Fischer sets out vision of a central EU government

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The Independent Online

Joschka Fischer, Germany's Foreign Minister, reignited the debate over the future of the EU yesterday, outlining an ambitious vision of a European government complete with an elected Commission president.

Joschka Fischer, Germany's Foreign Minister, reignited the debate over the future of the EU yesterday, outlining an ambitious vision of a European government complete with an elected Commission president.

In the run-up to a meeting of heads of government at Nice next month, Mr Fischer's speech, to the Belgian parliament in Brussels, blended a call to reinvigorate European integration with specific proposals for the summit. In particular, he called for the end to national vetoes in key areas, including taxation and social security.

Echoing his controversial speech of May this year, hebacked the idea of an elected president of the European Commission and demanded "a strong government which could crystallise either from the [European] Council, or from the [European] Commission." That would be accompanied by a second chamber for the European Parliament, made up of national politicians, he said. He advocated a clear statement of competences to define which powers lie at the national and European levels.

Such ambitious ideas are not on the agenda for next month's summit, but Mr Fischer suggested a new committee of wise persons should be set up to study such options.

Mr Fischer underlined German support for French moves to abolish the national veto in some areas of taxation policy, including the fight against fraud and tax evasion. There should, he said, be no national veto even for the "thorny areas for Germany like taxes". This idea has been opposed by Tony Blair, who is threatening to veto any move to extend majority voting into this area.

The UK is not alone is opposing some of the moves to extend majority voting, with France seeking to block its operation in areas of trade and asylum and immigration policy. But Mr Fischer spelt out Germany's belief that, as a rule, decision-making should be made by majority voting, with only limited exceptions, such as constitutional and defence issues.

Mr Fischer said it was essential to achieve an agreement in Nice that "reinforces the capacity of the institutions to act" as the EU prepares to admit as many as 13 new countries. With fears that the EU's already sclerotic decision-making process will break down, the Nice summit is due to agree measures for closer co-operation among those member states that want to proceed towards integration faster than others.

The latest proposals from France, which holds the EU presidency, suggest a fudge over the so-called emergency brake, a mechanism under which any one country can stop a group of others going ahead. But Mr Fischer went further, arguing: "We want to abolish the right of veto in the braking mechanism, reduce to one third the quorum of participating states and soften the principles of application."

Preparatory talks for Nice on limiting the size of the Commission and reweighting votes in the Council of Ministers have become bogged down. Last month the EU's small countries rejected a system where they might lose their automatic right to nominate a Commissioner. France has now proposed that the President of the Commission should gain powers to reshuffle portfolios during the five-year mandate, to nominate a Vice-President - thereby creating a new hierarchy within the Commission - and to demand the resignation of Commissioners.

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