Germany Boldly Sets Own Chart for Europe
Germany is staking out a new leadership stance for itself in Europe with a specific call for a future that bolsters the European Union's institutions at the expense of national sovereignty and welcomes a strong accompanying role for the United States.
The Germans want to move quickly. Stressing a need to redefine the German-French relationship, they are expected to bring proposals for more European integration to a summit meeting between France and Germany in Strasbourg on Jan. 31.
In clearly indicating its intention to rally support behind the European Commission - the EU's supranational executive - Germany is explicitly rejecting a model of an intergovernmental Europe, in which national governments become the initiators of European progress, its voice, and the essential representatives of its policies.
The novelty of all this is, at the least, twofold. It represents a confident German leadership initiative for all of Europe, presented alone, conceived outside the French-German tandem of old. And it contains obvious and basic difficulties for partners such as France and Britain.
For the first time, the stance comes with the express engagement of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who until now had largely left defining European policy to Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. There was little vagueness or ambiguity.
Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Fischer brought their positions to a political forum over the weekend, sponsored by the Bertelsmann Foundation, whose participants included Prime Minister Jose Aznar of Spain, Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine of France, Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, and Henry Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of state. .The chancellor clearly stated that intergovernmental cooperation - as opposed to an integrated, community wide approach - cannot be Europe's way forward.
Along this line, he called for the adoption of a basic law or constitution, perhaps at an intergovernmental conference in 2004. And in the immediate future, he urged support for the Commission and "the institutions that do integrationist thinking." .This concept is difficult not only for Britain, with its general resistance to EU functions beyond those of a trading bloc and opposition to a constitution, but also for France, which tends to regard an integrated Europe as likely to be German-dominated and a diminished multiplier for its interests. The largely botched Nice summit meeting of last December, which, under French presidency left the EU looking much like an organization of 15 petty nationalisms, appeared to stand out for Mr. Schroeder as an example of an intergovernmental method that had failed..
At the same time, Mr. Fischer emphasized the American role alongside Europe in words that were in line with the basic orientations of EU countries like Germany and Britain, and to those of a prospective member such as Poland, but not to the instincts of France. This was another way of underscoring the new individuality of Germany's approach. ."We need a strong U.S role" in Europe, Mr. Fischer said. "The United States helps balance the internal contradictions within European interests. I'm convinced the United States will have to play a very important role for us." It was the same tone Mr. Schroeder had struck in an article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, published to coincide with the presidential inauguration in Washington and his remarks here. .The chancellor said, that as Europe makes a stronger contribution to a better balanced, more secure world, "Germany and America can and will undertake with success the great tasks of the 21st century. President Bush and the new administration know that they have a partner and friend in Berlin on whom they can rely." .At the same time, while insisting the French-German relationship needed to be redefined, Mr. Schroeder also had the diplomatic elegance to insist on its crucial, ongoing importance for Europe. .In terms of a specific response to how France might react to the chancellor's urging of more integration, no clues were forthcoming from Mr. Vedrine. But another French participant at the forum, Francois Heisbourg, a professor at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, said the German view of reality "puts the French very squarely in front of the issues." .Discussing the German position privately, a German official said the EU could not be left to wobble on politically while it moves towards expansion eastward. The context, he said, was the French presidential election of 2002, and the reluctance of either of the expected candidates, President Jacques Chirac, or his Socialist rival, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, to take a position that would suggest a loss of French sovereignty through European integration. .Germany has come to regard France as anti-European Commission, a situation rubbed raw by its virtual snub to Mr. Prodi at the Nice summit meeting. .Now, the official said, after having misread French intentions to refuse giving Germany greater voting weight within the EU, it was unclear to Germany what the French government's reaction would be to any approach that could be interpreted in the context of French domestic politics as a dilution of sovereignty or an acceptance of a junior partner's role in relation to the Germans, who have traditionally shown more comfort with integration. .But Mr. Prodi, by jumping all over the intergovernmental model, hardly held back on how he wanted the game to go. .Intergovernmentalism, he said, was fragmented, conflicting, and a recipe for indecision. Worse, he insisted, "it is also a recipe for mutual distrust between member states in the absence of an honest broker" - clearly, the European Commission. .In all of this, no mention was made by either Mr. Schroeder or Mr. Fischer about Germany's effort at Nice, blocked by France, to reweight voting rights, so as to reflect the difference in national populations within the EU and go beyond French-German voting parity. .Well away from the forum, leading members of both the Christian Democrat and Social Democrat delegations at the European Parliament have said that the Parliament's approval of the Treaty of Nice should be held up until vote reweighting and other issues are addressed.
call for a future that bolsters the European Union's institutions at the expense of national sovereignty and welcomes a strong accompanying role for the United States. .The Germans want to move quickly. Stressing a need to redefine the German-French relationship, they are expected to bring proposals for more European integration to a summit meeting between France and Germany in Strasbourg on Jan. 31.
Schröder in call for EU constitution
Gerhard Schröder, Germanys chancellor, on Friday stepped up the pressure for the creation of a European Union constitution in comments which threatened to provoke a fresh rift with France.
Mr Schröders call in Berlin for a form of basic law for the EU was echoed by Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, and came less than two weeks before a special Franco-German summit intended to bridge differences between the two countries. The alliance forged between Mr Schröder and Mr Prodi will increase the pressure on Jacques Chirac, the French president, to clarify his stance on the EUs future ahead of the summit meeting in Strasbourg.
Mr Chirac has proposed a more piecemeal approach, including co-operation between smaller groups of EU member states. Last month, the French president attempted unsuccessfully to block plans for a European constitutional conference in 2004 which Mr Schröder initiated.
Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, would resist a European constitution even though he shares Germanys desire to clarify the responsibilities of the EU and national governments. He wants to codify this in a statement of principles.
The UK opposition Conservative Party would condemn any move towards a constitution as a step to a European superstate, which it dreads.
Speaking at a conference in Berlin organised by the International Bertelsmann forum, Mr Schröder urged that the charter of basic rights agreed by EU leaders at the Nice summit in December should be incorporated into EU treaties, a proposal Mr Blair would resist.
What we need to complete this European basic law is a simplification and reorganisation of the treaties, a clear separation of powers between the Brussels institutions, and above all a clearer division of responsibilities between Brussels, the member states and the regions, Mr Schröder added.
The German chancellor is under pressure from the countrys powerful federal states to push for a clear division of responsibilities within Europe. But he argued that Europes citizens also had a right to know who is responsible for which questions and decisions.
Mr Schröder also said aspirant European Union members in eastern Europe should be fully included in the debate up to 2004.
Similarly, Mr Prodi argued the EU should move progressively towards agreeing a constitution. In comments that Paris and London may find particularly hard to swallow, Mr Prodi insisted that an inter-governmental model, with its conflicting, fragmented decision-making system was no basis for developing a stronger EU. He went on: Intergovernmentalism . . . is a recipe for indecision or, at best, for progress based on the lowest common denominator.
It is also a recipe for mutual distrust between member states in the absence of an honest broker.
Speaking at the same conference, Hubert Vedrine, the French foreign minister, argued that a clear division of responsibilities within Europe was a democratic requirement but stopped short of backing a EU constitution.