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Europe: Germany Edges Toward A More Loosely Integrated EU

London, 28 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A recent report says Germany is edging towards a new vision of Europe, leaving behind the concept of a closely-integrated federal union in favor of a widening Europe with different levels of development in member states.

The claim comes in the latest edition of Strategic Survey, an analysis of world events over the past year published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Commenting on plans to expand the EU to include the East/Central Europeans, the report says Germany's policy on enlargement has recently moved closer to that of Britain and away from that of its closest EU ally, France. Britain is one of the most vocal advocates of the eastward expansion of the EU, saying it wants a union of 25 to 30 members, and an end to "50 years of the artificial division of the continent."

But Britain is skeptical about the vision of full political and economic union long pressed by the Bonn-Paris axis, and is reluctant to surrender further national sovereignty to Brussels.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl appeared to move closer to the British position when he recently stood in the way of allowing more EU decisions by majority vote, particularly on asylum and immigration.

Kohl also blocked a French proposal for new EU spending aimed at lowering continental Europe's 12 percent jobless rate, insisting that employment policy should remain in national hands.

The shift in Germany's policy towards EU decision-making may reflect a rethink on how to prepare for the single currency.

Germany has long demanded that the new currency to replace the deutschmark should be a "hard" one. But it has had to accept membership for the southern European countries, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, whose monetary policy has long been regarded as "soft".

The report says Germany was unable to oppose membership for these so-called "Club Med" countries because of its own struggle to meet the strict Maastricht Treaty criteria on budget deficits.

Now, a total of 11 EU nations (all except Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Greece) will be "in" at the launch of the Euro on Jan 1, 1999. This is more than the "hard core" Bonn originally anticipated.

This in turn has brought new domestic political pressures on Kohl who recently announced his decision to run for a fifth term.

Many Germans are unhappy about the decision to abandon the deutschmark and question Germany's disproportionately high (60 percent of the total) net contribution to the EU budget.

Critics say Kohl, whose hopes of winning the September elections now look in doubt, should more strongly focus on domestic concerns, such as jobs, immigration and crime, and more vigorously defend Germany's national interests in Europe. So, electoral calculations may have influenced his shift over the EU.

RFE/RL correspondent says the East/Central Europeans will now be closely monitoring the rival German political parties' statements on enlargement in the run-up the autumn general elections.

The EU has invited Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Estonia, together with Cyprus, to begin negotiations on accession. The remaining five new applicants, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, will have to wait in the queue.

The new report says, with 80,000 pages of European guidelines and rules to be negotiated, it is unlikely that full membership will be achieved by any of the front-runners much before 2005.

The report warns, however, that the enlargement of the EU may hinge on a successful launch of the single currency. If the euro falls into difficulty, or meets outright failure, this would plunge Europe "into the doldrums". If that happens, plans to expand the EU could be shelved. As always, much will depend on Germany.