Politics

Papa don’t preach

Germany is the leading breaker of EU rules

Breaking the rules, me? Source: Reuters

Source: REUTERS

Yes, it’s really true: Germany is the top rule breaker in the European Union. The country, which has lectured debt sinners like Greece, performs worst in complying with European Union legislation. Physician, heal thyself.

New figures from Germany’s Economics Ministry reveal that Angela Merkel’s government currently faces no less than 74 infringement proceedings for failing to adequately and timely convert EU rules into German law. “We’re no longer the model pupil – we’re bottom of the class,” Green Party politician Markus Tressel told Handelsblatt. The Green Party requested the numbers from the ministry.

The latest available EU-wide data, which uses figures from the end of 2016, already shows Germany topping the list of violators, together with Spain. And though the ministry’s new figures show a decrease, it’s still 20-percent higher than in 2012. “The government performs badly in converting EU directives into national law, especially in the areas of traffic and environment,” said Mr. Tressel.

The violations cover key issues affecting health and safety, including air pollution, traffic noise, fire protection measures and water quality, according to the ministry’s figures. Germany’s transportation ministry currently faces 20 infringement procedures, while the environment and finance ministries come in second and third.

The economics ministry pointed out that the numbers may not be as damning as they first seem. The initiation of infringement proceedings does not necessarily mean Germany is in breach of EU law. The European Court of Justice, or ECJ, has the final say on whether there has been a serious breach. Currently, the top court has only reviewed infringement procedures in 12 of the 74 cases.

Whatever the outcome, other EU nations may experience some Schadenfreude seeing the top number. Germany, after all, has a reputation as a rule-abiding nation, where procedures and diligence can take precedence over flexibility and innovation. When it comes to implementing new laws, the figures seem to suggest the country suffers from inertion or sloppiness.

European partners will also recall some German finger-pointing. Former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, for instance, was famous for insisting that Greece must clean up its finances during and after the euro debt crisis from 2010 to 2012. And German Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks urged Belgium in 2016 to improve the safety of two Belgian nuclear reactors, located close to the German border. Since 2007 it has continuously been in breach of European current-account rules because Germany sells so many goods abroad and its trade surplus is so large — the biggest in the world in fact — compared to economic output.

To a certain degree, the new revelations are a deja-vu of 2003, when Germany was the first country to break deficit rules that apply to all 19 euro-zone countries. Frugal European countries, especially Germany, had been pushing for strict regulations to limit budget deficits and debt levels. When Germany failed to reign in its deficit in the aftermath of the dot.com bust and ensuing recession, it agreed with France the rules didn’t apply.

The new figures also show that Germany sometimes simply doesn’t bother to create the necessary corresponding laws.

Martin Greive is a correspondent for Handelsblatt based in Berlin. Till Hoppe, a Handelsblatt correspondent in Brussels, contributed to this article. To contact the author: greive@handelsblatt.com

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