All Bark and No Bite: Notes on the Federal Constitutional Court's ‘Banana Decision’

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Abstract:

The Federal Constitutional Court's banana decision of 7 June 2000 continues the complex theme of national fundamental-rights control over Community law. Whereas in the ‘Solange II’ decision (BVerfGE 73, 339) the Federal Constitutional Court had lowered its standard of review to the general guarantee of the constitutionally mandatorily required minimum, the Maastricht judgment (BVerfGE 89, 155) had raised doubts as to the continued validity of this case law. In the banana decision, which was based on the submission of the EC banana market regulation by the Frankfurt-am-Main administrative court for constitutional review, the Federal Constitutional Court has now confirmed the ‘Solange II’decision and restrictively specified the admissibility conditions for constitutional review of Community law as follows. Constitutional complaints and judicial applications for review of European legislation alleging fundamental-rights infringements are inadmissible unless they show that the development of European law including Court of Justice case law has since the ‘Solange II’ decision generally fallen below the mandatorily required fundamental-rights standard of the Basic Law in a given field. This would require a comprehensive comparison of European and national fundamental-rights protection.

This paper criticises this formula as being logically problematic and scarcely compatible with the Basic Law. Starting from the position that national constitutional courts active even in European matters should be among the essential vertical ‘checks and balances’ in the European multi-level system, a practical alternative to the Federal Constitutional Court's retreat is developed. This involves at the first stage a submission by the Federal Constitutional Court to the Court of Justice, something that in the banana case might have taken up questions on the method of fundamental-rights review and the internal Community effect of WTO dispute settlement decisions. Should national constitutional identity not be upheld even by this, then at a second stage, as ultima ratio taking recourse to general international law, the call is made for the decision of constitutional conflicts by an independent mediating body.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-0386.00120

Affiliations: Research Fellow, European University Institute in Florence and Habilitation Candidate at the University of Munich

Publication date: March 1, 2001

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