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Sting in the tail is German judges' bruising attack on European court

Donal O'Donovan


 

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Under pressure: Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank during a live stream news conference. Photo: Bloomberg

Under pressure: Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank during a live stream news conference. Photo: Bloomberg

Bloomberg

Under pressure: Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank during a live stream news conference. Photo: Bloomberg

The rebuke delivered by Germany's Constitutional Court to the European Central Bank is in the ha'penny place compared to the slap-down dished out to the European Court of Justice.

The German legal ruling yesterday forces the ECB to make a better fist of standing over its most important policy, including showing how massive bond buying, which clearly props up state finances, is within the central bank's mandate.

The German court gave the ECB three months to respond. Presumably, when push comes to shove, Frankfurt's best legal and economic minds can deliver a convincing argument to justify the hundreds of billions of euro already spent. If they can't deliver a knockout argument by then, it is hardly the fault of Germany's red-robed judges.

More startling, ultimately, was the unanimous dismissal by the German court's eight judges of an earlier ruling on the same issues by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), in theory the superior court as far as EU law goes.

The CJEU had also been asked to assess the ECB actions, and duly ruled in December 2018 that the massive bond buying was allowed within the ECB mandate.

In theory, that should have been case closed.

The CJEU ruling was "objectively arbitrary" and is "methodologically no longer justifiable," the judges in Karlsruhe responded yesterday in a blistering dismissal, arguing that, as a result, Germany is not bound by the superior court's finding.

That appears to be a broader challenge to the legitimacy of the CJEU, with implications for the rule of law right across the European Union.

In Brussels, a spokesman for the European Commission weighed in on behalf of the CJEU.

"We reaffirm the primacy of EU law and the fact that rulings by the EU Court of Justice are binding on all national courts," Eric Mamer, spokesman of the European Commission, said at a regular press briefing.

Other European institutions seem certain to rally around the CJEU.

But in Germany, the euro area's most significant member state, that flat rejection by the country's own top court will be much harder for political leaders and the head of the country's own central bank.

It is a mess, and it could hardly come at a worse time.

Irish Independent