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Germany: Schroeder Says Berlin Will Push For Reforms At EU Summit

Germany has signaled that it will strongly support reform of the European Union at next month's EU summit in France, even though the meeting may not achieve all that it believes is necessary. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich.

Munich, 29 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told the German parliament yesterday that internal reform was essential if the EU is to function efficiently after it takes in new members from eastern Europe in coming years. His views were backed by the opposition Christian Democratic Party, despite CDU criticisms of some aspects of the Social Democrat-led government's policy.

Schroeder focused his remarks particularly on plans to allow more EU decisions to be taken by majority voting instead of requiring unanimity. This has long been a German goal and Schroeder insisted again yesterday that, without such a reform, the EU could sink into stagnation after enlargement to the east.

"It is important not just for us -- but also for us -- that in an expanded EU decisions may be taken by a qualified majority and are taken by such a majority."

Schroeder acknowledged that many of the smaller EU states have doubts about the reform because they believe it would give too much power to big states such as Germany and France at the expense of small members. But he said he was convinced that Germany had the practical arguments to win over the skeptics.

Schroeder confirmed that Germany will continue to press at the EU summit for changes in the voting system in the European Council of member-states to give the biggest countries -- particularly Germany -- a more important role.

The three-day summit is due to get underway next Thursday (Dec 7) in the French Mediterranean port of Nice. Schroeder is seeking a so-called "double majority" vote, especially on critical issues. Under this system, important decisions would be taken only if they were approved by a majority of the weighted votes of the member-states and which also represent a majority of the EU's population. As the most populous country in the EU, with some 80 million citizens, Germany would be a major beneficiary of such a measure.

German diplomats have acknowledged that the proposal is intended to prevent smaller EU countries from combining to pass measures over the opposition of the bigger ones.

The German plan is hotly disputed in several EU states. Swedish newspapers have said that, if it is approved, smaller members would -- in the words of one paper -- be "reduced to the role of bit players in the big theater run by Germany and France." Italian, British, Spanish and Dutch negotiators, as well as their Swedish counterparts, have expressed opposition.

The double-majority vote plan is also opposed by some in the opposition Christian Democratic Party. The deputy leader of the CDU's parliamentary faction, Volker Ruhe, said earlier this week it was the wrong time for Germany to take such a position.

In his remarks yesterday, Schroeder also said he expected the Nice summit to allow some member-states to go ahead with their efforts for faster and deeper political integration. German officials believe that at least eight members -- including Germany, France, Italy, and Spain -- will be in this group. In the parliamentary debate, the opposition accused the Schroeder government of damaging good relations with France with some of its proposals for a united Europe. France recently criticized German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer for promoting his vision of Europe under a single president and a single parliament.

But Fischer and others dismissed the opposition's claim that Franco-German relations were "falling apart." They said the so-called Franco-German "motor" was continuing to push the EU forward.