- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has energized opponents of the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels and unnerved Germanys European partners by calling for a beefed-up EU superstate united under a single federal constitution.
France yesterday joined Britain in expressing deep skepticism about the heart of the Schroeder plan, released as a position paper by the chancellors Social Democratic Party over the weekend.
"Its an idea that goes a long way down a German — that is to say a federalist — road," said French Minister for Europe Pierre Moscovici. "I dont think it is at the center of EU thinking."
An increasingly self-confident Germany, already the largest economy in the 15-nation EU, startled its partners with the release of a detailed reform blueprint designed to strengthen core EU ministries, create a two-chamber EU parliament with real budget and oversight powers, and make the institutions administrative and political decision-making process more understandable to the average European.
At the core of the Schroeder plan is a shift of key functions from European capitals to Brussels and a new EU constitution clearly spelling out the powers of EU, national and regional governments.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer raised many of the same ideas in a speech last year. Mr. Schroeders extension of his foreign ministers ideas highlights growing German impatience with the lack of progress at EU summits to define the EUs role and clarify its powers.
Even ardent opponents of the German plan credit the chancellor for bringing into the open a long-overdue debate.
"This is the argument that Europe should have had 50 years ago," said John Hulsman, a senior European analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "You have to give the guy credit for frankness even if you think this one-size-fits-all vision for Europe is exactly the wrong way to go."
"We strongly disagree with (Mr. Schroeder)," Francis Maude, chief foreign policy spokesman for Britains Conservative opposition, said this week, "but at least he has the courage of his convictions."
Robert Gerald Livingston, senior visiting fellow at the German Historical Institute, said: "I think Schroeder simply got frustrated that some of the ideas he was interested in werent even being discussed. This certainly raised the issue up a notch and proposes roughly a German federal model for Europe."
As in Germany, the EU overhaul proposed by Mr. Schroeders party would create a two-chamber system in which the upper house would consist of representatives of the EUs member-states, replacing the current Council of Ministers.
Mr. Schroeder would give greatly expanded authority to the European Commission in Brussels, arguing it would deserve new powers because his plan would give more direct say to the elected governments in the EU legislature.
Reflecting another top German priority, the EU would be stripped of certain powers, notably the control of farm subsidy payments, and some welfare functions would be given back to the states. That reflects unhappiness in Germanys own regional governments over the EUs massive agricultural support programs.
The German proposal was shrewdly presented as a draft platform for Mr. Schroeders political party, not as an official position of the state. It also catered to German domestic realities, where the political elites give broad support to "integrationist" policies designed to transfer traditional sovereignty rights of the nation-state to the EU.
Still, the plan caused intense political discomfort in both Paris and London, the other key players in the burgeoning debate about the future of the EU.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, trying to protect a lead in the opinion polls ahead of a June 7 general election, has positioned himself as the leader best able to straddle Britains hopes for a greater role in Europe with deep domestic skepticism about the EU and Brussels.
A Blair spokesman said diplomatically that the prime minister "welcomed" Mr. Schroeders ideas, but made clear Britain would oppose the proposed revamping of the EU parliament, a centerpiece of the Schroeder plan.
British political analysts said Mr. Blair is eager to keep divisive European issues out of the campaign, figuring it can cost his Labor Party votes on June 7.
Smaller EU members such as Austria and Ireland have expressed deep skepticism about the German idea, fearful that their political clout would be diluted even more in a bulked-up EU bureaucracy in Brussels. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said any EU governmental reforms should not lead to the creation of an EU "superstate."
In France, long used to being the conductor of the EU political orchestra, the Schroeder proposals have been seen as confirmation of Berlins increasingly assertive voice in EU councils.
France has been slow to formulate its own EU reform proposals, seen as vital as the union faces the daunting challenge of assimilating as many as a dozen new members over the next decade.
"The way this debate has unfolded just confirms that Germany is now first among equals in Europe," said Mr. Hulsman.


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