Bavarian leader rejects vision of federal Europe

Click to follow
The Independent Online
(First Edition)

BAVARIA'S Prime Minister, Edmund Stoiber, provoked political controversy yesterday with an interview in which he renounced the idea of a federal Europe, and declared the European vision of Chancellor Helmut Kohl to be outdated.

The timing of Mr Stoiber's remarks is especially embarrassing for the German government, in the week in which the Maastricht treaty finally comes into force. He told the Suddeutsche Zeitung: 'There was once a European movement in Germany . . . that time is gone.'

Mr Stoiber represents the CSU, Bavarian sister party of Mr Kohl's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), but he argued that the Chancellor was out of step with the times. 'The young Helmut Kohl grew up in an age where he was strongly affected by the devastating world war, in an age where being German as a whole was often seen as a burden.' Now, he suggested, that time was gone. 'With German reunification, we now have a different situation, and we must realise what the German identity really is.'

Bavaria, with almost 12 million inhabitants, is the biggest and richest of Germany's 16 Lander, or regional states. Mr Stoiber said he was worried that Bavaria's identity would now be doubly submerged: first within Germany, and again within Europe.

'In a European federal state, Germany as a federal country would become what Bavaria has until now been, in Germany.' Sounding almost like a German Margaret Thatcher, he complained of the 'centralist tendencies and bureaucracy of the EC'.

Criticism quickly rained down on Mr Stoiber. The former foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, spoke of a 'historic misunderstanding' and emphasised that a united Germany was a 'European Germany'. Peter Kittelmann, spokesman on Europe for the CDU-CSU union, said that Mr Stoiber's remarks were clearly out of line with what had been unanimously agreed.

In the past, national regions have often been enthusiastic about European integration, seeing it as a way of preventing their own identity from being drowned by individual governments. Scottish support for Europe, for example, has been greater than south of the border. Mr Stoiber's Bavarian patriotism is, however, anti-federal German.

In effect, the reason why German politicians like Mr Kohl have always spoken so forcefully about the need for European unity is in order not to allow combative views such as those expressed by Mr Stoiber to dominate the agenda.