German court rules Merkel did not inform MPs on ESM

 

THE CONSTITUTIONAL court in Germany has reprimanded chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for keeping the Bundestag in the dark about its response to the euro zone crisis.

The court in Karlsruhe agreed with a complaint by the opposition Green Party that the government had breached its constitutional obligation to inform MPs early and in depth about the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund and“Euro plus” competitiveness rules.

As a result, MPs were effectively presented with a fait accompli and unable to exercise their constitutional right to exert “early and effective influence” on the decision-making process and eventual outcome.

Yesterday’s ruling has no immediate effect on the ESM or fiscal treaty ahead of a Bundestag ratification vote next week.

The government had argued that it was both impractical and risky to bring in parliament too early on complicated, confidential negotiations between EU member states.

Court president Andreas Voßkuhle agreed that confidentiality was an important consideration, but not as important as the Bundestag’s constitutionally guaranteed right to “participate in matters concerning the European Union” and be informed “comprehensively and at the earliest possible time”.

“Democracy has its price but trying to cut corners could end up very expensive indeed,” he said.

The government argued that constitutional provisions to inform the Bundestag on European affairs did not apply to the ESM and the so-called “six pack” competitiveness rules as they are not strictly part of European treaties.

The court dismissed this argument, saying both were legal “hybrids” that impinged enough on European law to be treated in an equivalent fashion.

In the case of the ESM, the court found the government breached the constitution by not passing on to the Bundestag until mid-May 2011 ESM draft legislation it had received two months earlier.

Yesterday’s ruling is the latest in a series of setbacks for the government in its approach to the euro zone crisis. Even before Bundestag ratification of the ESM next week, several challenges await.

Although the court did not call a halt to the vote, it described its verdict as another “building block” in how it believed Germany’s national parliament should assist the government in steering European policy.

Yesterday’s ruling tightens the reins on the government further, spelling out precisely when it is obliged to inform MPs: after cabinet has made up its mind and “before [it] has agreed any binding statements on EU legislative acts and intergovernmental agreements”.