The German Constitutional Court has issued a ruling which boosts the powers of parliamentarians. The court declared that a select committee set up to approve emergency steps for fighting the eurozone crisis was illegal.
The judges had to decide how far parliament should be involved in decisions taken by the EU bailout mechanism, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). The lower house of parliament or Bundestag had passed a law enabling a nine-member body to make emergency decisions on how and when the EFSF should be implemented. However, Germany's highest court found that the committee infringed on parliamentary rights.
The judges did concede, however, that decisions about buying sovereign bonds on the secondary market could be made by the nine-member body because of the need for confidentiality.
Success for the opposition
Two parliamentarians from the center-left Social Democrats, Swen Schulz and Peter Danckert, had originally filed the complaint, arguing that the body infringed on the Bundestag's right to decide over budgetary decisions. They said it wasn't enough that the body was made up of members chosen from the 41-member budget committee, with all parties given a seat.
"The Bundestag can only fulfill its representational function as a whole through the participation of all its members," the judges said, when they ruled in favor of the complainants. The exclusive select committee meant that the remaining 601 parliamentarians were largely excluded from important decisions. They said that this went against the "budgetary responsibility of parliament."
Thomas Oppermann, a high-ranking official with the Social Democrats, said the decision created more transparency in the decision-making process by involving the parliament more broadly.
"[The court] strengthened the overall budgetary responsibility of parliament, reducing the responsibility of the nine-member body to an absolute minimum," Oppermann said. "That will make the euro bailout measures more transparent and comprehensible for people."
New rules required
Those who argued for the controversial committee are now worried about the ability of parliament to function properly, when developments on the financial markets require rapid decisions. The judges did show their understanding for the need to be able to act quickly and decisively.
But the court's president, Andreas Voßkuhle, said in Tuesday's ruling that democratic rules should not be left by the wayside when it's not absolutely necessary.
"Otherwise we run the danger of damaging the overall functionality of the parliament," Voßkuhle said.
Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, a member of Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats, said after the verdict that there was "less room for solutions." He added that the judges' ruling was "plausible" and convincing."
Lammert added he was confident that the decision process would be quickly put in place. He stressed that the select committee was not completely against the constitution and said he parliament would work to adjust the law to meet the court's concerns. He said Tuesday's ruling underlined the "rights and responsibilities of the German Bundestag."
Author: Heiner Kiesel / ji
Editor: Gabriel Borrud