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Friday, March 05, 2010

The Karlsruhe factor

As riot police today were forced to use tear gas against violent crowds in Athens protesting against further Greek spending cuts to narrow the country's budget deficit (and save the eurozone), we recieved another reminder of German opposition to any cross-border rescue operation.

Travelling to Germany today to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek PM George Papandreou insisted that Greece is not seeking money from the EU. According to Le Monde, German Economic Minister Rainer Brüderle said in response: "Papandreou has said that he doesn't want a cent. In any case, the German government will not give a cent".

Meanwhile, German daily FAZ looks at another obstacle to a Greek bailout: the German Constitutional Court. Based in Karlsruhe, this Court is very much the X-factor in EU integration, as evidenced by the extrordinarily sceptical ruling it delivered on the Lisbon Treaty. Apparently, a spokesperson for Angela Merkel has let it slip that the Chancellor privately fears that a bailout would provoke the country's Constitutional Court to take action, possibly blocking the whole operation. It's article 32 of Germany's "Law on the Federal Constitutional Court" (Gesetz über das Bundesverfassungsgericht) that is the sticking point.

This article says that,

In a dispute the Federal Constitutional Court may deal with a matter provisionally by means of a temporary injunction if this is urgently needed to avert serious detriment, ward off imminent force or for any other important reason for the common weal.

In plain English, a bailout operation of Greece could become Karlsruhe territory. Specifically, the Court could interevene against what it considers a breach of the law - in this case the EU Treaties' ban on bailouts and extending credit lines to other member states.

Former federal judge Paul Kirchhof is quoted by FAZ saying that "If parliaments and MPs feel that their rights have been violated, they can appeal to the Constitutional Court." Based on such an interpretation of Article 32, notes FAZ, the Karlsruhe judges can block Merkel if she decides to help financially.

All of this is speculation of course, but an interesting indication of the forces at work in Germany at the moment - and the massive opposition that a bailout could provoke.

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