Just about the last thing Europe needs is for Berlin and Brussels to clash. The EU is, to say the least, not amused by a ruling of the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe that could force the Deutsche Bundesbank to drop out of any future support initiatives by the European Central Bank (ECB).
The German judges seem to have overruled the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which in 2018 okayed the various ECB bond-buying programmes that sustain the continent’s sagging economy. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, incidentally a former German defence minister, immediately threatened the country with sanctions and penalties should it allow national courts to forget their legal standing.
It is a well-established and perfectly logic legal principle – one against which in the UK Brexiters rebelled – that supranational courts such as the ECJ trump domestic ones. Should judges in all of the 27 EU member states be able to question EU law, the union would instantly cease to function. Anyone with a beef against the union may, however, approach the ECJ in Luxembourg for a ruling.
Earlier today, Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in to re-establish order. She did so by stating that surely a compromise solution can be found and that she sees no need for heated argument or, indeed, threats.
The surprise ruling of the German court was promptly welcomed by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki who dislikes all things European and makes a habit out of ignoring his own country’s recent and more distant past.
With his usual holier-than-thou attitude that bespeaks of an innocence personified, Mr Morawieski appeared elated by the news from Karlsruhe and called it ‘one of the most important rulings in the history of the European Union’. He should know for Poland was one of the last countries to join the EU (in 2004).
The country has benefitted massively from Brussels’ generosity, receiving in excess of €17 billion annually for its €3.5 billion membership fee. Poland also profited from hundreds of billions in private investment that helped transform the country into one of the EU’s success stories.
Then again, Mr Morawieski doesn’t quite like the terms of EU membership and strongly objects to its insistence on judicial independence and the rule of law. Without enjoying the UK’s undeniable heft – and little good did that do – Poland, or at least its government, would like nothing better than to reduce the common market to a dumping ground for its unemployed and a source of cheap credit and juicy grants.
Mr Morawieski, isolated in Europe for his recalcitrance, has now found some allies in Karlsruhe. However, he is in for a surprise. The ruling of the constitutional court is by no means the last word on the matter. Chancellor Merkel knows that Mrs Von der Leyen is right when she upholds the supremacy of the ECJ. A face-saving solution is already now in the works, one that upholds the established order of legal things whilst preserving the dignity of the German Constitutional Court. However, the Polish prime minister may not be so lucky. His brother in arms over in Hungary, Viktor Orbán, proved much smarter and wisely refrained from commenting or grandstanding.