I wanted to alert readers that my Daimler Lecture at the American Academy in Berlin, which I gave on February 8, is now available online here, along with a brief summary written up by the Academy. The event was graciously moderated by Prof. Ingolf Pernice of Humboldt University, whose excellent work on the EU (quite in tension with my own, I should add) is no doubt familiar to many readers. The lecture touches on many of the topics that my recent posts have also been addressing: the administrative character of the EU, the challenge of reconciling democracy and integration, the ‘no demos’ problem in relation to the Eurozone crisis, and much else besides. I thought it might be of interest to readers.
As many readers already know, the German Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) handed down another important decision on Tuesday regarding national parliamentary oversight in the Eurozone crisis. The Court’s official press release is here, and the full decision is here (both in German). Der Spiegel’s English language website provides an overview of the basic elements of the Court’s ruling here, along with some excerpts from the German media commentary.
The ruling deals with the unconstitutionality of the special nine-member committee established last fall to serve as the Bundestag’s oversight mechanism for Germany’s participation in the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the Eurozone’s temporary bailout fund. (The EFSF is supposed to be replaced by, or perhaps even merged into, the permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM) later this year, depending on how things develop.) As discussed previously on this blog, the FCC last October issued a preliminary injunction against the operation of this committee pending final decision.
A ‘walk-back’ is American political jargon to describe the strategic retreat that politicians sometimes make when an initiative stirs more political controversy than expected, or when they simply say something stupid or ill-considered. Barak Obama’s recent effort to find a compromise on the exemption for religiously-affiliated employers providing contraception and other reproductive health coverage under his new health-care plan is an example of the former; Newt Gingrich’s innumerable efforts to dig the toenails out of his gums after shoving his foot in his mouth are examples of the latter (moon base anyone?).
Alas, sometimes scholars must also do some walking back from time to time—albeit never of the import, say, of the Obama example, or (hopefully) required to correct the sheer stupidity of the many Gingrich examples.
In my case, I’d like to walk back a bit from a post of November 9, 2011, entitled Greek ‘Sovereignty’ and European ‘Democracy’, whose imprecision on a key point has been troubling me for a while. The vote of the Greek parliament on Sunday night on the most recent round of austerity measures (under Eurozone, and particularly German, pressure), combined with rioting in the streets of Athens, have shown that the time is right to make plain some of my reservations about that earlier post.
As usual, things are moving so quickly in the Eurozone crisis that pressing controversies one day seemingly become old news the next. In the lead up to this week’s EU summit, for example, Germany caused a stir by calling for the appointment of an external commissioner with the power to veto the Greek budget because of Greece’s inability to meet its budgetary commitments. We’ll see where that leads, but outrage in Athens was the predictable result. The Greek finance minister reportedly said: ‘Whoever puts before a people the dilemma of choosing between financial assistance and national dignity disregards basic historical lessons’. In the overheated world of contemporary Eurozone commentary, one observer called the proposal ‘Anschluss economics’.
But as readers of this blog well know, Germany has its own worries about the Eurozone crisis and what it portends for that country’s own historically hard-won democracy. These worries arguably animate, for example, the recent jurisprudence of the German Federal Constitutional Court, as some of my earlier posts have outlined. From the German perspective, recourse to Eurobonds as a means of addressing the crisis (in which other member states might add to Germany’s debt obligations without a vote of the national parliament) would almost certainly be seen by the Court as a violation of the Bundestag’s historical control over the national purse, and therefore also an affront to the democratic identity of the German constitution.
These two contrasting (Greek and German) expressions of concern over the fate of national democracy in the face of the current crisis, however, are suggestive of a deeper challenge for European integration. I am referring not merely to the Eurozone’s seeming lack of financial solidarity among its member states—that, in fact, is merely a symptom. Rather, I am speaking of the notorious lack of a coherent ‘demos’ for the EU as a whole—what we academics have long called the ‘no-demos problem’.
The German Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in a 7:1 decision on September 7, upheld Germany’s participation in the bailout of Greece. But the Court simultaneously required a strengthening of the role of the parliament by requiring the prior approval of the Bundestag to any larger scale aid measure “taken in a spirit of solidarity.” Overall, the Court’s ruling expressed a longstanding undertone of Euroscepticism, which increasingly falls in tune with changing public opinion in Germany.
Art. 38(1) of the German Basic Law stipulates that “Members of the German Bundestag shall be elected in general, direct, free, equal, and secret elections. […].” Read in conjunction with Art 20 (1), which enshrines the democratic principle, and with Art 20 (2), “[a]ll state authority is derived from the people” and with the eternity clause of Art. 79(3), Art 38(1) guarantees the sovereignty of the people and, concomitantly, the right of citizens to participate in politics through their vote, as a “quasi-constitutional” [grundrechtsgleiches] individual right, rooted in human dignity. Was the “act of voting” devalued by recent German aid measures for Greece and the Euro rescue package? The complainants, a group of four prominent professors and Peter Gauweiles, argued that it was. In particular, they argued that the rescue measures amounted to a wholesale transfer of an essential and inalienable competence of modern German democratic statehood, the autonomy and democratic control over the national budget, away from German Bundestag where that control naturally belonged as the locus of democratic legitimacy and accountability, to an abstract “system of intergovernmental governance.”