|Germany Wants EC to Be a Government
German leaders of both left and right made it clear yesterday that they were backing an all-out push for the political integration of Europe by the end of the decade.
The text of a document drawn up under the guidance of the chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, showed that he was aiming for the key decisions on the continent's future to be taken within the next 10 years.
It also showed that Mr Schröder and his fellow Social Democrats see it as essential to harmonise taxes in the European Union: a policy which is anathema to both the main parties in Britain and to governments in some other EU states.
The document, which was leaked at the weekend, was unveiled at a press conference in Berlin by the general secretary of Mr Schröder's Social Democratic party, Franz Münterfering. "The debate must begin urgently, even if everyone does not agree on everything," he said.
He and other senior Social Democrats will get their first opportunity to lobby for their ideas at a meeting of the pan-European Party of European Socialists in Berlin on Monday.
Mr Münterfering presented the scheme as an attempt to democratise the workings of the EU, and the German opposition seized on this aspect to welcome it.
"We have a democratic deficit in the EU and that must change," the leader of the Christian Democrat Union (CDU), Angela Merkel, said .
Mr Schröder expressed delight at the reaction of the opposition conservatives, describing it as "great".
At the heart of his plan is a transformation of the European commission, the union's unelected executive.
"We want the EU commission from now [on] to be strengthened to become a government - a real European government beside the national governments," the SPD's chief spokesman, Michael Donnermeyer, said.
Many of the details of the plan, which is to be put before the SPD's conference in November, have yet to be defined.
In essence, senior SPD sources said yesterday, the chancellor would like a set-up similar to that in Germany with the considerable powers of the states serving as a model for the future powers of nation states.
But it remains unclear, for example, how the proposed European government would be chosen, and whether its leader would be elected by one or both of the chambers in a new, two-tier legislature.
While the document contains several nods in the direction of preserving national identities, it is emphatic that the SPD wants a pan-continental structure to emerge from talks on the future of Europe due to begin in 2004. "There is no alternative to further integration and Europeanisation", the paper declares.
Its key passage is set out in the language of cast-iron inevitability: "In 10 years we shall live in a Europe with a constitution. In 10 years, we shall live in a Europe with a [single] currency".
The document argues that "an internal market and a common currency demand more energetic harmonisation of fiscal policy, especially with regard to taxes on business, the taxation of capital gains, the taxation of investment in energy and the organisation of value added and corporation tax".
If that is enough to provoke apoplexy among some British MPs, then there are plenty of other passages able to incite an angry reaction elsewhere in the community. A proposal that EU spending be controlled by parliament will be seen in France as a bid to slash spending under the Common Agricultural Policy. Likewise, the document proposes devolving structural funding to national governments - a move that would land Spain, Portugal and Greece with the bill for modernising their economies.
The chancellor's blueprint represents the latest, and by far the most decisive, attempt by Germany to set a new European agenda. Mr Schröder, his aides and ministers are convinced that an enlarged European Union will prove unmanageable unless it is rapidly integrated politically as well as economically.