EU threatens action against Germany over court row

Germany's highest court issued harsh criticism of the European Union's top court. PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has raised the spectre of legal action against Germany after the country's highest court issued harsh criticism of the bloc's top court.

The unprecedented spat threatens to undermine the authority of the European Court of Justice, giving ammunition to countries like Poland and Hungary in their battle with EU institutions.

"I take this matter very seriously," Ms von der Leyen said in a written response to a question from Greens MEP Sven Giegold, which he shared on Twitter on Sunday (May 10).

"The Commission is now in the process of analysing in detail the more than 100-page judgement of the German Constitutional Court," Ms von der Leyen wrote.

"On the basis of these findings, we are considering possible next steps, including infringement proceedings."

In a bombshell ruling on Tuesday, Germany's Constitutional Court questioned the ECB's bond-buying scheme, which has been credited with powering eurozone growth after the financial crisis.

The judges in Karlsruhe gave the ECB three months to justify the stimulus and show that the benefits of mass government debt purchases outweigh the side effects.

Otherwise, the judges said they will ban Germany's powerful Bundesbank central bank from participating in the two-trillion-euro scheme.

The court also slammed the Luxembourg-based ECJ for rubber-stamping the asset purchases in an earlier ruling, and said Germany was not bound by the ECJ decision.

Observers said the German sidelining of the ECJ could be a boost for nations like Hungary and Poland, whose reforms to the political and judicial systems have drawn allegations they are eroding democracy.

"EU law takes precedence over national law, and of course the rulings of the European Court of Justice are binding for all national courts," Ms von der Leyen said in the letter, written in German.

The ECJ also hit back at Germany, saying in a statement on Friday that it alone had legal authority over the ECB.

But Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki welcomed the German ruling as "one of the most important rulings in the history of the European Union".

For the first time judges have clearly stated that the member states decide "where the lines are for EU institutions", he said in a guest article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on Sunday.

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