court to examine claims against EU treaty

9th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Plaintiffs argue that the Lisbon Treaty calls into question the principle of democracy, as it undermines the German parliament.

Berlin -- Germany's top court will soon consider claims that the European Union's Lisbon Treaty to streamline decision-making is unconstitutional, potentially stopping the landmark reform in its tracks.

The Federal Constitutional Court has allotted two days for the hearings beginning on Tuesday -- an extremely rare step that the plaintiffs say indicates that the court is taking the case very seriously.

The complaint has been lodged by conservative member of parliament, Peter Gauweiler, and a group of deputies from left-wing 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 written evidence to the court, Gauweiler uses the hypothetical example of a German environment minister seeking to push through a ban on conventional light bulbs.

"The environment minister fails in the German parliament to have light bulbs banned in Germany as they are harmful to the environment," Gauweiler wrote. "Next, he brings the initiative to the European Council where it is supported by ministers from other countries and becomes a European Commission directive."

This means the directive must be incorporated into German law despite being rejected in the German parliament, Gauweiler said.

Although Germany's parliament has approved the treaty and the president has signed it, the final step needed to complete ratification process -- handing over the documents in Rome -- has been put on ice pending the hearings.

The court's ruling is expected in two or three months, meaning the fate of the EU Treaty, which supporters say will expedite decision-making in the bloc, will continue to hang in the balance.

Any further delay to the ratification would come as a major blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has campaigned vigorously for the treaty.

Indicating how seriously Merkel is taking the court hearing, two senior ministers -- Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble will on Tuesday argue the government's case.

The Lisbon Treaty, which must be ratified by all 27 EU countries to come into force, remains bogged down in Ireland, the Czech Republic and Poland, as well as in Germany.

Irish voters rejected the treaty in a referendum last June by 53 percent to 47. They are set to vote again on the document later this year, after receiving concessions from the EU on issues of special concern to Ireland.

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski has said he will only sign the treaty if this second referendum in Ireland -- the only country to hold a popular vote on the Treaty -- results in a "yes" vote.

The Czech parliament's lower house will vote on the treaty on February 17. Even if this hurdle is cleared, the country's Euroskeptic President Vaclav Klaus has vowed to delay signing the Treaty for as long as possible.

The Czech Republic currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.

Tuesday's hearing may not be the last word on the matter in Germany. Even if the judges throw out the case, a second complaint was lodged at the court in January, threatening to delay ratification even further.

This legal action, running to over 200 pages, has been drawn up by, amongst others, Franz Ludwig Graf Stauffenberg, son of would-be Hitler assassin Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and a former member of the European Parliament.

Richard Carter/AFP/Expatica

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