DerSpiegel – Berlin Blockade: Brussels Concerned About Merkel’s Anti-Europe Flip – 1 July 2013 last year, Merkel argued for “more Europe, not less.” She has since revised her opinion, it seems.

Germany’s EU partners are accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of campaigning for re-election this year at Europe’s expense. Even her government’s center-right allies within the bloc are needled by Berlin’s sudden resistance to Brussels.

Last Tuesday, the foreign ministers of the European Union visibly had to pull themselves together when their German counterpart began to speak. Guido Westerwelle voiced his opposition to entering into EU accession negotiations with Serbia this year. The politician, a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), noted that the German parliament, the Bundestag, would not support negotiations this year and proposed postponing until January 2014.

Westerwelle also said that the heads of state and government should handle the issue, which is not customary. Finally, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn had had enough. “We’re not the African Union,” he said angrily. “Why don’t we just write that the Bundestag should make the decision?” The other foreign ministers grumbled in assent.

The dispute is symptomatic of the relationship between Berlin and its EU partners. There is growing resentment in Brussels and other European capitals over the new anti-Europe course the German government has adopted in the election campaign. “A national election has never dominated European policy to this extent,” says a senior official with the European Commission.

Merkel was confronted with the same accusation at the summit of European leaders in Brussels late last week. “I am not aware of a single decision in Europe that has been altered or delayed by the fact that we have elections in September,” countered Merkel, who is also the head of her party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

But hardly any of Merkel’s EU partners believe her. Berlin’s blockade of the Serbia talks is only one of many examples being cited against Merkel. The opening of a new chapter of negotiations with accession candidate Turkey was postponed last week, also at Germany’s instigation. “This is not something that should be affected by passing moods,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said critically.

An Engine That Needs Power

A few months before the German parliamentary election in September, Berlin’s EU partners perceive its European policy to be one of postponement, refusal and dilution. Last week, for instance, the Chancellery torpedoed a painstakingly negotiated compromise on new pollutant limits for the automobile industry. Because the decision reached by the EU ambassadors is especially disadvantageous to makers of gas-guzzling sedans like Daimler and BMW, the chancellor intervened personally, shortly before the Brussels summit, with Enda Kenny, the prime minister of Ireland, which held the rotating European Council presidency until last week. Now the decision will be postponed once again until after the German election.

Many partners also attribute Merkel’s refusal to embark on EU reforms to the parliamentary election campaign. Only last year, the chancellor had argued for “more Europe, not less,” but she has since changed her tune. Even the European People’s Party (EPP), the center-right European Parliament fraction to which Merkel’s CDU belongs, is disappointed. “You can’t just address reforms at the height of the crisis; you also have to implement them consistently,” says Austrian Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger.

In the Alpine republic, also in the midst of an election campaign, the share of EU opponents among voters is significantly larger than in Germany, and still the chairman of the Christian democratic Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) does not shy away from calling for more power for Brussels. “For us, the European Commission is an engine, which is why it needs more power,” says Spindelegger.

Imposing Direction

Merkel, on the other hand, said in a recent SPIEGEL interview that she opposed “transferring even more rights to Brussels” and voting directly for the Commission president. It’s a position that her Austrian colleague rejects. A direct election would “give Europe a face and help counter how alienated many citizens feel from the EU,” says Spindelegger.

The chancellor is also accused of having made too many executive decisions in the crisis, with fatal consequences. For instance, Merkel and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to involve private lenders in the Greek bailout. The markets reacted nervously and the price of the euro fell soon afterwards.

Ahead of the most recent summit, Berlin and Paris presented a joint position paper once again, to the indignation of their partners. “Before summits, Germany and France have often tried to impose a direction on the others,” says Austrian Foreign Minister Spindelegger. “That doesn’t go over well with many people.”

Not surprisingly, last Thursday’s EU summit was relatively uneventful. Even longstanding EU diplomats were unable to explain why the heads of state and government had to meet in Brussels. “The frequent meetings do not help to increase confidence in the European project,” Spindelegger quibbles.

Nor, one might add, does Merkel’s most recent about-turn on European policy.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan / link to original article


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