The second leg of the post-Brexit stakes is taking place on the tank-friendly North German plain.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has overruled some aspects of EU law that it deems incompatible with the country’s constitution. This has brought down the execration of the EU establishment on the grounds that EU law has primacy over all national law.
You might have thought this one was sorted out when the EU was set up, but apparently no one bothered to get sign-off from the judges of the German Constitutional Court (BVG).
Because back in June, the EU started legal proceedings rejecting a finding of the Constitutional Court that bond purchases of the European Central Bank contravened Germany’s constitution.
But some people think the Court’s reasoning goes much further than this:
“The line of thought developed by the German Constitutional Court may be summarised as follows. In its ‘Maastricht-Urteil’ of 1993 the BVG characterised the EU as a compound of states [“Staatenverbund”] and argued that the citizens of the EU are not ‘real’ citizens.
This decision was exacerbated by the 2009 verdict on the Lisbon Treaty, in which the BVG concluded that the European Parliament is merely a ‘supplementary structure’ or a fake parliament.
The BVG rounded this line of reasoning of [sic] by challenging the authority of the ECJ. It held in no uncertain terms that the EU Court has not the last say in matters pertaining to EU law and that Karlsruhe prevails over Luxembourg.”
Strong stuff – and sounds rather like what the Poles are saying. But then Germany is the biggest contributor to the EU budget and Poland the main net recipient.
So the political approach may be different in each case: carefully trying to defuse the German decision without an explosion; while putting financial pressure on the Polish government and encouraging the opposition parties.
Lonely Brexiteers are hoping that the dispute is a precursor to Polexit. That seems about as likely as Gerxit (best pronounced Jerxit).
But – just like the wrangling over Northern Ireland – these court decisions show that the EU is a political mechanism – indeed a powerful one – for co-ordinating the actions of sovereign states and their peoples. It follows that EU law is a means to that end, rather than an end in itself.
That mechanism has been extraordinarily successful in integrating the EU into a German-led and financially-supported economic and regulatory model. This wasn’t what Britain’s foreign policy experts told PM Tony Blair would happen after the EU took in the post-Communist states and aggregated more power in the 2007 Lisbon treaty. However, Europe’s leaders and voters have mostly gone along with it.
Even the chaotically irrational Greek electorate accepted that a German insistence on fiscal discipline as the price for restructuring their debts was better than outright default.
So be cautious about predictions of an EU break-up. The Holy Roman Empire managed nearly a thousand years in one form or another. But watch carefully for signs of weakness in the German model which might provoke more outbreaks of sovereign assertion.