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Konrad Werner: Constitutional prick tease

Konrad loves Germany's Constitutional Court. It's so dirty and shameless and exciting. And they wear big red coats.

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Photo by pop culture geek (Pop Culture Geek; Flickr CC)

My favourite group of red-hatted people in Germany are the Bundesverfassungsgericht, or constitutional court. They are basically like the Supreme Court in the US, except they’re not readily attached to any political party or appointed by the president, or any of that weird anti-democratic nonsense. While in the US debates about Supreme Court decisions always fall into rows about whether or not the judges are “conservative” or “liberal”, the BVerfG generally goes around stopping the government from doing most things it wants to do.

Can we ban the NPD? NO, their voices boom out, chilling party leaders and onlookers. Can we have a complex differentiated smoking ban, depending in what kind of food you serve?NO, the judges declare sonorously, their eyes probably blazing above their Imperial-Guard-from-Star-Wars costumes. Can we disable the parliament to impose a European-wide fiscal compact? PROBABLY NOT. WELL, MAYBE. LET US THINK ABOUT IT. But we have to do it soon! Otherwise Europe will go down the pan or burn or something bad! I SAID WE’LL THINK ABOUT IT.

The Constitutional Court is actually a lot like Fabius Maximus, the “Delayer” Roman general who took on Hannibal in the Second Punic War. Fabius wore out the fabled Carthaginian invader by constantly denying him open battle but keeping his soldiers close enough to exhaust Hannibal’s army. This became known as “Fabian strategy”, or “prick-teasing”, as we call it nowadays.

Well, the judges have certainly been prick-teasing Angela Merkel rotten this week. This time, they waited ages till the German government passed a reform on Germany’s election system and then decided it was unconstitutional. The government MPs who voted for the mindwarping idea, which involved giving Angie’s party more seats by sort of adding up the votes a bit different, were all a bit hurt and lost and outraged, and suddenly began to worry in case they were a bit unconstitutional too. And that made them feel dirty.

I think from now on they should just ask the Constitutional Court beforehand what they can and can’t do. Then politicians wouldn’t feel so hurt and betrayed.