Saturday, July 03, 2004

Chancellor Schröder is in trouble

Chancellor Schröder reminds one of William Brown of the Just William books. His tie is in place and his socks are not, one assumes, falling down but, like William, he is in trouble on many fronts. And like William he thinks that talking fast is the way to get out of trouble.

Yesterday (Friday, July 2) he was speaking to the Bundestag, making his government’s official statement about the EU Constitution. Not surprisingly, he was in favour of it.

There are two things to remember here. The first is that Schröder was one of numerous EU leaders who went to Brussels on June 17 having just lost heavily in the European elections in Germany. His party the SPD had won 21.5 per cent of the vote, which was something of a come-down from the 30.7 per cent of 1999. At the same time they suffered another in the series of defeats in regional elections. Altogether, this was the worst result the socialists have had since World War II.

That is the bad news for Schröder. The good news is that Germany cannot have a referendum unless there is a change in the German Federal Consitution. This document was devised largely by the Western allies in the wake of the war and, understandably, plebiscites were specifically forbidden.

The Chancellor can, therefore, make all sorts of speeches in the Bundestag, secure in the knowledge that the equally europhile Christian Democrat party led by Angela Merkel will support him and the German people will not be able to express their disquiet with the euro that was imposed on them and other aspects of European integration directly.

Not having to play up to the electorate meant that he did not have to go into the convoluted explanations Tony Blair and his ministers have to do. Not for him the notion that the Constitution is a tidying up exercise. It is, quite clearly, a blue-print for a deepening European Union.

He did explain that Germany did not get everything it wanted in the matter of voting procedures and numbers but a compromise was necessary and this was as good as you could hope for. His parliamentary opponent, Angela Merkel had one point of criticism: why was God left out of the text?

She was not, however, particularly in favour of Commissioner Günter Verheugen continuing with another term and being backed for the position of the “super” Commissioner in charge of industrial and economic matters. This was not because she thought there was something odd in the idea of the German Commissioner being put in charge of that, given Germany’s recent economic and industrial performance, but because the opposition should have been consulted.

Incidentally, why is it completely against the rules to talk about a superstate while the term “super” Commissioner has become part of the euro-jargon?

Chancellor Schröder also made some very positive comments about the Franco-German relationship, which was irreplaceable, particularly for the process of unifying Europe.

"Progress on European integration can only and will only occur if Germany and France are as united as possible."
Alas, President Chirac may not like other parts of the Chancellor’s speech, in which he called for a similar complete reconciliation between Germany and Poland as well as Germany and Russia. It has, after all, been France’s great fear that Germany, the main funder of the European Community, will turn its attention to the east and start forgetting or neglecting the “friends” in the south and south-west, who are relying on support, both political and financial.

But how long the smooth relationship between the two leaders will continue is unclear. Chancellor Schröder also gave an interview to the German TV station ARD, in which he acknowledged that his party is becoming very unpopular but maintained, like Tony Blair that he will continue with the unpopular economic and social reforms. Unpopular they may be, but serious reforms they are not.

The latest news is that some members of the SPD are so disaffected with the barely noticeable reforms that they are setting up another party that will run in the next lot of regional elections as well as the national ones. By a strange coincidence, Tony Blair is also to be challenged with some disaffected members on the left of the Labour Party, because of his “reforms”.

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