Germany: Karlsruhe — the court that could bury the euro
10 July 2012
As the German constitutional court in Karlsruhe sits down to examine the controversial fiscal compact, Berlin fears that it could decide to scupper the entire eurozone bailout. But this isn’t only about Europe, writes Der Spiegel, there’s also a power struggle going on between the executive and the judiciary.
It isn't often that German Chancellor Angela Merkel shows her displeasure at something. One of the chancellor's strengths is that she is able to keep her emotions in check, which explains why her fellow party members were so surprised when the subject of Germany's Federal Constitutional Court was raised in a meeting of the executive committee of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) two weeks ago.
The judges had just admonished Merkel for disregarding the rights of the parliament during efforts to rescue the euro. It was already the second ruling in this vein this year. Criticism of Germany's highest court is generally viewed as inappropriate in political circles, but this time the chancellor had had enough.
How, she asked, could she pursue reasonable policies if she had to reveal her negotiating tactics before every meeting with a European leader? "This takes me to my limit," Merkel complained, to a murmur of approval from her fellow CDU members. They quickly realized that the chancellor views the judges as unrealistic law professors with no understanding whatsoever of the challenges of everyday politics.
Keeping the government in check
Things have never been easy between Berlin and the Karlsruhe-based court. The Federal Constitutional Court was set up in 1951 to ensure that the state's institutions complied with the constitution of the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany. Since then, government politicians have often viewed the court as a gadfly that can declare laws invalid with the stroke of a pen. A sentence attributed to the late Social Democratic Party politician Herbert Wehner has become legendary: "We won't allow the assholes in Karlsruhe to destroy our policies."
It's in the nature of things that there is occasionally disagreement between the court and the political world. The court's job is to ensure that the government sticks to the guidelines laid down in the German constitution. Politicians, on the other hand, don't appreciate it when the court portrays them as underhanded rogues who bend the constitution to conform to their backroom deals. It also doesn't help matters that the court's judges generally enjoy a level of popularity that many politicians can only dream of.
Since the eruption of the euro crisis, however, there has been more at stake than the usual vanities. If the court's landmark ruling on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty is also taken into account, the judges in their trademark red robes have already crossed Merkel three times in the last few years. The Karlsruhe decisions read like indictments of a chancellor who, in the judges' opinion, is ignoring the basic rules of democracy with her bailout policies.
Citizens applaud them for their decisions, and it is of course the judges' job to keep the executive in check when necessary. There are those in Berlin, however, who increasingly suspect that the court is in league with those populists and euroskeptics who are fundamentally opposed to the project of European integration. Read article in full at Spiegel Online International...
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan