German high court to rule on euro bailout decisions | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 28.02.2012
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German high court to rule on euro bailout decisions

Does a select committee have the right - on behalf of parliament - to decide to use billions of euros in German tax money to save the euro? Germany's Constitutional Court is set to issue a ruling on Tuesday.

The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) is a fund financed by eurozone member states designed to address the European sovereign debt crisis. It's purpose is to take rapid and effective action to save states from financial doom.

The German government wants any support for such states on the stock markets to kick in rapidly and discretely. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said, for example, that market analysis from the European Central Bank (ECB) on purchasing state bonds is "highly confidential."

"Public announcements are ... not a sign of responsible politics," Schäuble said.

Peter Altmeier, leader of the ruling center-right coalition in the German parliament added that if planned EFSF intervention on stock can't be kept secret, they might as well go ahead and burn taxpayers' money.

But in Germany, swift and confidential fiscal decisions conflict with parliament's distinctive participation rights, laid down in article 23 of the Basic Law. They also collide with the understanding many parliamentarians have of their own roles.

Lawmakers fear for their rights

The German government initially breathed a sigh of relief in September 2011 when a parliamentary majority agreed that, in cases of "special urgency" concerning euro emergency aid, there was no need for all 620 members of parliament nor even the 41 members of the budget committee to get involved.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble

Wolfgang Schäuble advocates confidentiality

Instead, the budget committee was to appoint a small group of nine lawmakers from among its members, representing all parties in the Bundestag, with the governing coalition in the majority.

In the touchy business of protecting the euro, these nine appointees were to enforce keep tabs on government spending .

But the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe suspended the group before it even got started as judges sat down to consider a case brought by Swen Schulz and Peter Danckert.

The Social Democratic (SPD) members of parliament said the special committee breaches the constitution since it takes powers away from the full Bundestag on a budget matter. Danckert said he owed it to his constituency to be able to say he had taken part in the complicated debate over who should foot the bill for the bailouts.

Mini-committee with 'ridiculous' powers

In fact, quite a few lawmakers have complained about not being well-informed by the government on the euro crisis, and about having little influence and little time when difficult decisions are pending.

The two SPD lawmakers view as unacceptable delegating a major budget responsibility to a small group. The fact that the Constitutional Court decided to suspend the special committee in October because it might infringe other lawmakers' rights shows the plaintiffs may be right.

Peter Danckert

Peter Danckert sees rights infringed

While Schäuble urged the court at a hearing last year to allow the committee to function, opposition lawmakers welcomed the decision to put the brakes on the special committee for the time being.

SPD budget expert Johannes Kahrs slammed as ridiculous the fact that small group "with a majority of five over four votes should move billions of euros via conference call while the budget committee squabbles about 10,00 euros."

'Necessity knows no law'

Green MP Christian Ströbele fears that deactivating the Bundestag's full session and the budget committee in times of alleged or actual urgency might become the rule rather than the exception.

Under the current agreement, the nine-person special group of lawmakers would only be called in cases where speed is of the essence and where it has become necessary to purchase on the stock market bonds of states in financial distress to avert the spread of the problem to other countries.

Parliament's full session or the budget committee would be called in most other cases involving the EFSF.

Court President Andreas Vosskuhle has said the court would be guided by constitutional law although practical constraints would be taken into consideration.

"The saying 'necessity knows no law' has - if at all - only ever brought people luck for a short period of time," he said.

Author: Bernd Grässler/ db
Editor: Joanna Impey

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