During the second day of a hearing on the EU's Reform Treaty (the so-called Lisbon Treaty), the court's rapporteur Udo di Fabio questioned whether the text would lead to a disproportionate power shift from national to EU level. "One has to ask soberly: What competences are left with the Bundestag [the German parliament] in the end?," he said.
Such sentiments, which are shared by three other judges in the eight-member senate, boosted the stance of those opposed to the treaty, led by Bavarian conservative MP Peter Gauweiler. They argue the Lisbon Treaty exceeds the limit to which the national constitution allows the transfer of German sovereign rights. According to Gauweiler, the new treaty even transforms the EU into its "own state".
The two-day hearing, however, only marks the opening of the court's examination. A ruling is not expected before May.
Treaty supporters, including German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, tried to dispel the judges' concerns, arguing that the transfer of competence to EU level as foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty would strengthen rather than weaken Germany.
Speaking to EurActiv, the chairman of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee, Jo Leinen, also dismissed the critics' argument, claiming that the "big power shift" took place with the Maastricht Treaty.
"The Lisbon Treaty only affects the transfer of power within the EU, namely from the executive, the Council, to the legislature, the European Parliament," Leinen stated.
The treaty only strengthens the EU's competences in the fields of energy and space policy, he added.
The text needs to be ratified by all 27 EU member states to enter into force (see EurActiv LinksDossier). The German parliament approved the text last spring, but ratification cannot be completed before the country's president, Horst Köhler, has signed it (EurActiv 25/04/08; 23/05/08). He said he will await the court's ruling before going ahead.
In addition to Germany, Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic have yet to complete ratification. In Prague, the lower chamber is set to vote on the text next week (EurActiv 29/01/09). At the same time, new legal action is being prepared by Eurosceptic groups, who fear that their country may be marginalised under the new treaty, which they say favours the EU's leading powers.