Another hurdle in the ratification of the Lisbon treaty was overcome today with the judgment of the German constitutional court that it is not incompatible with the German Basic Law. Some Eurosceptics had placed a lot of hope in the possibility that the courts in Germany might object to the treaty for some reason. This was always an unlikely hope given the solid commitment of the German constitutional court to the defence of democracy in its most fundamental form. Perhaps the Eurosceptic confusion arises because they simply do not understand that the EU is an extension of democracy and not the reduction that they often claim.
The court judgment was not without its conditions, though, and these conditions deserve some recognition. They require greater scrutiny of the EU at national level, and Germany cannot ratify the treaty until the necessary national laws are in place. Presiding judge Andreas Vosskuhle said: “To sum up, the Basic Law says ‘yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty but demands a strengthening of parliamentary responsibilities at the national level.”
So, not only does the Lisbon treaty strengthen the European Parliament within the EU’s own institutional balance, it is also leading to the strengthening of national parliaments within their own domestic institutional systems. The requirement for the Council of Ministers to conduct its legislative business in public is one aspect of this: the German constitutional court judgment is another.
It will be interesting to see how other member states, while not of course directly affected by the German judgment, deal with the same issue of involving their national parliaments in the future development of the EU. It needs to be done in order to ensure the maximum possible support and the maximum possible accountability for the institutional system in Brussels. It is the conviction of federalists, I think, that those two – support and accountability – go together.