Open Europe Blog

Today’s FAZ reports on a letter to German MPs from the German Association of Family Businesses (Die Familienunternehmer) which calls for “a fundamental re-calibration of the EU Treaties”. Crucially, this would entail a correction of the distribution of competencies, which in plain English (and German) would mean the possibility of some powers flowing back to member states from Brussels. The letter argues:

“A key element for the sustainable improvement of the situation [in the EU] is the principle of liability. The future of Europe cannot be jeopardised through the progressive pooling of debts with foreseeable cuts to the German budget or the disempowerment of national parliaments in favour of centralisation in Brussels.”

Given the economic and cultural importance of family run businesses/SMEs – the organisation’s website notes that there are 180,000 such businesses in Germany employing around 8 million people – this is an important development and the first time a German business group has made such a demand. While it is important not to get carried away – some of the Association’s previous calls, such as pushing for MPs to vote down the ESM, fell on deaf ears – it comes at a time when the concept of adjusting the balance of powers between the EU and member states is slowly gaining traction in Germany. Not that long ago the mere suggestion would have been shot down instantly, now even Chancellor Merkel has hinted that it could be a possibility.

As our recent joint opinion poll with Open Europe Berlin demonstrated, there is substantial support among the German public for the return of certain powers.

Source: YouGov Deutschland for Open Europe and Open Europe Berlin

Of course for Germany to support such transfers they must apply to the EU as a whole, which is why British proposals to give national parliaments a greater role in the EU policy-making process could gain support in Berlin, as could proposals to streamline EU legislation. The Sunday Telegraph recently reported that the UK’s CBI is working closely with its German counterpart, the BDI, in order to push through business friendly reforms in the EU which could include the repeal of some EU social and employment laws as well further liberalisation in areas including telecommunications and services.

The momentum for EU reform is definitely growing, and in an encouraging sign of UK-German co-operation (which we advocated before it became fashionable), Conservative MP Alok Sharma and German CDU MP Ralph Brinkhaus argue in a joint piece on the Spectator’s Coffee House blog that “There’s a historic opportunity for Britain and Germany to lead the work of improving the structures of the European Union, together with other like-minded countries. There are areas of common ground for discussion on budget discipline, free trade and efficiency in the public sector to name but a few.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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