Germany to Lisbon

Wed, Sep 9, 2009, 01:00

STEP BY step, painfully slowly it seems, the Lisbon Treaty is struggling across the finish line to ratification. Yesterday, responding to a ruling by the country’s constitutional court in June, Germany’s lower house, the Bundestag, importantly approved by 446 to 46 legal changes that reinforce domestic parliamentary and court supervision over European Union legislation. Specifically, the government will now be required to inform parliament “thoroughly and as early as possible” about EU business and give parliament the right to express an official view on any EU matter the government discusses in Brussels.

Yesterday’s decision will be followed on September 18th by one in the Bundesrat, where the country’s Länder, or states, are represented, although observers say that the political deal has already been done there, and it should pass without difficulty. Both houses have already approved the treaty itself which is unaffected by the domestic procedural changes enacted yesterday, and so President Horst Köhler will then be able to sign the ratification Bill into law ahead of the German election on September 27th.

Germany’s ratification will leave Ireland substantially master of Lisbon’s fate, as both Eurosceptic presidents of the Czech Republic and Poland, Vaclav Klaus and Lech Kaczynski, have promised to sign the treaty, already duly approved by both their respective parliaments, once Ireland does so.

Yet, while Germany’s new legislation may only have domestic legal application, the court ruling which prompted it has a substantially wider significance, not least to the Irish Lisbon debate. The constitutional court found unanimously against the arguments made by Lisbon Treaty opponents both in Germany and Ireland that it creates a fundamentally new Europe-wide super-state, substantially diminishing the sovereignty of member states. “The German constitution permits transfer of sovereign powers to an interstate body like the EU, but does not permit entry to a European federal state,” the court’s vice-president Andreas Vosskuhle said. “The treaty of Lisbon changes nothing in that the Bundestag remains the representative organ of the German people.”

Other elements of the ruling also have a resonance for the debate here. “The wording . . . does not oblige member states to provide national armed forces for European Union military deployments,” the judges ruled. And they added that member states retain control of crucial competences from criminal law to tax law.