GERMANS, who have been champions of a unified Europe, are getting cold feet about ratifying the Maastricht Treaty, which maps out the way to European political and monetary union.
The hesitancy lies with the leaders of Germany's 16 states, or Lander, who last week threatened to block ratification of the treaty if Bonn does not give them a greater say in European Community politics.
Germany has allowed the states a high degree of autonomy and state leaders are concerned that any future transfer of sovereignty to the European Community could deprive them of their own decision-making rights.
The individual German states want a say in the future powers given to the EC, says Josef Hoffmann, spokesman for the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament which represents the states. The states want to be able to negotiate with the EC directly on issues that relate to them.
That last point is where the difficulty lies. "The federal government says it must have the last word," Hoffmann explains. As a Foreign Office spokesman says, there should be "no second diplomatic service with the lander as quasi-ambassadors."
Officials in the federal government are concerned that if this disagreement is not resolved, the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in Germany could be delayed and that those opposed to the treaty would have a chance to galvanize popular opinion.
The greatest popular worry is that the European currency union outlined in the treaty amounts to robbery: taking away the mighty German deutsche mark in return for some untested common European currency.
Sixty German economists fueled this concern last Thursday by issuing a statement on the inadequacy of the Maastricht Treaty. Although the economists favor eventual monetary union in Europe, they said the treaty provisions involve a too-hasty transition to a single currency.
The feud between the states and the federal government is "potentially very serious," says a Western diplomat in Bonn, "but we are confident they will come to a compromise. Our assumption is that the Lander will back down" and that the Germans will be able to meet their timetable of ratification by year's end.
A hint of compromise was displayed last week when the constitutional committee of the Bundesrat agreed that future transfer of sovereignty to the EC must be tied to approval from the parliament. That is, the states and the federal government must work out a common policy between themselves first; then the federal government can present this position in Brussels.
The parliamentary committee was established because of the changes necessitated to the Constitution by German unity; the Constitution will need further changes if Maastricht is adopted.