Schroeder insists on attending EU summit

25th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

25 October 2005, BERLIN - Chancellor Helmut Kohl, after being defeated by Gerhard Schroeder in 1998, graciously allowed his successor to represent him at a European Union summit despite his rival's not even having been sworn into office.

25 October 2005

BERLIN - Chancellor Helmut Kohl, after being defeated by Gerhard Schroeder in 1998, graciously allowed his successor to represent him at a European Union summit despite his rival's not even having been sworn into office.

The incoming Schroeder thus had a chance to use the bloc's traditionally informal October summit as a get-to-know-you meeting without pressure to make any crucial European Union (E.U.) decisions.

But seven years later, following his own defeat by Angela Merkel, Chancellor Schroeder sees no need for such statesmanlike gestures.

The outgoing German leader insists he alone will attend the E.U.'s Hampton Court summit near London on Thursday despite having been formally discharged as Germany's head of government and now serving merely as caretaker.

"It's a political decision and a question of style," said Peter Becker, an E.U. expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, adding: "My personal view is that Kohl did the right thing in 1998."

Schroeder's insistence that he still represents Germany - the E.U.'s biggest member - means already low expectations for the meeting can be scaled back further.

London earlier this month abruptly cut the summit from two days to just one day, citing demands by member states.

Merkel, meanwhile, must wait until the E.U.'s regular December summit in Brussels to meet leaders of the entire 25-nation bloc.

This could prove a baptism by fire with the E.U. seeking to hammer out a deal on its 875 billion euro (1 trillion dollar) budget through 2013.

Becker said he expected Merkel to give up Schroeder's overtly pro-French policy in the E.U. and return to the traditional Berlin stance of seeking equal ties with both London and Paris.

"I think German policy E.U. policy will become more pragmatic and integrate the smaller member states," Becker said.

For Schroeder, who is 61, the Hampton Court summit is his swansong on the international stage.

Gearing up for the meeting, Schroeder fired a broadside at what he warned was the growing influence of both the European Commission - the bloc's executive - and the European Court.

"Nothing enrages citizens more than the suspicion of a creeping loss of sovereignty," said Schroeder in an essay published in the newspaper Die Zeit.

But with power slipping from his hands, this appears mainly for show and Schroeder will likely use the meeting for an emotional public farewell to friends - and a ticking off of his enemies.

Above all, the meeting marks the end of the Berlin-Paris axis forged over past years by Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac.

This ran so deep that Schroeder took the unprecedented step of allowing Chirac to represent Germany at E.U. summits he could not attend.

Together, the German and French leaders rammed through a deal in 2002 on E.U. farm spending which currently gobbles up half of the Union's 100 billion euro annual budget. Under the accord, grudgingly accepted other members, farm spending is to remain largely unchanged through 2013.

But this was put into question by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at last June's Brussels summit.

Blair said he would only give up London's multi-billion euro E.U. rebate if France agreed to give up its 10 billion euro annual farm subsidies.

This was furiously rejected by Chirac, leading to an acrimonious collapse of talks on the E.U.'s 2007 to 2013 budget.

Earlier this year, Schroeder and Chirac also teamed up to, in effect, scrap the eurozone's stability and growth pact which had demanded massive fines for countries which run up budget deficits over 3 per cent of gross domestic product.

Both Berlin and Paris are repeat offenders and have overshot this limit for years with Germany poised to do so for the fifth time in a row in 2006, according to a report by the nation's six leading economics institutes.

But the highly personalized Schroeder-Chirac axis, which also led European opposition to the Iraq war, is soon to become history.

Not only is Schroeder is half deposed. Chirac himself is a lame duck as successors jockey for position in the run-up to France's 2007 presidential election.


Subject: German news

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