Why Not a German Model for Europe?

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's ambitious blueprint for the future of the European Union's political institutions is already running into serious flak. Critics range from British Euro-skeptics and French nationalists to Danes and Swedes. They charge that the architecture of Schroder's federal Europe is nothing so much as the Bundesrepublik Deutschland writ large. Technically, they are right. Transforming the European Council of Ministers, the representatives of national governments, into a veritable upper house and the Strasbourg-based European Parliament into a true lower house with absolute control of the EU's budget does mimic the German Parliament's Bundesrat and Bundestag. And Schroder's plans for making the European Commission into more of a real European government does look suspiciously like the German federal government.

So what? Today's Germany has by far the most modern and equitable government structure in Europe. The federal executive branch is light and efficient, the German states are strong, and the judiciary functions well. Compare it with the unwieldy mess of France's half-presidential, half-parliamentary republic, with its monarchical and Napoleonic vestiges. The Italian government is hardly a model for anything.

And Europeans should remember that they are only at the beginning of a long and complicated constitutional process. It took Americans, after all, decades after the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to define the relationship between states and the federal government. Some might argue correctly that it's still a work in progress. Whatever Europeans might think of Schroder's proposals, he has had the courage to open a very necessary debate. It was a long time in coming, and it will take a long time to conclude. That's as it should be. The future of Europe is at stake.

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