Germany's opposition party veers to right on EU policy

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Germany's Christian Democrats lurched on to a Eurosceptic course yesterday as Bavaria's hardline premier, Edmund Stoiber, in effect took control of the dispirited party.

Germany's Christian Democrats lurched on to a Eurosceptic course yesterday as Bavaria's hardline premier, Edmund Stoiber, in effect took control of the dispirited party.

Angela Merkel, the enfeebled Christian Democrat leader, emerged from a one-day "summit" with Mr Stoiber with her authority further eroded, having been forced to sign up to a strategy paper on Europe that had clearly been drafted in Bavaria.

Helmut Kohl's heirs now seeBrussels as a threat to national sovereignty and European Union enlargement as a dubious process that needs strictly defined limits. Bowing to German fears over expansion, Europe's biggest conservative party calls for new members to share a common heritage. That certainly rules out Turkey, whose membership "is inconceivable in the near future".

But even Germany's eastern neighbours had to be handled with care, Mr Stoiber said yesterday. Citing Berlin's latest estimates, which put the cost of enlargement to EU taxpayers at 80bn euros by 2006, he warned that the extra burden would further undermine the ailing common currency.

Mr Stoiber also got his way on other crucial points. The party declared itself in favour of a European constitution to limit the Commission's fief, and while urging more majority voting, insisted that the national veto be retained over membership applications and countries' contributions to the EU budget.

Though the opposition has little chanceof coming to power in its current shambolic state, its policies cannot be ignored by Gerhard Schröder's government. The prospect of cheap foreign workers flooding Germany is increasing hostility to enlargement, and is expected to dominate the next elections.

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