German Duo Squeezed in Brussels | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.06.2005
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German Duo Squeezed in Brussels

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has appealed for unity and compromise at this week's European Union Summit in Brussels. But is anyone listening?


Lame ducks?

A few weeks before he hits the campaign trail again, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer released a new book.

In "The Return of History," Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's deputy waxes philosophical about the world he has seen in his almost seven years as Germany's face abroad. In parts, Fischer reflects on change on his continent, and warns against the dangers in a Europe that rejects the European Union.

"I fear there is a danger of a rampant re-emergence of nationalism with all its consequences within a weakened EU," he writes.

Though written ahead of the "no" votes delivered in France and the Netherlands on the EU Constitution, the passage foreshadows the crisis in which the 25-member organization finds itself. On Thursday and Friday, EU leaders will meet for the first time since the no votes to discuss the EU's heavily-debated budget for 2007-2013. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, Schröder has met with British leader Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac and spoken out a number of times on the desperate need to show unity and willingness to compromise.

"We are awaiting from all partners the willingness to move" on issues, said Schröder after meeting Blair late Monday.

Who's listening to Germany?

The German chancellor was speaking in reference to the budget debate, where Great Britain is fiercely defending the 3 billion pound ($5.4 billion) rebate they receive from the EU states each year, something many member states want re-thought or vanquished all together. But the group of 25 heads of state won't get around also addressing the crisis in EU identity after the rejection of the constitution in two of the body's founding member states.

EU-Referendum Frankreich Wahlurne

Two days after France voted no on the European Union constitution, the Netherlands followed.

Schröder and Fischer still hope to salvage the constitution and have urged the continuation of the referendums in the remaining seven EU countries still planning them. Polls indicate the German population stands behind the constitution, and both houses of the country's parliament have now ratified the document.

Despite their efforts to profile themselves as European mediators, no one back home seems to be listening, or even care. Germans have other priorities at the moment.

Following massive losses by his party in state elections in late May, Schröder called for elections this fall, a year earlier than planned. Unemployment remains high, and the vast majority of the population seems ready to reject Schröder's reform of Germany's generous welfare state and costly labor market. Polls indicate CDU chancellor candidate Angela Merkel to be the clear winner if the election were held this week.

Merkel's changing EU

A victory by the conservative candidate from the former East would mean a decidedly different Germany in European affairs. The bits of rhetoric the Merkel camp has let fly in the weeks since the Social Democrats' May 22 defeat in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, have not been good news for European integrationists and federalists.

Angela Merkel in der Türkei

Angela Merkel on a visit to Istanbul in February 2004

The CDU, which has continually rejected Turkey's plan to become a full member of the EU by 2015, said they will most likely urge Brussels to apply the brakes on further enlargement. This week, Merkel and other opposition leaders urged Schröder not to compromise or promise too much on the EU budget.

EU leaders have already indicated they are planning for a new chancellor come this fall. Blair, who flew to Berlin to meet Schröder, had a lengthy conversation with Merkel on Monday evening -- an indication that he at least is considering the possibility of another person having the say in Berlin.

Rocky road ahead

Regardless of who rules in Berlin after the fall elections, the road to Brussels will not be smooth sailing.

Blair has refused to budge on Britain's rebate -- won by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 to make up the difference between what Britain paid into the EU and what it got back -- and lashed out at French Premier Jacques Chirac for refusing to compromise on the EU's agricultural budget, of which France is the greatest beneficiary.

Observers say that should the two not iron out their differences at the summit, then the upcoming UK presidency of the European Union, which takes over the rotating post from Luxembourg, could be a difficult tenure. And Schröder's words of compromise won't carry much weight: he's already considered a lame duck in Berlin and Brussels.

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