by Martin Walker
Paris (UPI) Jan 6, 2013
In Brussels, the high priests of the great European project are telling themselves the worst is over. They are wrong; the real crisis is about to begin.
The new crisis is political rather than economic and it has started in Germany. The Christian Social Union, dominant political party in Bavaria and the essential partner to Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, has become euroskeptic.
From the beginning of modern German democracy, the CSU has been the political partner of the Christian Democrats. And the conversion of the CSU to a political agenda that seeks explicitly to wrest back powers from the European Commission in Brussels speaks volumes for the change in German attitudes triggered by the euro crisis.
Simply put, they sound more and more like Britain's euroskeptics, the political heirs to Margaret Thatcher. The CSU's prime concern is to reduce the size and the powers of the commission, traditionally the supranational body which is meant to embody and further the cause of European integration. And they want all important decisions to be subject to a referendum.
The CSU's political leadership meets this month in the Bavarian Alpine resort of Wildbad Kreuth to prepare the party's campaigns for local elections in March and for the European Parliament elections in May. The four-page campaign strategy drafted by the party's regional committee has been making the rounds in Brussels and causing deep concern among "the Brussels bureaucrats" who are to be a prime target of the CSU campaign.
"We need a withdrawal therapy for commissioners intoxicated with regulation," says the document, titled "Europe's Future: Freedom, Security, Regionalism and Public Responsiveness."
The CSU proposes the establishment of a new European court whose role will be to investigate and challenge the commission and its various directorates whenever it is accused of exceeding its authority (which is often) and force it to back down.
"Disputes are to be decided by a European competency court, which would include constitutional judges from the member states," the document says.
(Historical note: This has been tried before with what the European treaties now call "the subsidiarity principle," which means nothing should be decided at the European level if it can be handled at national level. It has had very little effect.)
For the first time, this would establish the principle that the European Court of Justice isn't sovereign and its decisions can be challenged and reversed. Since the court has been a key institutional of European integration, not least through the imaginative interpretation of competition policy, this threatens not just to stop but to reverse the integration process.
The insistence of the European Court of Human Rights that convicted prisoners be allowed to vote and that foreigners convicted of rape and murder and even terrorist acts cannot be deported after serving their sentence has become a major issue in Britain.
In the last month, three top judges from Britain's Supreme Court have proposed that the British Parliament r-assert its sovereignty so that British judges aren't required to implement ECHR judgments. The court is becoming "a law-making body" argued Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption, exceeding its powers and undermining the democratic process.
These issues have been potent in Britain for years. But now, for the first time, a party of government in Germany has taken up the cudgels against Brussels. Just like Britain's Conservative government, following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, the document demands that EU powers in general be transferred back to the member states.
"This could apply to parts of the overregulated internal market, as well as regional policy," the document states, which also calls for the number of commissioners and Brussels civil servants to be reduced sharply.
And Merkel has been outraged at the way the European Commission is threatening heavy fines over a part of German energy policy which spares businesses from paying the extra costs to subsidize the shift to renewable energy. This breaches EU competition policy, says Brussels.
There are several reasons for this change of heart in Germany.
The first is the opinion polls. The euro crisis has left German voters worried at the prospect of their savings going to bail out feckless Greeks, Spaniards and Italians.
The second is that in Germany, as in Britain and France, the flood of migrants from poorer EU states, with more to come from Bulgaria and Romania has become a hot political issue. Under EU laws on freedom of movement, the migrants cannot be stopped from traveling to seek work and to collect welfare, health and housing benefits as they do so.
An anti-European tide is running in Europe, with the populist Front National leading the polls in France closely followed by Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom in Holland, the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) in Britain and the True Finns in Finland.
The elections in May for the European Parliament looks likely to return a powerful block of euroskeptics, possibly sufficient to start turning back the process of integration and to persuade the British that it makes more sense to remain in Europe and work with like-minded German allies to reform the European Union than to vote to leave it in the promised referendum in 2017.
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