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13th Aug 2022

Danish PM sued over Lisbon Treaty

  • Irish PM Brian Cowen (l) could tell Lokke Rasmussen (r) a thing or two about EU treaty referendums (Photo: Council of European Union)

The Danish Supreme Court on Tuesday (11 January) ruled admissible a complaint filed by 28 citizens who are trying to sue Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen for having adopted the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum.

In a surprising ruling, the country's top constitutional judges allowed the plaintiffs to pursue their case against Mr Rasmussen for breach of the constitution. The Supreme Court found that the 28 plaintiffs have a "requisite legal interest in having their claims verified."

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The group of professors, actors, writers and euro-sceptic politicians mounting the constitutional challenge argues that the Lisbon Treaty does indeed hand over parts of national sovereignty to Brussels and therefore a referendum should have taken place.

It is unclear what would happen if they win. The plaintiffs have far-fetched hopes it could lead to the undoing of the treaty itself, but in any case the PM would not face any personal repercussions.

The constitutional challenge is not a first: in 1996, a similar case was brought to the court by a group of citizens claiming the Maastricht Treaty was in breach of the Danish constitution. The government tried to block the case, but it was accepted by the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, however, lost the case in the end, but won certain amendments similar to the German Constitutional Court.

"It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will find the whole treaty in breach of the Danish Constitution, but just like in the German case, they will probably ask for some provisions in the way it's implemented," Danish MEP Soren Bo Sondergaard from the People's Movement against the EU told this website.

The pending case may however complicate the ratification of a further treaty change, concerning the establishment of a permanent EU bailout mechanism, the Danish MEP speculates. It could also block efforts by the current government to hold a referendum on scrapping the Danish opt-outs from the EU treaties: on accession to the eurozone, on participation in the common defence policy and on justice and home affairs co-operation.

"Nothing will happen to the politicians," Mr Sondergaard noted, "as we don't have a tradition of prosecuting politicians for their votes."

As for Mr Lokke Rasmussen, he "took note" of the ruling but maintained his position that the Danish Parliament did not breach the Constitution when approving the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum. "I don't think there should be any consequence to this," the prime minister said.

When the Lisbon Treaty was first signed, in 2007, then-prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the parliament would have to vote on it, but there was no need for a referendum because no sovereignty was relinquished.

The mood among EU leaders at the time was to avoid referendums, after the initial Constitutional Treaty was rejected by a popular poll both in France and the Netherlands.

All governments used the "no sovereignty transfer" argument to avoid a referendum, except for the Irish one. Initially, in 2008, the Irish people rejected the EU treaty, but one year later, after intense lobbying both the No and the Yes camps and top-level assurances that there will be no interference in the country's social and fiscal laws, a second referendum was held, approving the Lisbon Treaty.

Back in 2009 when he was leader of the opposition, British Prime Minister David Cameron spearheaded attacks on the Labour government to hold a referendum on the Lisbon pact. Mr Cameron is currently walking a thin line in ensuring that no referendum is being held on the latest EU treaty change, approved by all 27 heads of state in December, concerning a permanent EU bailout mechanism.

A bill is being debated on Tuesday in the British Parliament proposing that any "significant" EU treaty changes must be approved by a national referendum in the future. The term "significant" implies that any "non significant" changes, such as the bailout mechanism, could pass without a referendum - a distinction loathed by Conservative eurosceptic hard-liners.

Sovereignty issues were also a hurdle for the ratification in the Czech Republic and Poland and a constant concern in Germany, where several constitutional challenges have been brought. None of them were able to block the ratification of the treaty, however.

Germany's Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe managed to box through enhanced powers for the national parliament in EU matters as it deemed that the European Parliament is not "democratically elected."

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