The European Central Bank and the German Constitutional Court: Police Patrols and Fire Alarms

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

The European Central Bank and the German Constitutional Court: Police Patrols and Fire Alarms

  • Clément Fontan Institute of Political Science Louvain-Europe, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium
  • David Howarth Department of Social Sciences, Institute of Political Science, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg

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Abstract:  In May 2020, a ruling of the German Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) questioned the legality of the Bundesbank’s participation in the European Central Bank’s (ECB’s) Public Sector Purchase Programme. Applying elements of a principal-agent analysis, this article analyses how the FCC ruling presents us with a new understanding of the relationship between the ECB, other EU institutions and Eurozone member states. Existing principal-agent analyses of the ECB focus upon its relations with other EU-level institutions and point to the limited ex ante control mechanisms and efforts to reinforce ex post control mechanisms—notably European Parliament oversight. The FCC ruling and the ECB’s reaction demonstrate the relative importance of national level controls over the ECB agent. This article understands the role of private plaintiffs in Germany as a form of ‘fire alarm’ on ECB policymaking against the background of weak ex post controls at the EU-level.

Keywords:  accountability; Bundesbank; Bundestag; Court of Justice of the European Union; European Central Bank; European Parliament; German Federal Constitutional Court; monetary policy; ordo-liberalism; principal-agent analysis



© Clément Fontan, David Howarth. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.