Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence

Second supplementary memorandum from Sir William Nicoll


  Within a year, three German political heavyweights have outlined schemes for institutional reform in the European Union. Their proposals do not appear to have been closely orchestrated and none of them are presented as the official policy of the Federal Government. But considering their origins, they cannot be far off it.

  The first in the field was the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, at the Humboldt Institute in Berlin in May 2000. He explained that he was speaking in a private capacity. At the time, there was debate about the narrowly defined matters before the Intergovernmental Conference. Mr Fischer seemed to want to move to a higher plane.

  He spoke up for the preservation of national identities. He also called for a Second Chamber representative of the States of the Union and directly elected. The constitutional structures remained imprecise, but Mr Fischer was generally interpreted as going further down the road towards a federal state than his colleagues and predecessors had ventured.

  It is worth interjecting that German statesmen and voters have a clearer understanding of the relationships between different levels of government than most of their fellow Europeans. In the reconstruction of Western Germany after the war, the USA, the UK and enthusiastically France set out to strengthen the standing of the Laender at the expense of the central organs. Although the centre has perhaps inevitably reasserted itself, the model of powersharing between local authority (Gemeinde and Kreis), the Land and the Federal Government is well understood. There is no conceptual difficulty in incorporating another tier, in the form of European governance.

  In the light of later interventions, Mr Fischer's personal reflections are now to be understood as the opening stage of an inner German debate, which has now moved on.

  In April 2001 the German Federal President, Mr Johannes Rau, in a speech before the European Parliament, like Mr Fischer, insisted on the preservation of the nation states, which he proposed should come together in a Federation. His presentation sounded like an attempt to find a middle way within the verdict of the Federal Constitutional Court in the case which challenged the legality of the Maastricht Treaty. There was then profound reflection about the nature of a Bundesstaat (usually translated as Federal State) and a Staatenverband (an Association of States). Like Mr Fischer, Mr Rau advocated a Second Chamber, but in his version it was the Council (of Ministers) transformed into a Chamber of the States, alongside a Chamber of the People, the rebranded European Parliament. This was straightforward enough, but also over-facile. The Council is not a monolith. It meets in a dozen or more different formations according to the subject matter. Perhaps Mr Rau's proposal was linked to another much canvassed but unexpressed idea, which envisages the replacement of the present Council(s) by a single forum of Ministers for Europe, who would commute between their capitals and Brussels/Strasbourg, gathering together the disparate functions of the specialist Councils (and in some blueprints replacing Coreper) and interacting with the other institutions.

  Mr Rau's proposal is to be seen as a stage towards the more fully worked out, but still "big picture" plan put forward by the Federal Chancellor, Mr Schroeder.

  The Chancellor, in his capacity as Party Leader, put forward in April 2001 a draft Policy Statement ("Leitantrag") for debate at the SPD Party Conference in Nuremberg in November. The document was also unveiled in time for a May meeting of Socialist Party Leaders Party from all the Member States of the Union. It is not presented as Federal government policy. One German commentator described it as a pot pourri of ideas. It ranges over a wide field of policies, including a small section on the reform of the EU. While some parts of the text are integrationist, other parts insist that the powers of the Union derive from the Member States, that there need to be precautions against creeping Union competence and that some existing EU policies should be repatriated (notably agricultural policy and structural actions—the two big spenders in the Community budget). On the institutions:

    —  the European Commission should become a "strong executive";

    —  the European Parliament (while apparently retaining all its powers) should become the Budget authority—instead of sharing the responsibility with the Council;

    —  the Council should become a Chamber of the States (as in the Rau formula).

  German commentators have pointed out that the paper is far from uni-directional. While upholding and extending subsidiarity (vocally demanded by the German Laender) it also calls for a European Criminal Office, a European Prosecution Service and a European Border Police force. Contrary to Press comment, it does not talk anywhere about a European government.

  The prevailing hypothesis is that Mr Schroeder is seeking to put Germany in the vanguard ahead of the Document on Governance which the Commission is due to submit in July; and in the period preceding the preparations for the Laeken Declaration which the Belgian Presidency of the second half of 2001 intends to produce; and in the debates which will precede the institutional review (in a form yet to be decided) of 2004. Unlike Mr Rau, Mr Schroeder has not used any of the "f-words". But the bicameral structure is one proper to a federation. Although doubtless inspired by the machinery of German Government, the Chamber of the States would not look like the Bundesrat.

  It remains to be seen in what ways the Commission is to become a strong(er) executive and what non-budgetary functions the Chamber of the State is to discharge. Candidates include legislative co-decision and a subsidiarity scrutiny which would be strengthened by "Abgrenzung", the statutorily defined division between the powers of the Union and those of the Member States.

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