Tuesday, September 27, 2011
German turmoil over EU bail-outs as top judge calls for referendum
Germany's top judge has issued a blunt warning that no further fiscal powers may be surrendered to Europe without a new constitution and a popular referendum, vastly complicating plans to boost the EU's rescue machinery to €2 trillion (£1.7 trillion).
Andreas Vosskuhle, head of the constitutional court, said politicians do not have the legal authority to sign away the birthright of the German people without their explicit consent.
"The sovereignty of the German state is inviolate and anchored in perpetuity by basic law. It may not be abandoned by the legislature (even with its powers to amend the constitution)," he said.
"There is little leeway left for giving up core powers to the EU. If one wants to go beyond this limit – which might be politically legitimate and desirable – then Germany must give itself a new constitution. A referendum would be necessary. This cannot be done without the people," he told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine.
The extraordinary interview comes just days before the Bundestag votes on a bill to revamp the EU's €440bn bail-out fund (EFSF), enabling it to purchase EMU bonds pre-emptively and recapitalise banks.
Tensions are running high after it emerged over the weekend that officials are working on plans sketched by the US Treasury and the European Commission to "leverage" the firepower of the EFSF to €2 trillion, in conjunction with lending from the European Central Bank.
"A new multi-trillion programme is being cooked up in Washington and Brussels, while the wool is being pulled over the eyes of Bundestag and German public. This is unacceptable," he said.
Prince Hermann Otto zu Solms-Hohensolms-Lich, the Bundestag's deputy president and finance chief for the Free Democrats (FDP) in the ruling coalition, expressed outrage over the secret plans.
"Unless the German finance minister can give an immediate assurance that there will be no leveraged formula, I will not vote for this law. We might as well dispense with months of negotiations if all this means is that the Bundestag will be circumvented and served cold left-overs," he said.
The accusation that German leaders are conspiring with EU officials to emasculate the Bundestag is highly sensitive, going to the core of the raging debate in recent months over EU encroachments on German democracy.
Dr Vosskuhle said that the improvisation of far-reaching policies had become "dangerous", and warned against schemes to circumvent the rule of law with backroom deals. "Germany has a great affinity for the rule of law. People expect the political class to obey the rules."
He reminded leaders that the court had set clear boundaries to EU bail-outs in a ruling earlier this month, although it gave the go-ahead for the package of measures agreed so far.
"Our judgment makes clear that the Bundestag cannot abdicate its fiscal responsibilities to other actors. And no permanent mechanism may be created that entails taking over the liabilities of other states," he said. When asked whether eurobonds are off limits, Dr Vosskuhle said any ruling by the judges would be "pretty clear".
"It is quite dangerous when a feeling builds up in Germany that the country is being overrun, and specifically, that such an important country is being outvoted in the ECB," he told Der Standard.
There is little doubt that Chancellor Merkel can pass the EFSF bill with the help of the Social Democrats and Greens. It is less clear whether she can survive the vote without an absolute majority from her own coalition. Green leader Jurgen Trittin said her government would be "finished" if it has to rely on opposition votes.
"There is no cheap, risk-free leveraging option for the EFSF any more," said David Beers, S&P's head of sovereign ratings. "We're getting to a point where the guarantee approach .. is running out of road," he said, adding the various options under discussion could have "potential credit implications".
The Social Democrats are using their political leverage over the EFSF vote to push for greater "haircuts" for banks holding Greek debt. This creates a fresh set of dangers.
Deutsche Bank chief Josef Ackermann implored politicians not to open "Pandora's Box", warning of a domino effect across Europe if the existing deal for writedowns of 21pc on Greek debt is breached. "If the financial sector is further weakened, the real economy will pay a high price," he said.
Pavan Wadhwa from JP Morgan said a bigger restructuring of Greek debt could backfire badly unless proper defences are in place. "If this occurs without a simultaneous and credible plan to recapitalise the banking sector, it could prompt a full-blown crisis," he said.
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