Richard North, 01/08/2004  

According to the Sunday Telegraph today, the German government is under "growing pressure" to hold a referendum on the EU constitution. This comes after 34 of the country's "most eminent legal scholars" declared that federal law could easily be changed to allow a vote.

Led by Hans Herbert von Arnim from the university of Speyer, they have declared that: "A small addition to the text of the [German] constitution could enable the German people to vote in a referendum."

Apparently, opinion polls show that 70 percent of Germans want a vote on the treaty. Schröder has so far insisted that Germany cannot do so because the country's constitution expressly forbids extra-parliamentary plebiscites, to make it harder for an extremist party to seize power.

Lining up against Schröder are Roman Herzog, Germany's former conservative president, and Stoiber, who declared last week: "If the French, the British and the Spanish are to hold a referendum on this issue, the Germans cannot be barred from the process."

Other advocates include Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the country's liberal Free Democrat party, Wolfgang Thierse, Germany's Social Democrat parliamentary president, leading Green party MPs and at least five of Germany's 16 regional branches of Schröder's own governing party.

Stoiber's Bavarian conservatives and the liberal Free Democrats have already drawn up proposals which would allow the constitution to be altered by a two-thirds majority in the country's upper and lower houses of parliament to enable a one-off referendum on the EU constitution next year.

However, Wolfgang Schauble, the former Christian Democrat party leader, warned: "There is a danger that a referendum on the EU constitution would lead to a vote that has nothing to do with the EU at all".

Schauble may be right, given the current unpopularity of Schröder’s government, but the cause cannot be helped by what surely must be seen as the arrogance of Michael Muller, deputy head of the Social Democrats' parliamentary party.

Rejecting the idea of a referendum, he has loftily declared, "Sometimes the electorate has to be protected from making the wrong decisions." Doncha love it!

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