More Power to Brussels? Germany Considers Holding EU Referendum
Chancellor Angela Merkel wants Europe to move toward an ever closer union in a bid to solve the euro crisis. But she is already pushing at the limits of what is possible under the constitution. The debate about holding a referendum on transferring power to Brussels is gathering momentum in Germany.
A bottle of liquor and a half-empty glass stand on the table next to Angela Merkel, who is studying a confidential document with a sullen expression. “How to Break Up the Euro,” is the title.
That, at least, is how Britain’s Economist imagines the chancellor’s predicament these days. “Tempted, Angela?” is the headline on the cover of the current issue.
Indeed, the chancellor is in a tricky position at the moment, as she fails to get the euro crisis under control. Of course, the Economist’s notion of a secret plan to break up the euro zone is purely fictitious. But it fits into the current debate, where more and more politicians from Germany’s coalition government are talking about radical steps to solve the euro crisis.
Officially, though, Merkel’s line is that she wants more Europe, not less. In the chancellor’s bid to save the common currency, she is willing to go to the very limits of what is permissible under the German constitution. That was made clear by her support for the permanent euro rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and her pet project, the fiscal pact. But Merkel still wants more. “We need a political union,” she recently said on German public television station ARD. “That means we have to give up further competencies to Europe, step by step, in an ongoing process.”
Talk of a Vote
But that will probably not work, given the limits of the German constitution, something that members of the opposition have been pointing out for some time. In the meantime, more and more people within the governing parties have been talking about holding a referendum in Germany on the European Union. Rainer Brüderle, the floor leader of the business-friendly Free Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, said on Friday that there could come a point “when a referendum on Europe becomes necessary.”
Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has even called for several referendums. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has also talked about holding a national vote on the EU.
Such a vote could indeed be a way to get the much needed legitimacy for a transfer of national competences to Brussels. But how would it actually work in practice? SPIEGEL ONLINE presents an overview of some possibilities.
There are three conceivable options for a referendum: