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Thomas Molloy: How eight men and women in crimson red pulled EU back from brink

TWO institutions now regularly hold European dreams hostage; the great Irish public and the judges of Germany's Constitutional Court.

We saw after the Nice Treaty referendum and again after the Lisbon Treaty vote that the views of Ireland's three million voters can easily be ignored. The judgments of the eight judges who make the decisions in Germany's Constitutional Court cannot be so easily discarded -- which makes them even more powerful.

So far, the judges have given a broad backing to the German government's efforts to promote ever closer European integration, but every court ruling has also contained warnings that politicians in Germany cannot indefinitely hand powers over to Brussels.

Yesterday's ruling gives the go-ahead to the eurozone's latest rescue package -- but there will be further challenges down the road. One day, the fiercely independent court is bound to rule against the German government, triggering a crisis in Europe and forcing some poor government to consult with the increasingly eurosceptic German public through a referendum.

That will undoubtedly throw Europe into another crisis. In the meantime, the court will continue to act as a thorn in Europe's side by delaying treaties to check their legality.

The latest ruling came after a record 37,000 plaintiffs, including members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition and the far left, argued that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) amounted to an illegal transfer of sovereignty from Berlin to Brussels.

While the court rejected this argument, it did rule that a clause in the ESM treaty which tries to keep decisions confidential could not stand and insisted that the German parliament must be consulted.

It is rulings like this that make the German Constitutional Court important for everybody from Donegal to Dresden and from Doncaster to Dubrovnik -- which becomes part of the European Union next July.

Even Europe's biggest fans admit there is a severe democratic deficit. And the German courts are almost single-handedly fighting a rearguard action against this.

We have seen this in Ireland, where details of Michael Noonan and Brian Lenihan's Budgets were leaked thanks to the German parliament. While both Finance Ministers got hot under the collar following the leaks, the reality is that this sort of information should be in the public domain and it is absurd for Mr Noonan to keep the details secret.

Few other countries understand why we need to hold a referendum on European issues and few other countries understand why eight men and women wearing crimson silk get to hold Europe on tenterhooks.

But both our referendums and the German courts are important bulwarks against Europe's tendency to legislate for elites rather than the man and woman on the street.

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