Bonn demurs over acceptance of Maastricht

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The Independent Online
THE DANES yesterday seemed ready finally to get rid of their problems. The British, if they are lucky, might even get over theirs. But that still leaves one small hurdle: Germany, the motor of European unity, and the country that has been urging waverers to sign up now at the very latest, has still not finally made up its own mind. Theoretically at least, Maastricht could fall at the last hurdle.

Protests against the legitimacy of the Maastricht treaty have yet to be considered by Germany's constitutional court. Until then, the final stage of ratification cannot be reached.

A ragbag of German politicians - including the right- wing Republicans, a handful of Greens and, most powerfully, Manfred Brunner, former chef de cabinet of Martin Bangemann, EC Commissioner - has protested against the implementation of the treaty. The main argument is that the treaty contradicts German constitutional guarantees of sovereignty; once the complaint has been laid before the court in Karlsruhe, the court is obliged to rule.

The Maastricht treaty was ratified by both houses of the German parliament in December. All that was needed was the signature of President Richard von Weizsacker. But he cannot sign until the constitutional court gives the green light, which it has so far refused to do. The court pleads work overload and keeps postponing the date of an official pronouncement on the complaints that it has received.

Berlin's daily Der Tagesspiegel noted about this 'legal scrape': 'Helmut Kohl's insistence that, if there is a British or a Danish 'no' to Maastricht, then we will have to create a Europe of Ten, emerges in a rather dim light when one looks at the long- winded German procedures.'

The constitutional court has recently been much in the German limelight, as a fallback for politicians who would rather that the buck did not stop in Bonn. The issues on which the court has been asked to rule include clearly political rather than legal questions. Thus, when politicians wanted somebody else to give the green light for sending German forces out of the Nato area - specifically, to fly in UN Awacs aircraft over Bosnia - they asked the constitutional court for permission.

The court pointed out, accurately enough, that it would severely damage Germany's international credibility if it said no to the flights. And, with scarcely a nod to the legal niceties, the court therefore said yes.

As with the Awacs flights, an acceptance of the Maastricht complaint would cause such political chaos that it remains almost unthinkable, unless the judges deliberately choose to sabotage Germany's standing in Europe. Even now, though, the court can make problems.

The examination of the complaint, which has yet to reach the top of the pile in the court's bulky in-tray, has already been delayed several times.

The Bonn government is keen to see the matter cleared up before the next European Community summit takes place, in June. But the court refuses to be hurried. A spokesman this week said that it was 'quite possible - but not certain' that the matter would be settled before the summer break.

Bonn seems even more pessimistic; some officials appear resigned to the fact that the government may have to wait until the autumn before finally being let off the hook.

There remains, of course, a theoretical possibility that the German government will not be let off the hook at all, but will be forced by the court to reconsider its position. But that possibility is not being seriously considered by most commentators in Germany. Most of them expect embarrassment - but not political meltdown.