Germany’s Top Court Stands Up to the EU’s Judicial Overreach

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Recently, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany handed down a landmark decision on European law and rightly so, delivered a major blow to the judicial activism of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). At the heart of this case was the European Central Bank’s controversial Public Sector Purchase Programme. Under this program, bonds of the Eurozone member states are being bought by the Euro central banks. A suit against the legality of this program has been brought before German courts in the past, which referred the case to the EU Court of Justice. The EU judges, like in many cases before, ruled in favor of the EU. 

But this time, they were overruled by the highest court in Germany. And the very fact that a national court asserted the right to overrule the EU’s top court is the crucial point here. 

While the German judges acknowledged the role of the ECJ to rule on the uniform application of EU law throughout the Union, a power delegated to it by the EU treaties, they held that national courts have a right to step in if the ECJ reaches outside these delegated powers.

Of course, this decision is heavily criticized by prominent proponents of a centralized EU, like Guy Verhofstadt. He wrote furiously: “If every Constitutional Court of every member state starts giving its own interpretation of what Europe can and cannot do, it’s the beginning of the end.” 

People like him argue that the ruling undermines the rule of law throughout the European Union. Yet, it is not the German court that has undermined the rule of law, it is the ECJ, moving to expand its powers beyond what was set out in the EU treaties. Such a supranational court cannot be given exclusive leeway to decide what it can and cannot do.

Some critics might want to compare this situation to a US State Supreme Court overruling the US Supreme Court, but this is not the same. The EU is not a nation, it is a voluntary association of sovereign nations which delegated some specific powers to supranational institutions. Those member states never gave up their nationhood and their national sovereignty.

As the ruling of the German constitutional court correctly reaffirms, the member states themselves remain the ‘Masters of the Treaties.’ Their courts should also have the last word. Institutions like the ECJ cannot be trusted to be the final arbiter of EU treaty law, especially when they act without any legal basis. 

The so-called European integration, for all its criticism, has been fully authorized by all the participating states, so in the end, it comes down to this: Do Europeans allow the EU to unilaterally expand its powers using its own flawed and openly biased judgments?

That’s the point when national institutions have to step in, and boldly stand athwart such a power grab, yelling stop.

Sebastian Thormann is studying Information Systems at the University of Passau, Germany. He is interested in US and German politics as well as economics. His other hobbies include coding, skiing, and playing the piano.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Sebastian Thormann

Sebastian Thormann is studying Information Systems at the University of Passau, Germany. He is interested in US and German politics as well as economics. His other hobbies include coding, skiing, and playing the piano.

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