Germans Mull Vote on EU Constitution | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 31.08.2004
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Germans Mull Vote on EU Constitution

The ruling Social Democratic Party's plan to alter the constitution and introduce plebiscites to the German political scene was quickly rejected by opposition parties, but debate may not be over yet.


The German public isn't likely to be voting on the EU Constitution

After months of discussion, the issue of who should vote on what and how has come to the forefront as German leaders ponder whether to approve the new constitution for the European Union.

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schroeder spricht am Mittwoch, 18. August 2004, auf seiner alljaehrlichen Sommerpressekonferenz

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

In a surprising change of opinion, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD), who last month said a parliamentary vote would ratify the EU Constitution in Germany, this weekend suggested changing Germany's constitution to allow voters to decide on major issues -- with the condition the changes apply to domestic as well as European topics.

"It's a huge chance to inspire a new understanding of the EU in the population," Sigmar Gabriel, Lower Saxony's SPD's parliamentary group leader, told Der Tagesspiegel.

The Greens, the ruling coalition's junior partner, were pleased with the chancellor's new line, as were the neo-liberal Free Democrats. Green party head Angelika Beer said she hopes "the SPD's clear signal" will prompt the opposition to express support for plebiscites.

Opposition against domestic plebiscites

But while the government would find backing for European votes, it is domestic decisions that conservative opposition parties are against. Without their help the SPD doesn't have a chance of reaching the two-thirds majority needed for the changes to pass in the Bundestag and Bundesrat, Germany's two houses of parliament.

Laurenz Meyer Galerie deutsche Politiker

The CDU's Laurenz Meyer said his party could still change its mind

Laurenz Meyer, the Christian Democratic Union's secretary general, expressed his party's "serious concerns" about domestic plebiscites, which are currently only called when the country restructures federal territory. But he said the last word hasn't be spoken until after his party meets Wednesday.

Political wrangling

Other CDU members, however, were less reserved, calling the chancellor's change of direction nothing but politics as usual.

"It's a tactical trick," Matthias Wissmann, chair of the CDU's European committee, told the Berliner Zeitung. "The SPD hopes for enough resistance among its own party and in the opposition that the suggestion doesn't find the needed majority and can say 'Well, we tried.'"

Resistance to voter-determined domestic decisions also came from the Christian Social Union, but Markus Söder, that party's secretary general, said letting voters decide whether to accept major changes to European law would ensure Germans are aware of how they are affected by Brussels decisions.

Timely decision

But some SPD members said it was more important to ratify the EU constitution quickly than to spend time trying to introduce referendums in Germany.

Angelica Schwall-Düren, the SPD's deputy chair, said she didn't think the time was right for German constitutional changes, referring to a failed attempt to introduce referendums two years ago.So far a total of 10 nations, including France and Britain, have decided to hold referendums on the European Constitution. The constitution will only be enacted if it is ratified by all 25 of the bloc's member states.

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