German plan to buff up EC image: Sweeping ideas on reform of institutions the likely focus of Brussels treaty summit

Click to follow
IN AN attempt to restore the sheen to the European Community's battered image after the acrimony of the Maastricht process, Germany's Christian Democratic party (CDU), is calling for sweeping reforms before enlargement to include Sweden, Norway, Finland and Austria.

To Britain's dismay, the initiative by Chancellor Helmut Kohl's party is likely to be the centrepiece of the extraordinary EC summit meeting in Brussels in October. London opposes further tinkering with the Community's institutions before the 1996 intergovernmental conference to review the Maastricht treaty.

The Brussels summit was originally called to toast ratification of the treaty, but with most EC governments labouring under the combined weight of recession, spiralling unemployment and growing nationalist extremism, political leaders across Europe are becoming increasingly desperate as they cast around for new initiatives.

Though still not official Bonn policy, the CDU proposals, which were drafted by Karl Lamers, the party foreign affairs spokesman, have reopened the debate on institutional reform in Europe. They bear a remarkable similarity to an initiative by the European Constitutional Group, which calls for an overhaul of the Community to prevent institutional gridlock. Many observers see a danger that enlargement of the EC first to 16 member states and then to more than 20, (when Eastern Europe joins) will create gridlock, making it next to impossible for the Council to take rapid decisions. This, according to the Constitutional Reform Group of independent academics throughout the EC, could leave the way clear for the unelected Brussels Commission to become the power centre in a future European 'super-state'.

The CDU proposals would both cut the Commission down to size and ensure that enlargement did not completely restrict the Council's ability to make important decisions.

The Council's voting procedure would be overhauled to ensure large member states (the net budget contributors) are never out-manoeuvred by smaller countries on important votes. Certain to touch off howls of criticism from the smaller states, the proposal would alter the voting system in Council to a 'double majority' system. Decisions would need the support of four-fifths of member states and the vote would have to be cast by a combination of countries making up four-fifths of the EC's population.

Another suggestion is that an EC 'senate' be established, with members from national parliaments, giving them a direct stake in shaping the Community and ensuring the hallowed 'subsidiarity' principle, under which laws are made at national level when practicable, is adhered to.

The CDU also wants the presidency of the EC to last a year, rather than six months as at present, to ensure the country holding the presidency does not find itself with its hands tied by its own electoral timetables. There should also be a new system of presidency rotation among member states, dumping the alphabetical system in favour of alternating between large and smaller states, thereby reducing the number of occasions that tiny countries such as Luxembourg are in the driving seat of the Community.

The CDU also wants to restrict to a maximum of 10 the numbers of EC Commissioners, instead of the 16 at present. There would also be a limit to the membership of the European Parliament, no matter how many countries join the EC, to prevent it becoming unmanageable.

Leading article, page 27