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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Schroeder EU vision causes stir
New Germany Chancellery in Berlin
World attention on Germany's EU reform plans comes as a new Chancellery is opened in Berlin
Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) has unveiled a radical plan to turn the European Commission into a fully-fledged government that would serve as the heart of a federal Europe.

The proposals, which the party was prompted to make public after they were reported in the magazine Der Spiegel, would also strengthen the European parliament, giving it "total sovereignty" over the EU budget.


We want the EU Commission from now to be strengthened to become a government, a real European government, beside the national governments

SPD spokesman, Michael Donnermeier
Both suggestions are highly controversial in many European countries, but they have been broadly welcomed in Germany itself.

The European Commission welcomed "the pursuit of this extremely important debate" but spokesmen refused to comment in more detail until the German Government had presented concrete proposals.

Democratisation

Unveiling the plan, SPD secretary-general Franz Muentefering said the party wanted Europe to be "more transparent".

"The debate must begin now, even if everyone does not agree on everything," he said.

Schroeder plan
Euro-parliament has full control of budget
Upper house made up of national government ministers
Existing parliament becomes lower house
European "president" chosen by parliament
European Commission becomes "strong executive"
National or regional governments control taxation and infrastructure aid
European constitution
The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper said the proposals would "democratise" Europe, while the Suddeutsche Zeitung quoted Angela Merkel, the leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), saying that the measures would help to overcome the EU's "democratic deficit".

The newspaper added that Mr Schroeder would have to search hard for comrades-in-arms in Europe.

"Unfortunately they are hard to come by at present," it said.

The Schroeder plan envisages turning the existing Council of Ministers - made up of government ministers from each member state - into a upper chamber of parliament.

The existing European Parliament would become the lower chamber.

European government

Michael Donnermeier, SPD spokesman, told the BBC: "We want the EU Commission from now to be strengthened to become a government, a real European government, beside the national governments."

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (left) with Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Tony Blair (left) expects a "big debate" on Europe
The idea of an indirectly elected president is likely to be resisted by national government used to haggling over the appointment of the European Commission president.

Official foreign reaction was muted.

The Swedish Government, which currently holds the EU presidency, said it welcomed a debate on the future of Europe.

Foreign Minister Anna Lindh has in the past argued against a European "superstate".

Election bid

The office of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair pointed out that there would be a "big debate" on reform of the EU before six more countries join the union at some point in the next few years.

However, foreign affairs spokesman for the eurosceptic opposition Conservative Party, Frances Maude, said the plans would "damage our economy and our democracy".

In the past, Mr Schroeder has let his Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, voice the government's vision for the future of Europe.

BBC Berlin correspondent Rob Broomby says it now appears he wants to take the issue centre-stage himself.

He says the document signals the chancellor's wish to make European policy central to his re-election campaign in 2002.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar
"There's been a cool response to the German proposals"
On the Today programme:
Hans Friedrich von Ploetz, German ambassador, and Francis Maud , shadow foreign secretary
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Its not very likely"
See also:

29 Apr 01 | Politics
24 Jan 01 | Europe
17 Jan 01 | Europe
07 Dec 00 | Europe
24 Mar 01 | Politics
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