Institutional Affairs

German constitutional court to decide on EU treaty complaint

10.03.08 @ 17:40

  1. By Honor Mahony
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Germany's highest court is to decide upon a complaint brought by a German MP against the EU's latest treaty.

Peter Gauweiler, who hails from the Christian Social Union (CSU) - part of the governing coalition, wants the country's constitutional court to decide on the legality of the Lisbon Treaty, currently undergoing ratification across the 27-member European Union.

"This treaty weakens democracy in European politics, especially national parliaments' right to have a say," Mr Gauweiler's lawyer told this week's edition of news magazine Focus.

The decision to bring a case to the court may mean that Germany does not approve the treaty in time for it to enter into force by the 1 January 2009 deadline agreed by EU leaders, with full ratification by all member states needed to bring the document into being.

The German parliament is due to ratify the treaty in May and is likely to approve it, however the final act of ratification requires the country's president, Horst Kohler, to sign off the document.

Mr Kohler may decide to wait for the court to reach a decision before putting his stamp under the treaty.

Formally, the president may decide to go ahead before the court has reached a verdict but this would be a politically difficult decision to take.

A similar scenario took place in Germany during the ratification of the EU constitution - the current treaty's similar-looking predecessor - but the process was stopped when French and Dutch voters rejected the constitution in referendums, effectively shelving the document.

The Irish vote

Meanwhile, another country in the ratification process that is set to provide for plenty of discussion is Ireland, the only member state to have a referendum.

Likely to take place on 5 June, the run-up to the small country's vote is to come under even more scrutiny since a bid to have a referendum in the UK was last week rejected by the House of Commons.

A leader in Saturday's edition of business daily the Financial Times noted that while in the UK "the chances of a plebiscite on Lisbon are now close to nil. The issue could be reopened if Ireland (...) votes it down."

Marc Mardell, the BBC's Europe editor, remarked on his blog last week that "while European politicians were most nervous about the prospect of a British referendum, an Irish "No" is not an impossibility."

Several of Britain's more eurosceptic newspapers commented that Ireland represents something of a 'last chance' for the treaty to be rejected.

Organisations in other countries are also galvanising themselves. Team, an umbrella organisation for eurosceptic organisations across the EU, sent out a press release over the weekend saying:

"Ireland's referendum probably represents the last chance to halt the centralising, undemocratic impetus of the EU."

Within Ireland itself, the population is perceived as being generally pro-European, while the government and the main political parties are in favour of the treaty.

But the fight ahead of the vote is already tough. A new group called Libertas is campaigning against the treaty on purely economic grounds, saying the document will make the EU less competitive affecting business-friendly Ireland.

This is a new approach and comes on top of other arguments, previously heard when Ireland was voting on the EU's Nice treaty, that the country's neutrality will be undermined.

In addition, ongoing investigations into the finances of prime minister Bertie Ahern by a tribunal and fears about an economic downturn may also affect the vote.

Last week, the government passed its referendum bill which, amongst other things, emphasizes that Ireland cannot take part in an EU defence policy.

So far the government has refused to name a date for the treaty referendum, with anti-treaty campaigners saying it is a political move designed to stifle debate.