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Germany

Schröder Signals Support for Elected EU President

Citing inefficiencies in the European Union's current six-month rotating presidency, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder offers limited support for a French and British proposal for an elected EU President.

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Gerhard Schröder says the EU Presidency, currently held by Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is "inefficient."

In a series of statements this week, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder expressed support for calls by Britain and France to create a standing and powerful European Union president to replace the current rotating six-month presidency.

Schröder spokesman Bela Anda told reporters on Friday the German chancellor did not "object" to proposals by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacqués Chirac. Anda's statement was the second in a week. On Wednesday, Schröder also told European Commission President Romano Prodi he would support the move, but only with assurances that it would not reduce the power of the Commission.

Qualifying his support, Schröder has said the upcoming European Constitution would have to include provisions to reinforce the strength of the Commission.

A change of course

The move came as a surprise to many in Brussels given that Schröder's representative at the EU constitutional convention, Peter Glotz, stated as recently as the end of May that the proposal of a standing president would weaken the commission.

Commission President Prodi has long been critical of the proposal, fearing it as an attempt to water down the Commission's strength by creating a second center of power in Brussels. Currently, the Commission exercises considerable autonomy in decision-making, and Prodi and his advisors fear that a permanent EU president, serving as the "face of Europe," would put too much power in the hands of governments of the member states.

Support from Britain, France and Spain

Chirac, Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar are seeking to increase the strength of the Council of the European Union, the EU-leadership committee comprised of member state leaders, by eliminating the current rotating presidency and replacing it with a president who is elected for a longer term.

But smaller EU countries have opposed the proposal, arguing that their interests are better served by a strong European Commission.

A nuanced approach

Still, Germany's stance on the presidency differs from that of Britain and France in that it wants to strengthen the European Commission and its president. Schröder has proposed that the position of the Commission president be strengthened by putting the power of electing the position in the hands of the European Parliament. Pursuing one track, his spokesman said, does not "cancel out the other."

Anda said on Friday that the German government desires "greater visibility for the EU in international politics." He also said there were "considerable inefficiencies" in the current rotating presidency that could be eliminated by the move.