Wednesday

25th Apr 2018

Top German judge questions democratic innovations to EU treaty

Germany's most senior judge has suggested that while democracy has been strengthened in the EU's new treaty, a key innovation involving national parliaments does not go far enough and member states have no guarantee that EU powers will not continue to grow.

Professor Hans-Juergen Papier, president of Germany's constitutional court, points out that the principle of democracy "is for the first time dignified with its own section in the treaty."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But speaking to an audience in Berlin's Humboldt University last week, the judge picked holes in the one of the main democratic improvements contained in the treaty - the role given to national parliaments to scrutinise proposed EU laws and say whether they think the EU is acting in an area where action would better be taken at member state or regional level, the so-called subsidarity principle.

Under the treaty rules, MPs are sent legislative proposals by the commission for examination. If they think the EU should not be acting in this area they have eight weeks to notify the commission, which is not bound to act.

If one third of national parliaments get together to complain about an EU law, it must be reviewed and the commission must give reasons if it intends to keep the law. The European Court of Justice may also be called on by member states to look into whether the subsidiarity principle is being upheld.

Professor Papier points out that the sheer number of laws coming from Brussels - there were 18,167 regulations and 750 directives between 1998 and 2004 - means that the MPs' early warning system is "somewhat impractible."

He also notes that the eight week deadline for delivering an opinion on an EU law considered as going too far from parliament is likely to prove too short in practice, while the numerous parliament opinions needed to get a law reviewed would require "considerable international coordination" in the two month timeframe.

The constitutional law expert also says it remains unclear whether the European Court of Justice, when presented with a case will stick to looking "purely at the verification of the subsidiarity question" or whether whether the EU has competence in the particular area.

According to Professor Papier, the dynamics of subsidiarity are connected to the "ever closer" union principle meaning that there is "from the point of view of member states no fixed limit guaranteed to the creeping transfer of competences [to EU level]."

Referring to the "welcome" fact that the EU's charter of fundamental rights is a binding part of the new treaty, the judge nevertheless the says that London and Warsaw's decision to opt out of the charter "reveals the deeply rooted mistrust of a union and a court" that pulls "ever more competences to it."

He says that at first glance this mistrust appears "misplaced" because the charter specifies that it only applies to EU law.

"But at second glance, the reservations of Poland and the United Kingdom cannot be dismissed fully out of hand," says Professor Papier referring to EU case law.

In 2005, the EU's highest court ruled that a national law on the possibility of limiting the work contracts of older people did not only break the EU's non-discrimination law but also the general legal principle of non-discrimination.

Professor Papier points out that the time period for implementing the EU non-discrimination law had not yet run out for member states so the court had used " the general legal principle of community law."

According to later statements by an attorney general of the European court of justice, quoted by the judge, the principle was less derived from legal texts but from a "platonic legal heaven," with a vagueness concerning both their content and their actual existence.

Secrecy of VW fraud report 'unacceptable', says MEP

Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala won a trailblazing court case two decades ago for the right of EU citizens to receive 'partial access' to documents. Now she says it is "outrageous" the European Investment Bank is refusing to release Volkswagen documents.

Investigation

MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes

MEPs are using so-called 'friendship groups' to cater to foreign governments without oversight and little public scrutiny. Initially set up to promote cultural exchanges, some have become lobbying platforms to push state views from governments with poor human rights records.

Getting secret EU trilogue documents: a case study

On Thursday, the European Parliament will vote on a political deal on organic farming, following 19 months of behind-closed-doors negotiations. EUobserver here details a five-month odyssey to get access to the secret documents that led to the deal.

News in Brief

  1. Far-right attack migrants on Greek island
  2. Merkel defends accepting UN refugees
  3. EU commissioner plans Malta 'money laundering' inspection
  4. Survey: Half of high polluting farms receive CAP subsidies
  5. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  6. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  7. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  8. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  3. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  4. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  6. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  7. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  8. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight

Latest News

  1. EU in race to set global AI ethics standards
  2. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  3. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ
  4. How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?
  5. MEPs tell Chinese ambassador of concerns on trade
  6. Greenland votes with eye on independence
  7. EU court delivers blow to anti-abortion activists
  8. Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  3. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  7. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  8. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  9. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  10. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  11. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations