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Europe

Opinion: No German Referendum on the EU Constitution

Just after Tony Blair announced Britain would vote on the EU constitution, German opposition politicians started calling for a referendum. But the opposition's demand is really just political gamesmanship.

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A plebiscite is not likely to happen in Germany.

The convinced European, however, fears that if the people reject the EU constitution the European project could become unhinged. Despite all the EU euphoria, you can't overlook the fact that the majority of the EU states' populaces supports neither the euro nor eastward expansion.

In Germany too, polls have shown that the majority is hardly interested in European politics, feels inadequately informed and quite critically appraises the national usefulness of the European Union. Of course, they don't question the need for the community. But interest in the European Union's design is very limited for the most part.

Bypassing the people

So far, mainly political decision makers have implemented "project Europe" -- occasionally against the majority's will, which the introduction of the euro showed; It certainly wouldn't have been introduced if the mood among the Germans had been taken into account. Still, the political elite took action according to the principle: Once the common currency is established, people will automatically accept it.

At the same time as criticizing politicians in a democracy avoiding referendums, you realize looking back that the strategy panned out. The European Union is a success story that contributed fundamentally to healing the wounds of a continent plagued by war.

Gamesmanship

Why then is the political opposition in Germany suddenly demanding a referendum on the EU constitution? Particularly the Christian Democratic opposition, which rejected every push to introduce national referendums in the past? It's a transparent maneuver: The referendum is an instrument to try to corner their political opponents. The Social Democratic-Green government rightly sees no need for action and dismisses a plebiscite, which our constitution doesn't even provide for.

But within the governing party too, some are saying that a referendum throughout the European Union would be fully acceptable. That, however, is irresponsible and diverts attention from the real question: How long can the political elites afford to continue putting so little effort into convincing people of the European project? In the long run, the EU will only work if people are persuaded that it's advantageous and necessary. To that end, we need a deep and active debate about the spirit of the EU constitution. So far there hasn't been one among the German public. If the politicians who haven't made such an effort so far instead demand a referendum now, it's nothing more than cheap populism.

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