Opinion

Legal action against Germany

Atalayar_Angela Merkel

There is an almost implicit admission among European public opinion that the powerful Germany is the undisputed leader of everything that happens in the European Union, be it major initiatives and projects, or those that are unpopular and require sacrifices, but which oblige the other members to comply with them, even if it means dragging their feet. This custom has ended up enshrining the habit of making what Germany says or dictates the law, even over and above what may be agreed in Brussels, either in the European Commission or in the European Parliament.

Not so long ago, as recently as last year, the German Constitutional Court ruled that a 2015 bond-buying programme by the European Central Bank was not in line with German law. The European Commission, then chaired by a Luxembourger and now by a German, considers that this decision of the German Constitutional Court caused a serious risk to the legal order of the European Union, so it has opened the corresponding dossier, requiring Germany to respond within two months.

The scale of the problem was described by Leuven University professor Geert van Calster on the pan-European news channel Euronews: "Clearly the message is to Germany: 'We take this seriously and we think that the way in which the German highest courts approach their relationship with EU law is a problem. I don't really think there is a solution other than for the European Court of Justice to insist that EU law stands above national law despite provisions in national constitutional provisions".

Indeed, all the EU's foundations shook when it was suggested that the German high court in Karlsruhe might have the last word on the latest EU decision, which finally opened the way for the EU to borrow to set up its gigantic rescue and investment programme, without which it was more than foreseeable that the days of the best adventure of European political integration in history would be numbered. Nor should it be forgotten that among the UK's priority demands for leaving the EU, the main one, given its significance, was the recovery of its legal sovereignty, so as not to have to abide by European law.

Consequently, what is now at stake in this case against the leading European power is nothing more and nothing less than the definitive enshrinement of the primacy of EU law and the judicial decisions of the Court of the European Union over any national legislation. And the fact that Germany is the target of the infringement proceedings shows the scale of the challenge.

But, in the background, there are other implicit targets: Poland and Hungary in the first place, too prone to the temptation to impose their national legislation above that of the EU, especially in cases that touch the nerve of European integration, such as freedom of expression and movement or the independence of such an essential power in the architecture of states as the judiciary.

Within the Commission itself, as well as in the Europarliament, it is considered essential to nip in the bud any 'nationalist' tendencies in the bud by 'following one's own road map', which would ultimately lead to a multitude of exceptions, the consequence of which would be nothing other than the weakening of the Community edifice, the home of all.

Not a few Brussels experts point to the former Soviet satellite countries as the "most difficult pupils" in learning all the ropes of EU democracy. But, at the same time, they also denounce how other historical members of the EU participate in the same nationalist temptation, in the belief in their own historical and moral superiority. A drive by virtue of which Europe has suffered so many tragedies and shed so much blood throughout its history. A tragic and multi-secular experience which, in order to prevent its repetition, made the European Union a reality.