German court holds up parliament euro panel

By Geir Moulson

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 28 2011 6:30 a.m. MDT

BERLIN — Germany's highest court said Friday that a special new parliamentary committee set up to make quick decisions on the use of the eurozone rescue fund can't start work for now.

Germany's parliament currently has to endorse all decisions on using the €440 billion ($618 billion) European Financial Stability Facility. The nine-member cross-party committee was set up this week to expedite decision-making in particularly urgent and sensitive cases.

However, the Federal Constitutional Court issued an injunction blocking it from starting work following a complaint from two opposition lawmakers, who argued that delegating decisions to the small panel would violate their rights as members of parliament.

Some officials fear decision-making is too slow in a fast-moving crisis. European leaders want to the bailout fund to be able to act quickly to help governments in case of sudden market turmoil. Having to wait for parliamentary approvals could undo the fund's effectiveness.

The bar on the new committee will remain in place until the court rules on the lawmakers' case. It wasn't immediately clear when a decision would come, but rulings from the court can take several months.

"It is important for there to be clarity," said Peter Altmaier, the chief parliamentary whip for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, adding that he hopes for a "speedy" decision.

It wasn't immediately clear whether decisions in urgent cases would go to the full parliament or its 41-member budget committee pending a final ruling.

"Until the decision, Germany's capability to act and the European fund's capability to act will be assured at all times," by the parliament, or Bundestag, Altmaier told reporters.

"We will act quickly and effectively when necessary," he said.

The German parliament's involvement in decision-making stems from a ruling in early September in which the supreme court upheld Germany's participation in the EFSF but said lawmakers had to vet plans — though it left open how that should be done.

The new, smaller parliamentary panel draws its members from the 41-member budget committee.

The two lawmakers who filed the latest complaint were Peter Danckert and Swen Schulz of the center-left Social Democrats. Danckert is a member of the budget committee but not of the new panel.

In issuing an injunction, the court said that their rights could be "irreversibly violated" if the committee made decisions on rescue measures but was later found to be unconstitutional.

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the government wouldn't comment, citing the ongoing legal proceedings. But he said it would continue to work closely with parliament.

The full, 620-member, German parliament already has voted twice on the EFSF: last month to approve an increase in its lending capacity and give it new powers; and this week to back giving it extra firepower before Merkel traveled to a European Union summit.

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