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COVID-19

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

A sign with the federal eagle and the words
A sign with the federal eagle and the words "Bundesverfassungsgericht" (Federal Constitutional Court), in front of the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uli Deck

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.

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COVID RULES

What Covid rules are still in place in Germany from February?

With fewer and fewer Covid-19 cases hitting Germany’s intensive care units, many federal states have – or plan to – get rid of most identifiable Covid rules. Here’s what’s still on the books.

What Covid rules are still in place in Germany from February?

Germany dropped its requirement to wear an FFP2 or KN95 surgical mask on long-distance trains on Thursday, with many federal states also getting rid of mandatory masks on public transport the same day.

The federal government still requires people to wear FFP2 masks in hospitals and care facilities and requires negative Covid-19 tests for arrivals from China. Otherwise, most Covid rules in Germany have been left up to the 16 federal states, potentially leading to a confusing patchwork of rules. Here’s a rundown of what’s in place throughout the country. 

Baden-Württemberg

The southwest German state has gotten rid of essentially all its Covid rules as of January 31st. There is no requirement to wear a mask on public transport or in doctor’s offices. There is also no requirement to isolate for someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

The requirement to wear masks in hospitals and care facilities remains though, as it’s a federal law.

Bavaria

Bavaria has ended both its obligation to isolate if someone tests positive for Covid-19 and its FFP2 mask requirement on public transport. People are still required to wear an FFP2 mask in most cases where they interact with the health system, including doctor’s offices.

People wear masks on the S-Bahn in Frankfurt.

People wear masks on the S-Bahn in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Berlin

The capital has ended its requirement for FFP2 masks on public transport.

Isolation requirements remain in place for someone testing positive for Covid-19. They can exit quarantine after five days, with or without a negative test, provided they’ve been without symptoms for at least 48 hours.

The requirement to wear an FFP2 remains in place for doctor’s offices and other health facilities.

Brandenburg

The state surrounding Berlin has lifted FFP2 requirements for public transport but kept a slightly stricter regime than its neighbour. People working in or visiting hospitals, homeless shelters, or refugee centres must test negative for Covid before entering, and must wear an FFP2 mask. The isolation requirement remains on the books. A mask requirement remains in effect for doctor’s offices.

Bremen

The city-state has lifted all state-level corona regulations as of Thursday, including masking and isolation requirements. People in Bremen must still comply with the federal requirement to mask in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Hamburg

People in Hamburg no longer have to wear a mask on public transport. They also might not have to isolate if they test positive for Covid-19 – in this case, you only need to isolate if you feel unwell. If you have no symptoms, you don’t have to isolate. If you visit a doctor’s office though, you need to wear a mask. If visiting a hospital or care facility, you must first test negative for Covid-19.

Hesse

There is no longer either a mask requirement for public transport or an isolation requirement in Hesse. However, someone testing positive for Covid-19 is required to keep an FFP2 mask on if they leave the house and is not allowed to visit a hospital or care facility until their infection clears. People must also test negative before entering such a facility.

Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania

The seaside state has lifted its masking requirement on public transport but it remains on the books in doctor’s offices. Isolation requirements also remain in place.

READ ALSO: Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Lower Saxony

Together with Bremen, Lower Saxony lifted its mask requirement for public transport this week and it no longer remains in the books. Just about everything else does that was in place before does though, including isolation requirements and masking requirements for doctor’s offices.

North Rhine-Westphalia

As of February 1st, you don’t have to wear a mask on public transport in Germany’s most populous state – or isolate at home if you’ve tested positive for Covid-19. If you test positive, you can’t go into a hospital or care facility until at least five days later. You also need to wear a mask at the doctor’s office.

Rhineland Palatinate

The requirement to wear a mask on public transport in the Rhineland also lifts Thursday. Isolation requirements are also gone but anyone testing positive is required to wear a mask in public spaces such as grocery stores. Someone out for a walk by themselves outside doesn’t have to wear one, even if they’ve tested positive. Masks remain required in medical spaces, such as doctor’s offices and people visiting hospitals or care facilities must have a negative Covid-19 test.

Saarland

Germany’s small southwestern state has lifted its masking requirement for public transport and in crowded spaces such as homeless shelters or refugee centres. The isolation requirement remains in place, as well as masks in doctor’s offices and other medical spaces.

Saxony

Saxony is getting rid of almost all of its Covid-19 regulations on Friday. Both masking and isolation requirements will go. The one exception is that masks will still be required when someone comes in contact with the health system, such as in a doctor’s office.

Saxony-Anhalt

Saxony-Anhalt was one of the first federal states to drop its masking and isolation rules. The last of its state rules were lifted in January. The federal masking requirement for hospitals and care facilities remains in effect there though.

A sign with the inscription "Ride only allowed with mouth-nose covering! Protect yourself and others!" is stuck to the train door of a Deutsche Bahn train at Nuremberg main station.

A sign with the inscription “Ride only allowed with mouth-nose covering! Protect yourself and others!” is stuck to the train door of a Deutsche Bahn train at Nuremberg main station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

Schleswig-Holstein

Germany’s northern state, surrounding Hamburg, has more or less lifted its Covid-19 rules. Federal rules about wearing a mask in hospitals and care facilities are still in effect, with only a few exceptions.

Thuringia

Starting Friday, there is no requirement to either wear a mask on public transport or isolate in Thuringia if you’ve tested positive for Covid-19. If you are positive, you’re required to wear a mask when outside your home.

Federal regulations, which govern mask wearing in hospitals and care facilities, are scheduled to remain in place until at least April 7th.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

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