You have to hand it to Michael Fuchs, deputy chairman of Angela Merkel’s CDU party in Germany. If you genuinely want Britain to remain part of the European Union – for intentions noble or otherwise – the best way for other countries to achieve that outcome is by convincing the British people that they too are frustrated by Brussels bureaucracy, that they yearn for real reform, and envisage our humble selves at the heart of this great effort.
And this is exactly what Fuchs has done, presenting the face of German concern about Britain’s place in the EU while his ally Angela Merkel is preoccupied with the far more pressing matter of the Greek crisis.
From the Telegraph:
“I want the UK to stay in the EU, and I cannot even imagine an EU without the UK. I don’t want to imagine it,” [Fuchs] said.
“In particular, for us it’s not good because the UK is a partner promoting a free-market economy, much more than the southern hemisphere in Europe. [Some of these countries] want to have a more state-regulated economy, and the UK is more like us, for instance, like Holland and the northern hemisphere, so we would not be very happy to see it go.”
Mr Fuchs described Brussels as a “huge” bureaucracy that needed to be scaled back. “I fully agree with certain statements of [Prime Minister] David Cameron saying that Brussels need not be such a huge bureaucracy, with so much red tape.
“That’s quite important, I think, and we need Cameron’s help to change it.”
Unfortunately, when someone you normally expect to be an antagonist starts acting very friendly, there is usually an ulterior motive at play. Feigning concern for and agreement with a difficult negotiating partner is straight out of Hostage Negotiation Strategy 101, and just as the man in the FBI jacket doesn’t really care that your wife left you and isn’t really going to arrange that escape airplane filled with cash, so Germany isn’t really about to let awkward old Britain stop the wheels of an EU juggernaut which has been rolling and gaining momentum since the 1950s.
In one sense, Germany is right – there is a divide between the northern and southern European countries in their approach to capitalism and the degree to which they embrace free markets as a positive force for good. How could anyone argue otherwise while Greece continues to burn and her people suffer, all the while making a mockery of the single currency? But this divide is hardly new, and Germany has for a long time priced in the cost of the EU’s socialist leanings and love of bureaucracy as a hit worth taking to bring about a united Europe.
With the huge benefit of being the largest and richest economy in the EU and eurozone, Germany can afford the costs of over-regulation and a less flexible labour market better than most other member states. One senses that Germany looks at France and shakes its head when it sees French farmers game the Common Agricultural Policy or Parisian taxi drivers engaged in violent protest against their Uber competitors, but they have tolerated this behaviour and will continue to do so as part of the price of EU membership.
Besides, we are constantly told by journalists that Angela Merkel is the “most powerful woman in the world”, and what a shrewd and effective political operator she is. Surely if this were true, Merkel would use her famous oratorical skills and charismatic persona to make the case for pro-market EU reform, sweeping away burdensome regulation with the sweep of her mighty arm. And yet somehow this has not happened. So either Merkel is not the great world leader that her hagiographers (many of them British) claim her to be, or she does possess these powers but refuses to deploy them in the service of small government because she is actually happy with the status quo. The truth, of course, is a combination of the two.
But then notice Michael Fuchs’ extraordinary remarks about the possibility of enacting treaty change to deliver reform for Britain:
“This is not easy because you are talking about the Lisbon Treaty and you know to change it you need 28 votes, a unanimous vote.The fathers of the EU made it complicated for us to change it because they knew at a later stage there could be demand for changes. It is difficult [to change].”
The “fathers of the EU”? The Lisbon Treaty was only signed in 2007! Has enough time really elapsed for us to begin referring to the politicians and bureaucrats who concocted it as the “founding fathers” of Europe? It is astonishing that an elected politician from Europe can suggest, with a straight face, that the unremarkable and very much still alive (many of them having only switched roles in the European bureaucracy in the intervening years) people who brought about the Lisbon and Maastricht Treaties are anything like the founding fathers of a great country.
The founding fathers of the United States of America were revolutionary and brave, willing to put their signatures against a document and take a leap into the unknown in the service of a new system of government. And for all America’s flaws, they created something pure and extraordinary, a constitutional republic that would become the most prosperous and powerful country on Earth.
What did the founding fathers of the EU ever do to be spoken of in the same terms as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson? The American founding fathers sought to free themselves from tyranny and taxation without representation, ushering in a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The EU’s progenitors cooked up their scheme behind closed doors with no public consultation and no popular pressure in the aftermath of the Second World War – a false dream of European unity borne out of the minds of the European elite, for the benefit of the European elite.
The broader point is this: even when German politicians such as Michael Fuchs try to reach out to Britain and enlist David Cameron as an ally in the fight against Brussels red tape, they end up revealing their real goals for the European Union. Humble free trading areas – or any international body with no aspiration for grander things – do not talk about having “founding fathers”. Nobody talks about the founding fathers of NAFTA. Nobody hums along to the World Trade Organisation’s anthem. This type of language is reserved for nations, or at least groups of people with a shared common identity and bond.
Even when he was trying his hardest to make it sound as though Germany wanted all the same things as Britain, Fuchs couldn’t help but reveal the true motive – he simply couldn’t help it. Germany may well prefer that the EU moves in a more free market direction instead of being an exclusionary and protectionist club governed by pointless regulations. But more than anything, Angela Merkel wants to keep the European Union together and moving forward, especially in the context of the existential threat of the Greek crisis.
If achieving this goal means throwing a few bones in Britain’s direction, Germany will no doubt do so with sincerity and in good faith. But do not mistakenly assume that there is any kind of shared vision for the future of Europe.
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