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26th Feb 2024

German debate on EU decision-making powers heats up

  • How much say should Germany's parliament have over EU decisions' (Photo: Torkil Sørensen/norden.org)

Germany's debate on how much national say there should be over further EU integration is intensifying two weeks after the country's constitutional court handed down a significant judgement on the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

The judgement was initially greeted with relief by the pro-integration camp as it did not say the EU treaty was incompatible with the German constitution.

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But the 147-page ruling, now scoured by legal and constitutional experts, is causing strong discussion in political circles, just weeks before a new draft law incorporating the court's points is to be published.

Only after this law has been approved by parliament, may final ratification of the Lisbon Treaty - the signature by the German president - be completed.

The 30 June judgement said that parliament should have final say when the EU seeks to extend competences beyond what is foreseen in the Lisbon treaty.

The CSU, sister party of the governing Christian Democratic Union, fired the first shot in the debate after intensely discussing the issue over several days.

Its chief Horst Seehofer on Saturday (11 July) said his party wants parliament to have veto power on EU decisions. He said the parliament should be allowed to take a stance on certain issues and the government should be bound by it, but that parliament does not have to be asked for its opinion on every single EU decision.

"We want the EU to be able to function but it must also be democratically legitimised," said Mr Seehofer.

The CSU's position has been supported by the left wing Die Linke, which was one of the co-plaintiffs in the original court case arguing that German's democracy was being undermined.

Gregor Gysi, head of Die Linke, told Deutschland Funk that "the maximum" should be made out of the judgement, so that lower house and senate get as much co-powers as possible.

Tuesday (14 July) is set to be an important day for the Lisbon Treaty debate as chancellor Angela Merkel will attend a CSU convention to discuss the issue.

The regions, too

Other actors are also getting in on the discussion. The country's regions (Länder) have said they want a say on EU decisions. Wolfgang Reinhart, head of the Europe committee in the senate and leader of a working group on the regions, told the Sueddeutsche newspaper:

"We do not want the government to carry on doing what it wants in those areas where, according to the constitution, we have core competences."

He also suggested that it should have more say in EU decisions on family policy, criminal law and internal security when regional interests are affected, noting that if the new law following the court judgement is not watertight then others will also try and bring a case before the court.

The scope of the law is set to have strong repercussions for Berlin's room for manoeuvre in Brussels negotiations as well as on any steps for further integration in the EU, with Germany traditionally being the 'engine' behind EU cooperation.

The Austrian model?

German politicians are already looking to other member states where parliament has a say over EU decisions, such as Austria.

Austrian foreign minister Michael Spindelegger told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that "on important issues" he must consult with parliamentarians. "According to the law, their position can be legally binding," he said.

Austrian MPs receive all EU documents beforehand and can choose which themes they want to have a say on.

According to Mr Spindelegger, some lessons have been learned over the 14 years in which the system has been in place. As an example, he said that at the beginning the position taken by parliament was sometimes too narrow so that the minister had no scope for flexibility. This reduced the parliament's position rather than enhanced it, he indicated.

The minister said that now the parliament's opinions were normally formulated as recommendations giving Austrian politicians in Brussels flexibility so long as they follow certain important points or directions set by MPs.

"The formal binding [to parliament] and co-ordination of Austria's Europe policy is not a disadvantage. If a minister sets out good arguments, then the parliament will also follow the argumentation. That's democracy at work," Mr Spindelegger said.

A first draft of the law is due on 26 August with the whole process supposed to be wrapped up before the general elections on 27 September.

The extremely tight timetable is being made further difficult by the fact that politicians are now in election campaign mode. In addition, some of the law-makers supposed to take a leading role in forming the legislation have gone on holiday.

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