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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This could be huge: Germany’s fledgling coalition considers its own “referendum lock”

As we point out in today’s press summary, the German media is abuzz with reports that a proposal has been tabled in the on-going Grand Coalition talks between the CDU/CSU and SPD on encouraging more "direct democracy" via national referenda, including on the transfer of new powers to the EU. Details remain unclear, but this looks similar to the UK’s own “referendum lock,” which provides for automatic public votes in many (but not all) cases of powers being transferred from Westminster to Brussels. 

Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that a CDU/CSU and SPD working group (lead by the CSU’s incumbent Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich and the SPD’s Thomas Oppermann), has prepared a draft paper, which states that people should "be directly consulted on European policy decisions of special importance” and that this should apply in particular to:
"the accession of new Member States, important competences being transferred to Brussels or Germany’s financial contributions at the EU level - for this, we want to provide nationwide referendums."
The CSU campaigned for the introduction of referenda on important European policy decisions during the election, while the SPD has, in principle, been in favour of direct democracy for some time. While the CDU is somewhat more sceptical, there is still support for this idea within the party's own ranks. Schäuble last year floated the idea of a referendum on a new constitution.

In other word, this could mean referenda on:
  • Significant transfers of power from Germany to the EU;
  • Future EU enlargements;
  • More financial contributions which, presumably, would include any form of transfer union.
If this becomes part of the Coalition agreement it would be hugely significant. Germany, a country historically allergic to referenda, will have one of the strictest regimes with respect to public EU-related votes in Europe. More to the point, as revealed by our own polling, it’s very hard to see how it would be possible to get, say, fiscal transfers voted through by the public (though even without the commitment, changing the German Constitution could require a referendum as per Schäuble's suggestion). Significant transfers of powers could also be blocked by public opposition.

The big difference between this and the UK’s referendum lock is that the German one would also apply to future enlargements. That would be a de facto massive block on a future Turkish accession, for example.

Still far from certain the idea will materialise in the end but it's definitely one to watch.


Anonymous said...

Very unlikely Merkel will accept it

Denis Cooper said...

"If this becomes part of the Coalition agreement it would be hugely significant."

We will have to wait and see whether it does; I have to say that to me it seems highly unlikely that the German political elite will ever agree to let ordinary German people interfere with the process of European integration to which they are so devoted, partly of course in an attempt to expunge the memory of the horrendous crimes committed by their violently aggressive forebears who twice dragged the world into war.

They didn't allow ordinary Danish people, or ordinary Swedish people, or ordinary Irish people, or ordinary French people, or ordinary Dutch people, to stop their plans for setting up the pan-European federation they want; if you vote the wrong way in a referendum then sooner or later the German political elite will insist that you must vote again and this time get the answer that they want; the idea that they have experienced some kind of Damascene conversion to the virtues of direct democracy, and respect for what ordinary people say they want, seems implausible to say the least.

Denis Cooper said...

Having said that it seems highly unlikely that this proposal will be accepted by the German elite and implemented in any meaningful way, a number of points:-

1. It is outrageous that Hague deliberately wrote his "referendum lock" law to exclude referendums on accession treaties.

He has already used that fine print in the Act to block a referendum on whether we wanted Croatia to be allowed to join the EU, so that every Croat would be given free run of our country, albeit after a transitional period during nothing much would change to reduce the economic driving force for migration from Croatia to more prosperous countries, and Croatian representatives in the EU institutions could vote against our interests while at the same time we were subsidising Croatia, and eventually Croatia could do as it legally required to do under its accession treaty and join the eurozone bloc lined up against us.

And we know that he has a series of other countries queuing up to join the EU and get the same benefits at our expense, and he or his successor will use his Act to block any referendums, and of course the big prize for the Tory party and its donors would be to get Turkey in, once again without asking us directly what we thought about that.

2. It is also outrageous that Hague deliberately wrote his "referendum lock" law to exclude referendums on whether we should allow other EU member states to have EU treaty changes that they want without getting anything in exchange for our agreement, provided that the treaty changes can be formulated so that on paper they do not "apply" to the UK even though they might seriously affect us.

And that is the other fine print in his Act that he invoked to block a referendum on the EU treaty change that Merkel wanted to provide a legal basis for the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism, which EU treaty change was formalised by European Council Decision 2011/199/EU of March 25th 2011 and approved by the UK Parliament just through an Act, the European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Act 2012:


"An Act to make provision for the purposes of section 3 of the European Union Act 2011 in relation to the European Council decision of 25 March 2011 amending Article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union with regard to a stability mechanism for Member States whose currency is the euro."

If this German proposal actually starts to get anywhere then the German people will have to pay far more attention to its details than the British people paid to Hague's "referendum lock" law, or it may instead turn out to be another "referendum block" law; for example with treaties which are not themselves EU treaties, such as the "fiscal pact", being quietly excluded from its scope.

Jesper said...

A story about the Irish elite and how it is looking after its own:
Any connection with that story and why it is more expensive to borrow in Ireland compared to some other euro-countries?

A banking union where losses are shared but nations can be that generous with tax-payer money is unlikely to work.

A transfer union where nations can be that generous with transferred tax-payer money is unlikely to work.

Would love to see the Irish elite try to explain their special status to the German public if a transfer union would be proposed.


Would that be William Hague the eurosceptic? The White Van tour Hague? About as eurosceptic as Barroso! But at least Barosso does not pretent otherwise.

Rik said...

Should see this in large perspective imho.
Clear that Germany is on the border what is still allowed by its Constitution re transfer of powers to the EU.
Financial is is border time already and for the rest it looks pretty close as well.

Looks as well as being prepared for that and give it a positive spin in that process as anything else.
Getting caught be the CCourt with your pants down makes you look awfaul
Remember that the EU issue is not only highly impopular itself but bacause it is played out in an undemocratic way it is even a bigger minus.
Take the polls in the UK (or in Spain on Catalunya or in Holland on the issue of a Euro referendum). Pro referendum has always around 20% more support than the issue itself.

Anyway both parties SPD and CDU are by nature anti-referendum parties. However they see AfD getting on the map partly because of that.
Same things you see with the VVD in Holland also completely anti-referendum by nature. But starts to discuss it when there is electoral pressure.

A third it simply makes Merky's negotiation position stronger. hardly anybody with a brain in say Italy would like to leave the decision on say an Italian rescue
in the hands of the German people.
And she has to clean up the bankingunion mess thingy she created earlier and likley needs all the help with that she can get.

So I see it more than reacting on things like the legal complications, negotition position and electoral pressure than anything else. Until clear proof otherwise that is. All these parties have a huge and consistent track record on not being very democratic on European issues. They simply look like they first need a proper kick in the testis to behave otherwise.

Same with Cameron there would imho never have been a referendum without pressure (and Cameron has a pretty good track record on referenda compared to other traditional European politicians). Problem with Cameron is simply that he is not properly working on getting that negative air (having to be forced and connected being unreliable on that) away. Even sometimes it looks like he uses every occasion to give another blow to his credibility in this respect (and subsequently on his credibility in general). The El Pais thing, how stupid can you get?

Merkel is much more politically clever. And simply moves with the flow if there are dangers otherwise. Which has other disadvantages structural change is hardly possible that way, especially in the present climate where large parts of electorate simply lost it and the populist are on the rise. While at the same time structural answers are desperately required.
Longer term things simply have to change and Merkel is not the person for that.
However Cameron is picking way too many battles in that respect. Simply seems to be a fan of multi-front wars. And in that process messes up the results in the battles that are really important and his own PR (aka his re-election).

Rik said...

Re your Dave.

What is imho clearly and desperately missing is proper leadership in his party itself. It simply looks like a complete disorganised mess.

Cameron is the leader as for as elections go (and runnig the country of course in that process).
But more the not daily (longer term) stuff should be much better managed. And there is simply no one doing that.
Just a few points:
UKip is at this point of time a much larger strategic risk imho than Labour. If it gets on the map the Tories are permanently the no 2 (and no longer one of the 2 no 1 contenders). And with changing electorate that could be a the end of the Tories as an in power party.
A Labour win in itself isnot that bad. their team is very likley to mess it up anyway. No structural issue just a one term election thing.

The party needs a rebranding all these nice traditional English gentleme and ladies are simply dying out. However not in the way Dave was doing it. You cannot completely change your brandimage without large dangers. You never know how the market will react on that.

Position of Dave himself. There are a lot of scenarios possible in which Dave becomes a liability. You simply need a more elegant process for that. Now it is basically streetfighting until somebody collapses (or not). Simply costs tons of votes as the process takes way to long.

How to re establish the link with the voterbase. Which is clearly lost (and basically in all traditional parties (and all over Europe). The first one who has this in order has a huge competitive advantage.

A lot of this stuff is interconnected and the to do pile is enormous. Anyway it is not a natural mix with the daily leadership. It simply takes too much time to combine the two anyway. And Dave in this particular situation doesnot look the right guy to do it (combine)as well.