German lawmakers back EU treaty, eyes on Ireland


German lawmakers approved legislative changes on Tuesday which should pave the way for ratification of the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty, putting the onus on Ireland to back the text in a referendum next month.

The Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, backed the changes after Germany’s highest court demanded in June that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government tweak legislation on the EU treaty to make it comply with the German constitution.

The Bundesrat, the upper house, must still approve the changes before President Horst Koehler can sign off on the treaty, designed to streamline decision-making in the 27-member bloc.

Apart from Germany, only three other EU countries — Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic — have yet to approve it.

“It brings Europe closer to the people,” Merkel said of the treaty in an address to the Bundestag.

Ireland holds a second referendum next month after voters rejected Lisbon last year and concern is mounting in Brussels that the Irish could reject it again.

Euroskeptic presidents in Prague and Warsaw are expected to back the treaty if Ireland approves it.

Bundestag lawmakers backed the legal changes by a wide margin, with 446 voting in favor and 46 against.

The changes to the German law oblige the government to inform parliament “thoroughly and as early as possible” about EU business and give parliament the right to express an official view on any EU matter the government discusses in Brussels.

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, analysts say.

With an eye on the September 27 election, some in Merkel’s conservative camp, mainly in the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), had pushed for bigger changes.

“In their election programs, everyone talks about being close to the people, but this does not arise from a mammoth (European) headquarters,” said CSU lawmaker Peter Gauweiler, a leading eurosceptic.

Thomas Oppermann, who led parliamentary negotiations on the legislation for the Social Democrats (SPD), said Germany and Europe needed the Lisbon Treaty.

“We don’t need nationalism, neither from the right nor the left. What we need is a peaceful, innovative, economically strong, social and democratic Europe and we will get more of that with the Lisbon Treaty,” Oppermann told the Bundestag.

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 of the EU — 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 for helping push through EU deals on climate change, the bloc’s budget and the Lisbon treaty itself.

But she has also stood up for German interests on issues ranging from CO2 emission reduction targets to helping other EU nations in the financial crisis.

Thompson Reuters

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