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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Schroeder's EU plans explained
New Germany Chancellery in Berlin
Schroeder envisages an EU similar to the German federal system
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has described his paper proposing reform of the European Union as just a "sketch" and a starting point for discussion.

Due for debated at a conference of his Social Democratic Party (SPD) this autumn, it outlines future party policy on everything from employment and education to enlargement and human rights.

But the section which has proved most controversial - the last of six priorities listed in the paper - deals with the shape of the EU's institutions.

  • [The SPD advocates] improving the transparency of decision paths on the European level by reforming the Commission to become a strong European executive, by further strengthening the rights of the European Parliament by means of increased co-decision and full budgetary authority, and by expanding the Council to become a Chamber of European Nations.

SPD officials say they envisage a strengthening of the Commission's powers - transforming it into a genuine government, comparable to the governments of member states - but the policy paper does not outline precisely what it would be expected to do.

The European Parliament would gain the power to elect the commission's president - at present it only endorses a pre-selected candidate.

European Parliament
Parliament would gain increased powers under the proposals
Instead of sharing decision-making power over the budget with the Council of Ministers, as it does at present, the parliament would take full control over it, including the vast sums spent on agriculture subsidies.

The current Council of Ministers - a kind of cabinet of cabinets made up of government ministers from the member states - would be transformed into an upper house of parliament like Germany's upper chamber, the Bundesrat.

There representatives protect the powers and interests of Germany's regional governments but give way to the federal government in other matters, like foreign affairs and general economic policy.

Balances

The paper also calls for the EU to play a more prominent role on the world stage:

"[The SPD advocates] strengthening... the EU's ability to take action in the areas of foreign policy, inner security and immigration, because individual member states are decreasingly capable of effectively promoting their interests on the international stage."

This may seem to add up to a Euro-government, but the four other priorities put forward by the SPD provide balances, pulling power away from the central EU institutions.

They call for measures to:

  • "Delineate... the political responsibilities of the European level and of the member states respectively. The right to grant new competencies to the EU must remain with the member states."

  • "Take precautions against a creeping transfer of competencies to the European level."

  • "Return to the national level of jurisdiction those tasks that can more suitably be performed by the member states... in order to expand the leeway for independent regional and structural policy by the member states."

  • "Ensure that the member states retain the flexibility and structural competence to provide for public and social security."
In effect the paper lays out a system for EU built along similar lines to Germany's own method of federal government.

Whether this remains a "sketch" or not will be decided at the next inter-governmental conference in 2004 - a conference where the EU will be forced tackle questions of reform, which cannot be ignored in an enlarged union.

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See also:

07 May 01 | Europe
Schroeder's European vision
29 Apr 01 | UK Politics
'Euro government' gets cool reception
24 Jan 01 | Europe
Fischer backs off EU 'superstate'
17 Jan 01 | Europe
Sweden shuns enlargement date
07 Dec 00 | Europe
Fears of a European superstate
24 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Summit 'could have done more'
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