Twenty years on, Schaeuble pleads again for core Europe

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble attends a news conference at the Bercy Finance Ministry in Paris, August 28, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble renewed a call for a core group of European Union countries to move ahead faster with economic and political integration, 20 years after his ground-breaking proposal fell on deaf ears in key partner France.

In an article published in the Financial Times on Monday, Schaeuble proposed creating an EU commissioner with the power to reject national budgets that breach the bloc’s fiscal rules, and establishing an inner-core parliament for the euro zone.

“In order to make progress in all of these areas, we should keep using the approach that proved its mettle back in 1994: to establish cores of co-operation within the EU that enable smaller, willing groups of member states to forge ahead,” Schaeuble wrote in the article, co-authored by fellow German Christian Democrat Karl Lamers.

The center-right pro-European members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party said the EU had already taken that direction with the launch of the euro currency.

They acknowledged that many EU countries remain reticent about closer political union that would involve transferring more sovereignty to Europe.

Countries such as Britain should put forward proposals for returning some competences to national governments, they said, while the EU should focus mainly on the internal market, trade, currency and financial markets, climate, environment and energy; and foreign and security policy.

The authors voiced sympathy for British demands for EU action to crack down on alleged “benefit tourism” and what they called a wave of poverty-driven immigration within the 28-nation bloc.

The original Schaeuble-Lamers plan for a “core Europe” to forge ahead with political union, published in Le Monde in 1994, drew an embarrassed silence from the French authorities, then divided between ailing Socialist president Francois Mitterrand and a conservative government led by Edouard Balladur.

While France and Germany jointly laid the foundations for post-war European integration, Paris has twice drawn back from closer political union, rejecting a European defense community in 1954 and a proposed EU constitution in 2005.

Writing by Paul Taylor, editing by John Stonestreet