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Top German Politicians Call for Europe Referendum

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Leading politicians from across Germany's political spectrum called this weekend for a referendum on whether to transfer more powers to Europe, as a survey suggested most Germans would reject any move toward debt-sharing among states.

The head of Germany's main opposition SPD party, Sigmar Gabriel, warned Sunday that the country's parliament is currently working "in a permanent state of emergency under constitutional law" as it seeks to overcome the euro zone's debt crisis.

The situation is "untenable", Mr. Gabriel said in an interview on German radio station Deutschlandfunk. "If we want to take the path toward common financial and tax policies, that is only possible in Germany by changing the constitution," he said. To do that, a two-thirds majority in parliament "isn't enough, but rather we must ask the people."

Euro-zone leaders agreed a series of measures in late June to help overcome the worsening debt crisis, including a move towards more centralized banking regulations and using bailout funds more liberally to support euro zone government bonds.

However, much of this is on hold until at least Sept. 12, when Germany's constitutional court will rule on whether to impose a temporary injunction against laws setting up the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, and the fiscal pact for the euro.

The German court is hearing a case brought by plaintiffs who argue that by signing up to the 500 billion euros ($615 billion) ESM and the fiscal pact, Germany will forfeit too much sovereignty and undermine the power of its parliament to determine how to spend taxpayers' money.

Other leading politicians echoed Mr. Gabriel's call for greater involvement of Germany's citizens in the decisions over Europe's future.

"We can only overcome the crisis of legitimacy and confidence faced by European institutions with more transparency and citizen participation," Horst Seehofer, the head of the conservative CSU party, told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

In particular, the German people should be consulted on whether to provide more financial aid to other European states, transfer further sovereignty to Brussels or accept new states into the European Union, Mr. Seehofer argued. The CSU party rules Germany in coalition with the liberal FDP and Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party.

"We could come to a point at which a referendum on Europe will be necessary," said Rainer Bruederle, the head of the FDP party's parliamentary group, in an interview with German newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt.

Still, there is no provision in German law for a national referendum of this nature.

And crucially, any popular vote runs the risk of derailing efforts to end the debt crisis. Most Germans would reject any move toward sharing debt among European states even if the European Union were to take control over national budgets, according to a survey by polling firm TNS Emnid released Saturday by German news magazine Focus. Of those questioned, 52% said they considered sharing debt liability among states to be wrong, while just 31% said it was right.

Despite such popular resistance, Mr. Gabriel reiterated his call Sunday for European states to share liability for one another's debts in the future, as long as such a step was ratified by referendum.

Write to Tom Fairless at tom.fairless@dowjones.com

 

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(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 12, 2012 21:05 ET (01:05 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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