The German finance minister is reportedly calling to broadly reform the powers of the European Union government, a diplomatic opening to Britain that could bring about a retrenchment of central power after years of its gradual expansion from Brussels and Strasbourg.
In mid-July, Wolfgang Schäuble floated the idea of creating a new E.U. wide antitrust regulator – similar to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission or Bundeskartellamt – that would sever the political link between the Brussels-based European Commission’s power-setting and administrative roles.
The proposal, first reported by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, is a move toward Britain, which is contemplating leaving the 28-nation European Union unless its members – including Germany – agree to reform and clip its administrative wings in many areas of national law.
That may not be enough to keep Britain in the zone, some observers said. In fact, some may interpret it as just the opposite – a further attempt to grab policymaking away from the British government.
“I suspect they (the British) would be cautious about any process which took powers away from an increasingly politicized E.U. Commission to an unaccountable, technocratic organization in Brussels” said Thomas Raines, research associate at Chatham House, a London think tank.
Whether they can eventually agree on a face-saving set of reforms that can keep Britain in the European Union, Mr. Schäuble and British Prime Minister David Cameron both have problems with the form of European government being championed by E.U. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the longtime Luxembourg national leader and Brussels heavyweight.
In their minds, Mr. Juncker is turning the European Commission into a too intrusive, political presence – the sort of European government that goes far beyond what they believe is the Commission’s role as an impartial enforcer of rules and treaties governing the 28-nation bloc.
For Mr. Cameron, who is expected to call a referendum in Britain on its E.U. membership next year, the issue is a fundamental one — a difference over the structural reach of Brussels and its influence.
For Mr. Schäuble, a reform of the E.U. is looking better and better after his own frustrating efforts to take a tough line with Greece in its euro zone rescue.
The timely but unlikely common interests have the potential to help keep Britain in the European Union.