German court bans fast-track euro crisis response panel
(KARLSRUHE) - Germany's top court ruled on Tuesday that a small fast-track parliamentary committee set up to approve emergency steps for fighting the eurozone crisis was illegal.
The move could potentially further complicate the approval of rescue measures for struggling eurozone nations by Europe's paymaster amid signs that Germans' patience over Greece is running out.
The Federal Constitutional Court in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe said the nine-member body violated the rights of the 611 other Bundestag lawmakers, chief justice Andreas Vosskuhle said.
Budgetary policy, which includes decisions about the euro since it involves public money, "is the responsibility of the whole Bundestag," Vosskuhle said and so the committee therefore constituted unfair treatment.
The Bundestag created the behind-closed-doors panel, comprised of members of all the parties in parliament, in October with the aim of allowing Germany to take quicker action to fight the eurozone crisis.
In particular, it was to have made decisions on the use of the EFSF bailout fund for debt-wracked European nations after the fund's head, Klaus Regling, insisted on Germany creating a rapid-response body to head off turmoil as the markets demanded quick action.
The judges did concede, however, that decisions about the buying of sovereign bonds on the secondary market could be made by the nine-member body because of the need for confidentiality.
But since it is the European Central Bank which presently intervenes on the bond markets to support struggling eurozone countries -- and not yet the EFSF although it is due to take over that role -- that ruling is currently not an issue.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the ruling was a "partial ban," adding he did not view it as limiting Germany's room for manoeuvre.
"For some operations, like for example the purchase of bonds through the EFSF, confidentiality was allowed," he told reporters, saying this was "the most important thing."
Depending on the urgency of the measures, the entire Bundestag, the 41-member budgetary committee or the nine-member panel would have been tasked with providing approval.
But two opposition MPs had filed a complaint to stop the nine-member body from taking any decisions on the European rescue fund, arguing it infringed their parliamentary rights.
Bundestag speaker Norbert Lammert, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union, said the court's ruling was "understandable."
But he acknowledged the options for making the quick decisions needed in the midst of the eurozone crisis were limited. "I am convinced we are going to resolve that," he added.
In September, the Court gave parliament a bigger say in decisions on saving the euro, raising concerns that it would slow Germany's reaction in crisis situations when speed was vital.
On Monday, the Bundestag voted through a second, 130-billion-euro ($175-billion) rescue package for Greece.
Merkel is under growing pressure from the German public and some lawmakers over the cost of the bailouts, while also facing calls from international partners to agree to scale up the EFSF and its successor body.
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