* Merkel allies say referendum proposal won't become policy
* Post-war constitution places high hurdles on referendums
* Germans had no direct vote on the euro or reunification
By Sabine Siebold and Noah Barkin
BERLIN, Nov 12 German parties negotiating a
coalition deal have recommended holding nationwide referendums
for major decisions on Europe in what would be a dramatic shift
in policy, but Chancellor Angela Merkel looks likely to quash
The idea was spelled out in a document put together by one
of the working groups discussing policy compromises to enable a
government between Merkel's conservatives and the centre-left
Social Democrats (SPD).
It calls for referendums when new members join the European
Union, when powers are transferred from Berlin to Brussels and
when Germany commits money at EU level -- a shift that could
severely limit Berlin's ability to act swiftly in a crisis.
But the proposal has yet to be approved by a larger
coalition panel led by Merkel, and senior members of her
Christian Democrats (CDU) made clear on Tuesday that they
opposed the idea.
"As before, there are serious doubts about the introduction
of referendums at the national level," said Guenter Krings, a
deputy leader for the party in parliament.
Elmar Brok, a senior figure in Merkel's CDU and a member of
the European parliament, said the proposal would not see the
light of day.
"If this was implemented in Germany, it would be seen abroad
as putting an end to further development of the EU, the EU would
become ineffective," he said. "We would be reducing ourselves to
the level of British policymakers."
Still, the document underscored the unease among German
parties, particularly in the Bavarian Christian Social Union
(CSU), with the democratic legitimacy of decisions to transfer
competencies to the European Union and use German money to
support struggling partners during the euro crisis.
"The population should be asked directly on European policy
decisions of special importance," reads the document, produced
by a domestic policy working group led by CSU Interior Minister
Hans-Peter Friedrich and Thomas Oppermann of the SPD.
"This would apply in particular when new member states are
added, when important powers are to be transferred to Brussels,
or when German finances are committed at EU level. For such
decisions we want to pave the way for nationwide referendums."
Greek bond yields rose on the news amid concerns it could
slow or impede the flow of aid to Athens.
While referendums are common in Ireland, Switzerland and
some Scandinavian countries, Germany's post-war constitution
sets high hurdles for them, in part because plebiscites are
blamed for helping Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
Germany's "Basic Law" only permits national referendums in
the extreme circumstances of changing the constitution itself or
Even with these exceptions, German citizens had no vote on
reunification in 1990. Nor were they given a direct say in the
decision, nearly a decade later, to replace the deutsche Mark
with the euro.
At the height of the euro crisis in early 2012, when
Germany's Constitutional Court was voicing concerns about the
legality of measures to curb the turmoil, there was a vigorous
debate about changing Germany's "Basic Law".
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said at the time that a
referendum on closer European integration may be necessary "more
quickly than I would have believed".
A Deutschlandtrend poll published in June of that year
showed that 71 percent of Germans favoured a direct vote on
ceding more powers to EU authorities in Brussels.
But Merkel has always been cool on the idea, in part because
of concern that referendums could fuel populist parties, like
the formed Alternative for Germany (AfD), a new anti-euro
movement that nearly won seats in the German parliament in a
The debate over referendums has faded since mid-2012 as the
crisis has eased, and it did not play a significant role during
the election campaign.
"I cannot believe that this will survive the coalition
negotiations," said Tanja Boerzel, a professor at Berlin's Free
"The CSU has always pushed for referendums. I am not sure
why the SPD agreed to this, maybe this is part of a bargaining
strategy, something for the SPD to drop in return for something
else. The CDU is certainly ambivalent, and I cannot believe that
Merkel will accept the proposal."