Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Referendum times

Much has been made of Merkel's difficulties in financing EU bailouts, with the intervention of the German constitutional court. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has been hot on the case, reporting how the court is blocking further moves to surrender fiscal powers to the EU, on the back of a judgement in early September.

However, very much in the character of a mountain meeting an immovable object, there was a whisper, mid-month that Merkel was looking to overhaul the German constitution, with a view to emasculating the powers of the constitutional court.

This story is now gathering momentum, if not substance, with a further report in Spiegel, suggesting that the court is at risk of losing its jurisdiction over European issues.

The federal government and the court, we are told, are locked in one of their biggest power struggles to date. One judge at the court has described it as a "latent constitutional crisis." The government, he says, is trying to free itself of the restraints imposed on it by the constitution, and by the court.

The president of the court, Andreas Vossk├╝hle, has expressed it a little more cautiously. The perception of his court is at present, he said "ambivalent in parts", thus leaving open the tantalising question of how serious this challenge actually is.

The process entails transferring more sovereign rights to the EU - and it would mean amending Germany's constitution. This could either be accomplished under Article 23, requiring a two-thirds majority in Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag, as well as the Bundesrat - or, as a more challenging alternative, under Article 146 of the constitution.

Article 146 is a tool that allows for the drafting of a new constitution following a national referendum, and it is this which is thought necessary to achieve the necessary changes, especially as the constitutional judges in Karlsruhe have now made it clear on a number of occasions that the constitution leaves little leeway to relinquish more power to Brussels.

At present, there is no firm idea when this article might be invoked, although some are talking of a referendum in the autumn of 2013. By that time, of course, it will be questionable as to whether there will be a euro worth saving, which is the whole purpose of the exercise.