Post-Brexit More Europe or Less?

German politicians are proposing visions for a post-Brexit European Union, favoring deeper integration on some issues but pushing Brussels to scale back elsewhere. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble wants an "intergovernmental approach."
Quelle: Getty Images
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Picture

It’s no secret that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble doesn’t believe the answer to Britain’s break with the European Union should be deeper E.U. integration. An internal strategy report from his office, published by Handelsblatt a day after the Brexit vote, made those feelings clear.

Now Mr. Schäuble, a key member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, has gone a step further, telling the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that national governments should take the reins when the European Commission is too slow to solve the problems facing the bloc. He called for a greater “intergovernmental approach” to solving pressing European issues, pointing to its success in dealing with the euro crisis.

“If the Commission doesn’t join in, then we should take matters into our own hands and just solve the problems among governments,” Mr. Schäuble said, underscoring the need for a new kind of pragmatism. If all the bloc’s 27 member states aren’t willing to negotiate key issues, “then we can start with just a few,” he said, bringing the idea of a “two-speed Europe” back into the discussion.

The German finance minister offered the refugee crisis as one such example. For most Europeans, he said, it is not question of whether the European Parliament plays the key role, but “whether we get a handle on the refugee problem: Not words but deeds are what matters.”

If the Commission doesn’t join in, then we should take matters into our own hands and just solve the problems among governments. Wolfgang Schäuble, German Finance Minister

Mr. Schäuble also noted the fight against the youth unemployment plaguing southern European states as another pressing issue. He said solutions must be found quickly, arguing that it would be the only way to “convince the people and regain trust.”

But the finance minister stopped short of short of suggesting that E.U. competencies should shift back to member states and made clear that his intent was not to weaken the Commission. In in an interview with the ARD public broadcaster, he called for a "strong Europe," especially in the area of defense.

Mr. Schäuble, a 73-year-old career politician, described himself as a supporter of deeper European integration at heart. “But now is not the time for that,” he said.

Other senior German politicians have called for improvements to the European Union’s slow decision-making process, after Britain voted 52 to 48 percent to leave the bloc, raising major concerns about its future prospects. And the surprise announcement on Monday that Nigel Farage is standing down as leader of the UK Independence Party has only added to the political chaos that Brexit has unleashed across Europe.

“What we have with 28, or now 27, commissioners in the European Commission is like an administrative apparatus without any real connection to voterers,” Sigmar Gabriel, the vice chancellor and head of the Social Democratic Party, said in an interview with the German public broadcaster ZDF over the weekend.

Mr. Gabriel said Brexit was an opportunity to change Europe and to bridge the growing differences with the financially-troubled southern countries, criticizing the austerity plans for the region. He also said the European Union should reassess whether it should continue earmarking 40 percent of its funds toward agriculture and not invest more in research and education.

But on the issues of security, refugee policy and fighting tax fraud, he called for stronger European cooperation - as well as for a new E.U. Stability and Growth Pact.

The views of Mr. Schäuble and Mr. Gabriel, however, appear to fly in the face of those of Martin Schulz, the German president of the European Parliament. In an interview in Monday’s Frankfurter Zeitung newspaper, the Social Democrat said the Commission should be turned in a “real European government” subject to parliamentary control form the European Parliament and a second chamber of consisting of representatives of member states.

Edmund Stoiber, the former conservative state premier of Bavaria and head of a task force in charge of reducing E.U. bureaucracy, warned of the greater centralization championed by Mr. Schulz and Commission President Jean-Claude Junker. Brexit, he said in Tagesspielgel, a sister publication,” fired a warning shot that “we have too much centralization” and that Brussels “is too far removed from the people” it should be service. “We need to end this centralization madness.”

Günther Oettinger, the German E.U. commissioner and a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, called on leading European politicians to stop badmouthing the European Union. "When it comes to pushing through one's own interests, then Brussels is good enough," Mr. Oettinger told the Bild newspaper, saying that government's otherwise like to score points with voters by complaining about the European. "This has to stop."


Heike Anger covers politics from Handelsblatt’s Berlin office. Peter Thelen writes about social security systems, the job market and labor topics. John Blau is a senior editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]