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Monday, 7 May, 2001, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Schroeder's European vision
Outside the Pallace Britz in Berlin
Leaders of leftist European parties meet in Berlin
By European Affairs analyst William Horsley

The German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has proposed for Europe a structure of government modelled on the one used by Germany itself.

The former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl - came up with the master plan
The origins of Gerhard Schroeder's radical proposals lie in the process of European integration started by his predecessor Helmut Kohl 10 years ago.

Then, Helmut Kohl laid out a master plan, for economic and monetary union in Europe, matched by what he called "political union", or the creation of a United States of Europe.

It took many years for him to convince allies like the French, as well as the German nation itself, that this was the future destiny both of a re-united Germany and of Europe as a whole.

Now, with the euro currency due to be launched in actual coins and notes at the start of next year, Gerhard Schroeder has set out his own blueprint for achieving political union.

Unacceptable

But the term United States of Europe is not used because it is unacceptable to other European leaders, notably in Britain and France.


"They see Germany is the country with the largest population wiithin the European Union. And they feel Germany does have a role in pushing the EU further."

Patrick Outdorffer of the opinion poll organisation Forsa
Helmut Kohl used to taunt opponents of his European vision, saying that in Germany no party could win elections by being "against Europe". And he was never proved wrong.

Today, opinion polls show most Germans still resent the idea of giving up the Deutschemark in favour of the euro.

But Patrick Outdorffer of the opinion poll organisation Forsa told the BBC that the Germans now want to see their government pulling its weight in the debate over the Future of Europe: "They see Germany is the country with the largest population wiithin the European Union. And they feel Germany does have a role in pushing the EU further."

Logic

The logic of the German plan is that a European Union that is due to grow in due course to around 30 member-states can only be effective if it is driven by a strong governmental power.

Robin Cook, who is set to become the next President of the European Socialists
UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wants the plan toned down

Individual countries would have to bow to the will of the majority in order to achieve common European policies on both home and foreign affairs. Already four-fifths of EU decisions are taken by majority voting, so it is argued, that is not such a big change.

The powers of the European Commission would be much increased. Its president would be elected by the European parliament, to give it democratic legitimacy, but the role of member-states in the formation of EU policy would be cut back.

Under the Schroeder plan the Council of Ministers, now the key decision-making institution, would be re-formed as a so-called "Chamber of Nations".

Its role would be like that of Germany's Upper House, the Bundesrat, which jealously protects the powers and interests of the constituent federal states, such as Bavaria or North Rhine-Westphalia, but which gives way to the federal government in other matters, like foreign affairs and general economic policy.


France's Minister for Europe Pierre Moscovici has dismissed it as outside "mainstream European thinking".

This plan has some big attractions for the Germans themselves. In the proposed "European Federation" Germany and its regions would win back more powers of self-government or self-regulation in key areas like farm subsidies and regional aid.

This would mean an end to Germany's role as the main paymaster of the EU budget.

The proposals have shown up deep divisions among the left-of-centre governments which are now in power across most of the EU.

France's Minister for Europe, Pierre Moscovici, has dismissed it as outside "mainstream European thinking". He said it would be wrong to reduce the power of nation-states to that of a mere Upper House.

Above all he made clear that France sees national governments as the bedrock of the EU's future development.

The British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, also wants the plan toned down.

On the eve of a general election campaign it would do the British Labour Party no good to be associated with ambitious ideas which opponents say would lead to a "European superstate".

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