Opinion: Deutschland über Europa? And why the UK should care

Since the World Cup of 1966 there has been a number of occasions for the British to hear the first lines of the former German national anthem: “Deutschland über alles. Über alles in der Welt” (“Germany above all, above all in the world”). Should a new line been added in the wake of the recent Greek crisis, and in the wait for the next one? Then it would go as “German above Europe”.

As the third major country in the EU, with France and Germany, the UK opinion and leaders should pay heed, even if this distracts a bit from home election issues.

Up to recently, the German policy, whatever the government, could be summed up as: “What’s good for Europe is good for Germany.” Though reluctantly, the acceptance of the euro was one of the latest and clearest signs of that trend. The shift of these last weeks is increasingly regarded as a move in a more self-centred direction. Or : “What’s good for Germany should be good for Europe.”

In history books, the arrogance shown by Angela Merkel and her coalition partners will probably stand close to Margaret Thatcher’s most famous acts. It started with press campaigns, proposals from backbenchers to sell Greek islands, got on with a former German finance vice-minister asking all Southern-Europe economies (including France) to get out of the Eurozone if they don’t behave like Germany. The Chancellor’s aggressive posture came on top, whose only sign of flexibility was to finally admit IMF’s intervention, a humiliating defeat for the European Central Bank and eurozone ministers.

This time, not only German’s face was saved, but also most of Germany’s economic and monetary interests. The French were forced to reach a deal, and for the others it was just a fait accompli. In the short term, Greece will be “rescued” (for how long and at what cost?). In the long run, Germany (again) wants more integrated (who said more German?) fiscal policies and stronger economic co-ordination. It is up to a EU president who looks since his non-election as a servant of the Franco-German holy alliance to push forward the integration path. Can, and will other EU nations, not least the UK, accept that?

The Franco-German alliance that has ruled the EU over five decades is based on the two following ideas: the French want further political integration while the Germans look for deeper economic integration. Both have been followed by a core of nations (Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Spain) which now represent a minority, perhaps not in terms of population (well, at least their representatives) but certainly in the number of states.

Despite this, and a growing Euroscepticism in public opinion (the Lisbon treaty would have been rejected in a majority of member states had it been submitted to referendum), Berlin, Paris and Brussels – we mean the Commission – keep on pushing toward more integration and harmonisation. These ideas, much liked mainly by the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, should be dealt with caution by liberals and democrats.

By the way (1), EU circles bet on Cameron’s victory so as to cut deficits and serve EU’s interests. Paradoxical and hypocritical, but it’s a fact. Rumours a rapprochement of the Tories with Sarkozy and Merkel centre-right are well founded. By the way (2), for those not familiar with German politics, the so-called “liberals” (i.e. the FDP), even if they sit in the same group at the EP, have relatively little in common with British liberal democratic traditions and the Lib Dems. So don’t count them as real allies.

Don’t get me wrong. The German model has its pluses: an export machine unmatched in Europe, diversified economic fabrics, good productivity, high-skilled workers (also thanks to effective training schemes), social protection, product quality, global brands, lower deficit, efficient infrastructure, etc. Some of those virtues, not always recognised by its opponents would be worth considering or emulating, and not only in Greece but also in Britain, for example.

But should the whole German model, notably the obssessive attention to inflation, be exported across Europe? Why should Berlin be entitled to pursue expansion goals to the detriment of others’ demand-oriented policies and at worst encourage deflationary policies? And should the euro be valued like the former mark?

The current crisis is providing Germany the opportunity to make its control over the eurozone explicit, before its own demographic problems catch up with it, with all related costs. Paying for the others now could mean others knocking at the door soon and… not paying for “us” in the future. It has a limited window of opportunity to make or break its leadership of the EU. Germany’s birth rate is lower than all of the major European powers, including the UK, while its population is significantly older. This is not to say that controlling Europe will help Berlin solve its demographic problems, just that if Berlin is ever going to take command, the time is now.

The alternative to further integration and “Germanisation” could of course be disintegration. But it might also mean, more positively, a EU with less tentacles. Can and will Germany accept this? That’s the big question. The most often heard answer is no. So what then?

“When the time comes, Europe will need Germany to be Bismarck and Germany will need Europe to want a Caesar,” concludes US intelligence group Stratfor in a recent analysis. Not to say that you should be ready to jump on the Spitfires, but it sends shivers, doesn’t it?

Between the devil – EU’s excessive integration dominated by Germany and France (to a lesser extent)- and the deep blue sea – EU’s disintegration with… German domination- the British approach to Europe -mostly consisting of a free-trade area with, depending on the parties, a number of joint initiatives or common policies- might prove the right one. Ironic, isn’t it?

Mike Guillaume

Mike Guillaume is an economist and financial analyst. He is the author of “The Seven Deadly Sins of Capitalism” (excerpts available on www.mikeconomics.net). His main office is in London and he shares his time and work between other international cities. He is a partisan of the Lib Dems.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.
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18 Comments

  • “Since the World Cup of 1966″… well, that isn’t a leading introduction at all.

  • This reads like a machine translation.

    “German above Europe”

    “… the UK opinion and leaders should take heed…”

    “less tentacles”

    What?

    I can’t remember the last time I read something so incoherent on so many levels.

  • I dont get this article. Germany has done exactly the right thing in forcing free-loading satellite economies to stop wrecking the Euro by leeching the benefit with loose economic policy. Yet somehow you have turned this into a rant about Germany taking over the world.

    But then, looking back to your previous anti-European rant I can see what the root of all this is…

  • Bruce Wilson 11th Apr '10 - 2:51pm

    Let me correct some “errors” and omissions in this ugly piece of polemic. This unfortunately will take a while.

    The first paragraph in itself is near xenophobic. It does not represent the views of any Germans I have ever known. Or anything I have seen or read in the German media. Maybe Mr Guillame has access to information I am not aware of. If so, he should share it with the rest of us. Otherwise this is just another conspiracy theory. The far right NPD only got 1,47% of the vote in last year’s parliamentary elections.(source:ARD)

    I would like clarification of paragraph 3. Which ‘shift’ is being referred to?

    Paragraph 4. I am not aware that backbenchers were calling for the sale of Greek islands. As I recall it was on the front page article of ‘Bild’ a german newspaper. Not a broadsheet newspaper. The idea of expelling countries like Greece who repeated broke the rules was floated as a measure of last resort. In any case it did not happen as it would require a change to the treaties, which is not going to happen. Germany was pushing for IMF involvement, which I am pleased they got.

    Paragraph 5. My understanding of events is that German is looking for a mechanism to ensure that another Greece does not occur. This is story is still live, we will not the final solution until the dust has settled on this particular crisis. As far as integration is concerned, the German goverment is constrained by constitutional court rulings. Which has unequivically stated that the Geman government can only develop, to quote:

    “With its Article 23, the Basic Law grants powers to participate and develop a European Union which is designed as an association of sovereign national states (Staatenverbund). The concept of Verbund covers a close long-term association of states which remain sovereign, an association which exercises public authority on the basis of a treaty, whose fundamental order, however, is subject to the disposal of the Member States alone and in which the peoples of their Member States, i.e. the citizens of the states, remain the subjects of democratic legitimisation.

    (source:BVerfG, 2 BvE 2/08 vom 30.6.2009) Preliminary version of English translation.

    Clear enough.

    Paragrah 8. What in particular is wrong with the FDP? They appear to be rather more Liberal than the Lib Dems, other than that I have not seen any major points of complaint. More unsubstantiated claims. Their leader Guido Westerwelle is allegedly gay (source: Wikkipedia ‘Guido Westerwelle’ on both German and English pages). They must be at least liberal.

    Paragraphs 9 & 10. A single currency brings benefits as well as problems. The jury is still out.

    Paragraph 11 onwards is pure polemic. I will refrain from further comment.

    Paragraph 6

  • Sgt Skepper 12th Apr '10 - 2:05pm

    “Since the World Cup of 1966 there has been a number of occasions for the British to hear the first lines of the former German national anthem: “Deutschland über alles. Über alles in der Welt” ”

    Those lines haven’t been used in the German national anthem since WWII.

  • Germany is merely following the doctrine of ‘he (or in Germany’s case, she) who pays the piper calls the tune’. Germany is the biggest net contributor to the EU, ahead of the UK, so why shouldn’t it call the shots?

    I am in Italy and I was watching a political talk show last night where the Greek commentators and some of the Italian ones as well were calling for ‘more Europe’, without spelling out what that really meant. Meanwhile the German commentator was putting forward the idea that the Greeks should be punished ‘pour encourager les autres’.

    The events in Greece really are putting Euro solidarity to the test and the Lib Dems need to be much more rigorous about what their position is on Europe. Britain could be in a very good position to work with other net contributors like the Netherlands and Germany to push for a major reshaping of the European project. In this case, a crisis is too good an opportunity to waste. The danger is that it will be used for even more European integration, putting UK membership into crisis, rather than an examination of the arrangements that already exist.

  • Paul McKeown 4th May '10 - 2:10pm

    Frankly this piece rather echoes Thatcher’s dysteutonic beliefs at the time of the German Wiedervereinigung, which she opposed. Not correct then, not correct now.

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