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EU court faces 'declaration of war' from Germany's top judges

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In a long-awaited ruling on the European Central Bank's quantitative easing programme, Germany's constitutional court (top) in Karlsruhe accused the EU Court of Justice of overstepping its powers when it backed the ECB's controversial policy.

[FRANKFURT] The European Union's top court faced the most stinging attack in its 68-year history - not from Brexiteers, but from its German counterpart.

In a long-awaited ruling on the European Central Bank's quantitative easing programme, Germany's constitutional court in Karlsruhe accused the EU Court of Justice of overstepping its powers when it backed the ECB's controversial policy.

The German court said the EU judges' December 2018 ruling that QE was in line with EU rules was "objectively arbitrary" and is "methodologically no longer justifiable." It gave the ECB a three-month ultimatum to fix flaws in the measure.

"This is a declaration of war on the ECJ, and it will have consequences," said Joachim Wieland, a law professor at the University of Administrative Sciences, who sees the real challenge in the future relationship between the EU court and national constitutional tribunals. "It's an invitation for other countries to simply ignore decisions that they don't like."

The ruling is a direct challenge to the supremacy of the EU judges, whose rulings are binding across the 27-nation bloc. The German court said this no longer applies in extreme examples when the EU tribunal fails in its duties.

It's not only the toughest criticism the Luxembourg-based EU judges have faced by one of the bloc's most senior courts, it also creates a risk that other nations will start to doubt their authority.

"One of the most reputable constitutional courts in the world called the EU judges' action blatantly arbitrary," said Peter Gauweiler, a former lawmaker and one of the plaintiffs in the German case. The EU court "now has to cope" with that.

The German clash comes as the EU court has traded blows with Poland's nationalist government over reforms to the legal system. The institution has also long been contentious among the ranks of Brexiteers, who won the UK's 2016 referendum campaign.

"We reaffirm the primacy of EU law and the fact that rulings by the EU Court of Justice are binding on all national courts," Eric Mamer, spokesman of the European Commission said at a regular press briefing.

The EU tribunal doesn't comment on rulings from national courts, Juan-Carlos Gonzalez, head of the court's press service, said by phone.

The ECB's asset-purchase programme has been a concern for the German court since its inception. In 2017, its judges asked the EU court for an interim decision aimed at limiting the ECB's leeway, but the EU tribunal rejected the restrictive reading of the law suggested by their German counterparts.

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