Opposition parties in the Bundestag said Germany was one of the problems hampering change in the European Union. But the government said it will press ahead with the set of reforms urged by the EU Commission.
Fischer and Schröder remained optimistic at last week's EU summit
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has defended the European Union’s ambitious goal of becoming the world’s most competitive economy by 2010 -- despite weak progress and a recent report blaming national governments for it.
In a speech to the German parliament, Fischer reiterated the importance of the EU’s strategy, which was adopted at a summit in Lisbon four years ago.
The EU's economic goals before 2010 are daunting. Stronger economic growth than the United States or booming China, more flexible labor markets and social security systems that are fit for the challenges of aging populations in Europe.
Growth and jobs
Fischer said the German government in principle agreed to the findings of an interim report compiled by former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok. It stated that the 25-nation bloc has made little headway towards achieving their goals.
"The government supports the twin goals of achieving sustainable economic growth and creating more jobs in Europe," Fischer told the German parliament on Thursday.
"We also approve of the report’s key statements saying that more must be done in areas such as the environment, research and education, as well as in creating a better business and investment climate in all of Europe."
Aggravating the problem
Kok’s report presented to European leaders at their summit in Brussels last week ended on the rather gloomy note that progress so far had been inadequate. This was largely due to a lack of commitment and political will on the part of national governments.
Germany’s opposition parties lavishly homed in on this conclusion, blaming the policies of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for the apparent failure. Wolfgang Schäuble, foreign policy spokesman of the conservative union parties, accused the Schröder government of turning the entire report on its face.
Wolfgang Schäuble blames the government for Germany's problems
"You’ve been trying to make this report sound like approval for what’s been achieved," said Schäuble (photo). "You should really stop using the European Union as an excuse for your inability to resolve Germany’s problems."
Kok had made it clear that it was up to the national governments to achieve progress, said Schäuble. "But you are not solving our problems, you are aggravating them," he said.
EU should work on transatlantic ties
In Brussels, EU leaders insisted that, despite the dismal report, they would not consign their economic ambitions to the dustbin, although differences emerged over how to push for progress.
A ranking system was proposed to highlight which country was ahead and behind. But Chancellor Schröder opposed the proposal. Speakers of the opposition liberal Free Democrats (FDP) were also against this system. They said such an attitude would undermine credibility in the EU as a whole.
"It’s of no use to aim for a greater say in world affairs, when you don’t have sufficient clout," said Wolfgang Gerhardt, the FDP's parliamentary leader. "But gaining in political weight requires first of all enough credibility and a powerful economic potential."
Speakers of all opposition parties criticized the fact that the EU summit failed to send strong enough signals to Washington, urging a fresh start in bilateral relations. Held shortly after President George W. Bush’s re-election, they said, the summit should have been used to improve transatlantic ties.