Call for German referendums on EU enlargement


Leaders of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) have already called for greater powers for parliament in future EU affairs to be included in a new draft of a law required to get the treaty past the constitutional court.

With just two months to get the law through parliament before the general election, the CSU demands increase the pressure on Dr Merkel to get the treaty ratified in Germany before Ireland’s October referendum. At today’s CSU party conference in Nuremberg, she will try to dismiss as many as possible of the 14 amendments to the law demanded by the CSU.

After the court ruling on the Lisbon Treaty, the CSU called for a redrafting of the law in question to allow deals reached in Brussels by government ministers to be examined retrospectively by the parliamentary EU committee.

Yesterday, the CSU general secretary went further, calling for referendums to be introduced to approve the accession of Croatia and, later, Turkey. With only a limited referendum culture, partly due to traumatic experiences with the Nazis, German observers have dismissed the CSU’s referendum demand as populism.

“This is an old CSU strategy, taking a seemingly principled position – which, if you look closer, turns out to be pure populism – and then blaming others for being less principled,” said Jan Techau, director of Berlin’s Alfred von Oppenheim Centre for European Policy Studies.

The demands have generated friction with the CSU’s sister party, Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

CSU party leader Horst Seehofer has latched on to the Lisbon row, some analysts suggest, to tap anti-EU sentiment in Bavaria, boosting his own profile and that of the CSU in Bavaria ahead of September’s general election. And, with no love lost between Mr Seehofer and Dr Merkel, the issue gives him a chance to have a go at the German leader, particularly after she dismissed his call to name a date for tax cuts in their joint election manifesto.

But the position has caused friction with CSU MEPs and Berlin-based party figures, who say the campaign damages the party’s credibility in Europe.

Former German finance minister Theo Waigel, to be appointed CSU honorary chairman in Nuremberg, has said his party’s demands would turn Germany into a “lame duck” in Brussels.

“Everyone who’s ever sat at the negotiating table in Brussels knows that one needs a bit of freedom to reach compromises,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “One can’t check after every round of talks with the Bundestag committee . . . We’ll only weaken ourselves.”

But, as other officials have learned, not all criticism of the CSU line is tolerated. When CSU MEP Markus Ferber criticised the new party demands over Lisbon in a video on his website, Mr Seehofer attacked him for using tactics “only used by the Taliban”.