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German Top Judges Say EU Court Rulings Prevail Short of `Gross' Abuses

Germany’s top constitutional judges ruled that the country’s courts must follow precedents set down by the European Union’s Court of Justice unless they were rendered in an “evident violation of powers.”

The Federal Constitutional Court rejected arguments that judges didn’t have to follow an EU court ruling outlawing the disparate treatment of older workers in employment contracts. Even if the ECJ overstepped its authority under EU treaties, the violation wouldn’t necessarily be serious enough to disregard the ruling, the constitutional court said in a statement today.

Such a step is only permissible “if European institutions violate their competencies in a sufficiently qualified way,” the Karlsruhe, Germany-based judges wrote. “This presupposes that EU power holders act in evident violation of their competencies and the action changes the Union’s competence structure at the expense of the member states.”

Several German suits have challenged the EU decisions arguing they were taken outside the powers granted to the bloc under its treaties. The constitutional court is currently considering complaints arguing Germany may not participate in the Greek debt and euro bailout rescue funds.

Today’s case concerned a German law making it easier to limit the length of employment contracts for workers older than 52. The ECJ, the EU’s top court, said the law violates a general EU principle against age discrimination, because younger workers were better protected against employment term limits.

The ECJ ruling has been widely criticized by German legal scholars. The plaintiff in today’s case picked up their arguments that the ECJ was wrong to “invent” such a general principle against age discrimination because EU rules didn’t grant such a power to the EU’s top court.

The case is: BVerfG, 2 BvR 2661/06.

To contact the reporter on this story: Karin Matussek in Berlin at kmatussek@bloomberg.net.

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