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German report
by Euro Reporter
2012-07-11 09:59:43
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German finance minister asks high court not to delay Euro measures

The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, warned on Tuesday of severe consequences for the euro currency union if his country’s highest court blocked Germany’s recent ratification of two main European measures for fighting the region’s financial crisis. Even if the court, as widely expected, eventually approves Germany’s commitment to the measures, legal analysts do not expect a ruling for several months. That could prolong the market anxieties that plague vulnerable euro zone countries like Spain and Italy.  “A considerable delay could result in additional, significant uncertainty in euro zone markets,” Mr. Schäuble told an eight-judge panel of the Federal Constitutional Court at a hearing in the south-western city of Karlsruhe.  It was a rare appearance before the high court by the German finance minister, who was invited by the judges, and it underscored their awareness of the importance their decision would have beyond Germany.

At issue is Germany’s commitment of up to €22 billion, or $27 billion, in direct payments, and of guarantees for an additional €168 billion into Europe’s permanent bailout fund, known as the European Stability Mechanism. The other measure before the court is Germany’s backing of a separate pact to reduce budget deficits and increase coordination of government spending rules that 25 of the 27 European Union nations signed in March. The case before the constitutional court underscores the struggle in adopting long-term solutions to the euro zone’s problems, as even Germany — the country whose leaders have been the strongest advocates for “more Europe” — continues to face domestic opposition to a deeper fiscal and political union for the region. At the core of the debate are questions about how much money richer nations are to give out, and how much political sovereignty all of the currency union’s members would be expected to give up. Even measures already approved by the bloc involve their own forms of delay. For example, in Brussels on Tuesday, European lenders to Greece indicated that based on their recent review of how well Athens was living up to its bailout commitments; they would not be ready to approve the next allowance payment before September.

In Germany, opponents of the two treaties that Mr. Schäuble defended on Tuesday, and which passed the country’s Parliament on June 29 by a clear two-thirds majority, argue that the treaties’ terms violate the German Constitution. Opponents include a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own centre-right coalition, as well as lawmakers from the opposition Left Party and other groups of disgruntled citizens. But Germany is hardly alone in facing domestic opposition to European-integration measures that its leaders support. Increasingly, Dutch and Finnish voters also rankle at the idea that their tax contributions are being spent across wider Europe, while many in France take issue with the limits that European integration would place on how their government sets tax policy. Many analysts and economists say that without the measures drawn up and agreed to in principle by European leaders over the past months, weaker individual countries will continue to remain at the mercy of financial market speculators and continue to labour under high borrowing costs even as they try to revive their economies. For such thinkers, it is a variation of “united we stand, divided we fall.”

“The fundamental problem with the euro zone is that what happens at the federal level in the United States still happens at the national level in the euro zone,” said Philip Whyte, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform in Europe. “Unless they correct that flaw, individual states are going to run into trouble and when they run into trouble, the markets are going to question how much political appetite there is to keep that country within the euro zone,” Mr. Whyte said. It also is not the first time that the fate of Europe’s efforts to save the common currency has rested in the hands of a panel of red-robed judges. In September 2011, the court in Karlsruhe ruled on challenges to the legality of earlier bailout measures. The judges upheld the legality of the measures, but required Parliament to have a say in their approval. Because the German court’s full examination of the treaties under dispute on Tuesday could take months, the opponents also filed a separate emergency challenge, one aimed at preventing the German president from signing them until a final ruling was handed down. Even before the vote last month in Parliament, the judges had asked President Joachim Gauck to withhold his signature until they reached a decision on the emergency blocking measure.


German mayor designates parking spaces just for men

A small town in Germany's Black Forest best known for its cuckoo clocks and beautiful scenery is making headlines thanks to its mayor's new parking policy, which designates special parking spaces for male drivers because they are harder to get into. Triberg Mayor Gallus Strobel told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung he hopes to "challenge political correctness" with his new policy, adding that the tight spaces will be an "attraction" for ambitious drivers. "Men are, as a rule, a little better at such challenges," Strobel, 58, said.

"The spots are tough to park in, and one must drive in reverse," he added, according to the German publication Focus. The spaces set aside for women are wider, well-lit, and closer to the exit, TheLocal reported, while those designated for men require the driver to skillfully maneuver the vehicle into the spot and avoid hitting cement pillars. The parking lot denotes which space is intended for which sex with large images of standard gender symbols.

The mayor told Focus the parking policy is, above all, a publicity stunt to draw tourists' attention to the idyllic town of Triberg. "Our city spends about 50,000 euros every year for marketing, and the parking action may have cost us 50 euros," Strobel told Focus. The mayor said the feedback has been mostly positive, adding that one man emailed him to say he would visit Triberg just so he could test his parking skills. "Of course, there are also great women drivers!" Strobel added, according to TheLocal. "They are, of course, most welcome!"


Protest grows over German registration law

Criticism is growing over a controversial bill passed last month by Germany's Bundestag that would allow the sale of personal registration information to marketing firms. The rows of seats in Germany's lower house, the Bundestag, were nearly empty on June 28 when deputies were called to vote on a new data registration law. Hardly surprising, as the vote coincided with the Euro 2012 soccer championship semi-finals, with the German national team facing off against Italy.

Accordingly, the bill was whisked through in record time: after 57 seconds and no debate at all, deputies had rubber-stamped a drastic reform concerning the sale of citizens' private data by local registration offices. A German federalism reform in 2006, initiated to transfer certain responsibilities from the states to the federal government, necessitated new registration legislation. Rather than 16 different regulations on passing on citizen's data, there was to be one binding procedure. However, the version speedily approved by parliament is quite controversial: the bill allows local registration offices to sell citizens' data to third parties - marketing firms, for instance.

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