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German lawmakers set to pass EU reform treaty

Source: Reuters - Tue 8th Sep 2009

Germany's lower house of parliament is expected to approve changes to a law on Tuesday which should pave the way for ratification of the EU's Lisbon reform treaty after months of delays and wrangling.

While the new rules, boosting the influence of the parliament in EU matters, are expected to go through, some conservatives in Bavaria have threatened to lodge further legal challenges which could delay approval again.

Germany's highest court demanded in June that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government tweak domestic legislation on the EU reform treaty to make it comply with the German constitution.

With an eye on the September 27 election, some in Merkel's conservative camp, mainly in Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU), have pushed for bigger changes but a CSU source said on Monday the law would pass.

The debate on the treaty reflects a cooling of Germany's traditional enthusiasm for the EU and a greater readiness among politicians to defend national interests, say analysts.

"The vote and Constitutional Court ruling reflect how the limits of deeper EU integration have become an ongoing question for German politicians" said Peter Becker, an EU expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

"While Germany has always been in favour of Europe, reservations about closer integration are getting quite loud, especially from some of the federal states" he said.


Germany is one of only four countries yet to ratify the treaty, designed to ease decision-making in the 27-member EU. Brussels is keen to get it approved as soon as possible, fearing delays could boost opposition to the document elsewhere in Europe.

Ireland holds a second referendum next month after its voters rejected the treaty last year.

The changes to the German law oblige the government to inform parliament "thoroughly and as early as possible" about EU business and spell out parliament's right to express an official view on any EU matter the government discusses in Brussels.

After the lower and upper houses have approved it, President Horst Koehler must sign the law for the treaty to be ratified. Should further legal complaints arise, it would be up to the Constitutional Court to decide whether to review them before Koehler signs.

As a founding member, Germany was strongly committed to the EU after World War Two and for decades EU policy was driven by a powerful French-German axis.

Germans are still strong supporters - a Eurobarometer poll showed 64 percent of Germans believed the EU was a good thing in the autumn of 2008 - and Merkel has won respect in the bloc for helping push through several deals.

But she has also stood up for German interests in recent EU discussions. "These days we are not euphoric about the EU - we ask whether things will help us or hurt us" said Becker.

Merkel resisted steps in an EU climate package she thought would hurt the powerful German car sector, even though she personally pushed through an EU climate change deal.

She put German interests first by linking government aid for carmaker Opel to an offer from Canada's Magna that promises to save German jobs but lead to plant closures elsewhere. 

Earlier this year she resisted calls for an aid package for eastern European economies and has refused to open Germany's borders to newer eastern EU neighbours.

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