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A wonderful Snowden ruling

November 22, 2016

The decision by Germany's Federal Court of Justice in favor of parliamentary minority rights - specifically in the Edward Snowden whistleblower case - is a good, solid verdict, writes Marcel Fürstenau.

New York Pardon Snowden Kampagne Videoschalte
Image: Reuters/B. McDermid

The prospect was appealing, but untenable: Edward Snowden travels to Berlin and testifies to deputies of the NSA Parliamentary Comission in a public hearing about the scheming of the US intelligence service. Until now, the governing CDU/CSU and SPD had been able to prevent this. This was easy due to their voting majority which prevented a personal summons of the whistleblower, independent of the fact whether Snowden would have come. Questioning by video conference or in his Russian exile had been refused for a number of reasons; not least because Germany had turned down his application for political asylum.

The deputies of the ruling coalition in the parliamentary commission feared harming German-US relations and the negative consequences for cooperation between the  intelligence services if Snowden were to actually come to Germany. Safe passage could not, or would not, be guaranteed by the government for the most famous leaker in history. The government referred to the extradition treaty with the USA. In his home country - unlike in Germany – Snowden is seen by most people as a traitor.

From now on the blockers will find it harder to talk their way out with flimsy arguments. With this decision the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe has made sure a vote has to be retaken. And should at least a quarter of the deputies in the NSA Parliamentary Commission vote in favor of the application, then the government will definitely be under intense pressure. It would then have the duty of creating conditions for Snowden to give testimony in Berlin. The most important condition would be absolute protection from extradition to the USA.

The sword called parliamentary commission is no longer blunt

Kommentarfoto Marcel Fürstenau Hauptstadtstudio
DW's Marcel FürstenauImage: DW/S. Eichberg

Both the opposition Greens and Left Party have already announced that they will lodge an application in the next session. And with their two out of eight votes they have the required quorum of a quarter set by the Federal Court of Justice.

That is exactly the requirement for the appointment of parliamentary commissions. For this, 25 percent of the deputies is required. With this classic minority right the opposition has in its hands a weapon which has often been described as a blunt sword.

Just how sharp it occasionally can be was seen in the appointment of the March 2014 parliamentary commission. Because, with their call for a thorough clarification, opposition factions fulfilled the primary function of parliament: to control the activities of the government effectively. That they also used the courts to achieve this is their basic right.

Snowden in Berlin? That would be great!

The Greens and the Left suffered a defeat a few days ago with another complaint concerning the NSA. The Federal Constitutional Court ruled against legal action calling for the publication of the NSA selector list with search definitions of spied on persons and institutions. The Karlsruhe judges gave priority to nondisclosure interests of the US and German government compared to parliamentary information interests.

Against this background the Federal Court of Justice's decision on a possible testimony by the NSA key witness Snowden in German territory is especially welcome. The man has already uncovered a lot about the secrets of illegal spying on millions of people around the world and has served democracy. A public appearance in Germany would be a wonderful sign. And a great opportunity to symbolically thank him for his unparalleled courage.

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