Merkel’s hands tied as German court ruling blocks further EU integration

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The European Parliament and member states have given the green light to the joint declaration on the Conference of the Future of Europe, negotiated under the aegis of Portugal’s presidency of the Council of the EU. The proposed declaration, a four-page document presented to the ambassadors of the 27 member states in Brussels, was agreed on Wednesday at a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper), before being discussed by the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents. After a long impasse regarding the holding of this event aimed at EU citizens, which was originally meant to start in May 2020 but was postponed due to coronavirus and the different positions taken by the EU institutions, the Portuguese presidency came up with a new format.

The conference will now begin in May under the joint presidency of Ursula von der Leyen, David Sasssoli and António Costa as President-in-office of the EU Council until the end of June, when he would be replaced by the Prime Minister of Slovenia, which succeeds Portugal as holder of the presidency on July 1.

The Conference on the Future of Europe is a proposal of the European Commission and the European Parliament, announced in 2019 and spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Its objective is to look at the medium to long term future of the EU and what reforms should be made to its policies and institutions.

It is intended that the Conference should involve citizens, including a significant role for young people, civil society, and European institutions as equal partners and last for two years.

While it then appears Brussels is headed towards more integration and reforms, German lawyer and former MP Dr Peter Gauweiler has suggested in an exclusive interview with that not much can actually be done.

Dr Gauweiler argued German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Macron actually have their hands tied when it comes to Europe.

In 2009, the bloc agreed to the Lisbon Treaty, sparking a widespread debate in many European countries, including Germany – which is usually seen as Europe’s anchor.

Dr Gauweiler and a number of left-wing deputies from Die Linke challenged the ratification of the Treaty before the Constitutional Court, saying that the proposed reforms of the EU would have undermined the independence of the German parliament and clashed with the German Constitution.

On June 30, 2009, the German Constitutional Court delivered its verdict stating that the Lisbon Treaty complied with German Basic Law.

However, the court also produced an unyielding defence of national sovereignty, which arguably put an end to the EU’s march towards statehood.

The German judges declared the EU is “an association of sovereign national states” that derives its democratic legitimacy from the member states and not from the European Parliament.

They also stated that Germany’s Basic Law, or constitution, promotes peaceful co-operation within the EU and the United Nations, but this is not “tantamount to submission to alien powers”.

On the contrary: the Basic Law denies the German government the power “to abandon the right to self-determination of the German people”, which they exercise by voting for their own parliament, which in turn must not be denuded of powers because otherwise German democracy would become meaningless.

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The judges added that measures of European integration “must, in principle, be revocable”, and declare that they themselves have the right to safeguard “the inviolable core content” of the German constitution: a process that “can result in Community law or Union law being declared inapplicable in Germany”.

In a 2009 Telegraph report, British journalist Andrew Gimson emphasised that the judgement did not actually prevent the German government from endorsing Lisbon, but the court insisted, as a condition of ratification, that certain measures had to be taken to strengthen the position of the German parliament.

He wrote: “Jan Techau, a brilliant young analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations, questions whether the court will ever follow words with deeds: ‘The court has always barked but it has never bitten’.

“Mr Techau points out that ‘Germany has traditionally been very integrationist’ and believes that ‘the German people are not generally eurosceptic.’”

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However, Mr Gimson noted the court’s verdict still induced apoplexy in the surviving members of the West German political class that committed itself to European integration.

Prof Michael Stürmer, who from 1981 was an adviser to Helmut Kohl on European policy, told the publication: “[The judgement] is an absolutely irresponsible decision.

“There will be a new generation without a sense of history, without that great project of Europe – it’s bizarre and it’s sad.”

Moreover, according to Prof Stürmer, the judgement meant that for the next 10 or 20 years, no German government “can really move forward on Europe” and “there cannot be a successor treaty to Lisbon”.

When asked whether he agreed with Prof Stürmer, Dr Gauweiler told “Of course Merkel’s hands are tied.

“Because in Germany the decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court have legal force.”

According to him, Mr Macron would face something similar if he insisted on deeper integration.

He added: “I do believe so, because we mustn’t forget that the citizens in France rejected the so-called European constitution in a referendum.”

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