German pressure on EU
riles British sensibilities
By Lars Bevanger, Deutsche Welle
As UK Prime Minister David Cameron travels to Berlin for talks with Angela Merkel, British media and euroskeptics are reaching for WWII references in their concerns over growing German influence within the EU.
British tabloids often dig up World War II analogies when describing their relations to Germany. This week’s comments from Volker Kauder, a senior member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) that Europe was now “speaking German” gave them ample opportunity to point out – prior to Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Berlin this Friday – what they see as Germany’s unacceptable dominance in Europe.
“Germany has not been so powerful since 1941 when most of Europe was under her sway and her army was carving its way through the Soviet Union,” said the Daily Mail’s Stephen Glover.
Meanwhile, the public online comments in the conservative Telegraph newspaper were full of references to “the 4th Reich” and to Germans “suppressing democracy.”
Germany an easy target
Such fervent anti-German sentiment is not considered to be deep-rooted in the general British public. But, there is a great deal of anti-EU feeling in the country, with some polls showing nearly 50 percent of voters wanting the UK to leave the Union.
Furthermore, Germany’s position as the EU’s largest economy and Chancellor Merkel’s visible leadership in the current crisis has made the country an easy target for euro skeptic Brits.
“Since the mid-1950s, when the connection between Paris and Bonn – and now of course Berlin – got stronger, I think Britain felt increasingly marginalized,” said Till Geiger, a historian at Manchester University.
He told Deutsche Welle that Britain has never come to terms with the emergence of Germany as a key player in Europe. Some politicians, said Geiger, look with great distrust to Germany because, in their eyes, it now seems to be demanding far too much from the UK to save the eurozone, of which the UK is not even a member.
“Here, there is a constant mood of ‘we have to regain sovereignty’. I think most people don’t realize that that would also mean Britain would lose power because it no longer would be firmly part of the European Union,” said Geiger.
Breakup of euro “best solution”
Parts of Prime Minister David Cameron’s own Conservative party have always been deeply suspicious of the EU, and in particular what they see as moves led by France and Germany toward a more federal structure of the Union.
One euroskeptic Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, told Deutsche Welle that he feared a German-led attempt to create a smaller, “hard block” of eurozone countries.
“That would represent a conglomeration of German power – which is something British foreign policy has been against for the best part of a hundred years,” said Hollobone.
“I think David Cameron would best serve the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union by making it clear that Britain is going to play absolutely no role in bailing out the euro and that the best economic and political interests of all the constituent members of the EU would be served by the breakup of the euro,” he stressed.
Mr. Cameron will be very aware of the feelings, both in his own party and in the UK population, when he meets Chancellor Merkel in Bonn this Friday. Just a few days ago he used a major speech to suggest the current financial crisis was an opportunity for the UK to reclaim powers from Brussels.
Chancellor Merkel, of course, has quite a different vision of the EU.
“The task of our generation,” she told her CDU party conference earlier this week, “is to complete the economic and monetary union in Europe and, step-by-step, to create a political union.”
Even euroskeptic Brits understand why Germany feels the need to take the lead in saving the eurozone. As its biggest economy, Germany cannot prosper as long as the currency is under threat.
But, when the CDU’s Volker Kauder not only said Europe had started to speak his country’s “language” but also declared that the UK would not “get away with” simply protecting its own interests, he poured even more fuel on the already brightly burning fire of many British euroskeptics.
Kauder was talking about the proposed tax on financial transactions – the so-called Tobin tax – which would cost the City of London, UK’s financial center, billions of euros. Transactions in the City make up 30 percent of Britain’s GDP.
The German (and French) proposal for a Tobin tax, said UK critics, was a surefire way to drag an already struggling UK economy down to save a currency, which Britain never wanted in the first place.