German opposition wants citizen vote on EU issues

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2011 10:53 AM
German opposition wants citizen vote on EU issues

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens called on Sunday for European Union citizens to get more direct influence in European affairs via plebiscites on key policy issues -- and even a direct vote for top posts in Brussels.

The center-left SPD and Greens, who lead German opinion polls and would oust Angela Merkel's conservatives if elections were held now, said plebiscites on fundamental EU and euro zone issues would improve the credibility of the crisis-hit bloc.

Without announcing immediate plans to seek a plebiscite or referendum, SPD party chief Sigmar Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper that "on basic questions of European policy the people should in future decide directly, in Germany too."

"We must seek the support of our citizens more on Europe," he said, adding however that such votes would be "difficult and not always successful."

Cem Oezdemir, leader of the fast-growing Greens, said in an interview with Tagesspiegel newspaper to be published on Monday that he was "glad the SPD is also showing more willingness to give citizens a greater direct say in EU affairs."

With Merkel's center-right government increasingly divided on the question of providing more aid for heavily indebted euro-zone members like Greece, the opposition is not only more popular in the polls but more united in its pro-Europe stance.

The SPD and Greens, who governed together in coalition under Gerhard Schroeder from 1998-2002 and are partners in regional German governments, are expected to back granting new powers to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) rescue fund in a crucial vote in the German parliament this Thursday.

That could put Merkel in the embarrassing position of having a key policy tool in the response to the euro zone debt crisis approved in the Bundestag thanks to opposition support, which could weaken the chancellor half-way through her second term.

The Greens' leader in the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, went as far as to say that top post in Brussels should be elected directly by the people. He wants to merge the posts of European Council and European Commission president, currently held by Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso.

"That would lead to the launch of real discussion about Europe," Cohn-Bendit told Tagespiegel's Monday edition.

(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by David Cowell)