Maastricht approved by German court: Chancellor Kohl hails judges' ruling as milestone on road to European unity - Treaty in force next month

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The Independent Online
GERMANY'S highest court yesterday relieved the government of its prolonged embarrassment by giving an unconditional green light for ratification of the Maastricht treaty at the end of this month. The court pulled only gently at the reins to discourage an uncontrolled gallop towards further change in the years to come.

The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, who was present for the reading of the 85-page judgment, said he was happy with the ruling, which would allow 'the European train to move forward'. Chancellor Helmut Kohl described the decision as a milestone on the road to European unity. The Maastricht treaty will now come into force on 1 November.

The eight judges of the constitutional court in Karlsruhe unanimously rejected the submission by the treaty's opponents, whose main argument was that too many powers are given up to Brussels, in breach of the constitutional requirement for national sovereignty.

Manfred Brunner, chief complainant and himself a former official of the European Commission, insisted that, although he had formally lost the case, the court had, in effect, sided with him. 'Monetary union is dead,' he declared in the crowded courtroom, minutes after the reading of the judgment was over. He added: 'The court has imposed such clear restrictions that Chancellor Kohl cannot do what he wanted on Europe.'

But Theo Waigel, the Finance Minister, insisted that monetary union was not dead, and that there were 'no chains' for the future. Rather, he said, the court's strict terms for the acceptability of a European currency were the same as the government's.

The delayed judgment had hung heavily over the German government, which - despite being more loudly pro-European than anybody else in the Community - was behind even the British in clearing the last hurdle for signing Maastricht into life.

The judgment, which took almost 90 minutes for two of the red- robed judges to read out, contained two distinct but overlapping messages. On the one hand, the court gave its blessing to the existing terms of Maastricht, saying that the treaty does not remove all sovereign rights, and does not conflict with German law. But there were dozens of conditional clauses listing future developments that would not be acceptable without explicit approval from the national parliament.

The court rejected the argument that Maastricht in itself infringed the principles of sovereignty or democracy, but it warned that an 'over-preponderance of tasks and responsibilities' at European level would 'weaken democracy at a state level'.

A widening of the powers, beyond those explicitly approved in the Maastricht treaty, would not be acceptable: 'Such an extension of responsibilities would not be binding for Germany.'

On monetary union, the ruling emphasises that there is nothing automatic about the way forward. 'By ratifying the treaty, Germany does not subject itself to an automatic progress towards monetary union, which can no longer be steered,' it said. Instead, the development towards monetary union, even after the third stage, is 'according to parliamentary responsibilities'.

The court argued that the criteria for currency convergence cannot be softened, without parliamentary agreement. It rejected the argument that agreement on the principle of a single currency undermined monetary stability. 'The fear of a potential failure to create stability, which might then have further implications for the finance policy of member states, is too vague to signify the legal unacceptability of the treaty.' The judges emphasised that monetary union as a source of stability is 'the basis for the German law of assent' and warned: 'If it turns out that the desired monetary union cannot be realised without a (not yet desired) political union, then that would need a new political decision as to what should happen next.'

(Photograph omitted)