There is an article in The Economist about Angela Merkel’s comments at a Bavarian political rally that Europe no being able to rely on the USA or the UK any longer and that Europe must forge its own destiny and such like stuff: http://www.economist.com/blogs/kaffeeklatsch/2017/05/what-s-brewing-germany
Whilst unusual for a cautious woman, her comments should be seen in the context of the early days of German election campaigning plus a recent brush with “The Donald” at both NATO and the G7.
The EU’s Problems
Merkel suffered a loss of popularity over the refugee crisis in 2015 but she seems to have recovered from that and looks well on track for a fourth term as Chancellor. After a couple of bruising sessions with Trump where at NATO he saw fit to scold all for not reaching the 2% and then at the G7 him not endorsing the Paris Accord on climate change, one can understand her frustration with Trump but how wise to go public, is another matter. Trump won’t make a second term and it is likely that he won’t complete his first, for one reason or another, Presidents come and go but common interests remain pretty constant.
As for Brexit, yes it is a problem, in part there are some feelings of resentment caused by Britain rejecting the EU, there is the loss of the UK’s budget contributions and what that may mean for the German taxpayer plus, the nagging sense of unease with regard both to EU reform and the Euro. Macron for all his being “one of us” may well turn out to be unable to deliver the hoped for return to an EU driven by the twin engines of France and Germany.
The real problem for Germany lies in the fact that because of the events of WWII, Germans have become very heavily invested in the “European Ideal” and all ‘nationalism’ is deeply frowned upon but this ghost will rise again whether they like it or not. Germany is finally going to have to be honest with itself because it’s economic and industrial policies are not in the greater interests of the majority of it’s fellow EU member states. As with Greece, those who do not match the ‘German standards’ are considered unworthy and deplorable, in the end Germany is going to have to go it alone just as the UK has decided to do, the first step will be to leave the eurozone which will do everyone a favour.
A European Future
Providing the EU stops posturing over Brexit and faces up to acknowledging that a ‘United States of Europe’ is politically unachievable, the natural evolution of the EU becomes obvious and NATO gives a good example. Designed for collective defence, it provides the organisational structure and common standards to allow any group of nations within the alliance to deploy and work effectively together. Whilst the collective defence is still at its core, it will increasingly operate in certain circumstances and outside of the European theatre of operations on the basis of a coalition of the willing.
As far as trade and trading standards are concerned, it is right that Brussels remains as a coordinating body but many other things could be stood outside of the EU itself such as common currencies because one size does not fit all and creating the single currency was the grandest folly of them all. The weakness of the EU has always been its passion for one size fits all solutions with the consequence that these are often drawn at the lowest common denominator which satisfies no one.
I posted a comment against The Economist piece as below:
“Interesting but not really significant because there are a lot of balls still in play and as a consequence, lots of room for total misreading and misunderstanding all round. A good example would be if as the author maintains Germans really do see TrumpandBrexit as one thing when clearly they are not. True to those of a tidy and timid mind, any change from the expected is deeply worrying but change is inevitable and needs to be accommodated because it will not be stalled.
Trump is an oddity in the sense that only just over 50% of people bothered to vote and his appeal was to those dumb enough to imagine that at the point of the Presidential pen on an executive order, manufacturing jobs would flood back to the USA. The direct UK equivalent would be if the British electorate were to elect Jeremy Corbyn with his promises to nationalise everything, dish out free university places and bankrupt the Country in the process and all on a low poll turnout, Brexit does not equal Trump.
Brexit on the other hand was a purely European affair brought about by the complacency of Brussels, very much reinforced by Mrs Merkel’s insistence on the “rules” that gave David Cameron nothing to bring back to his electorate. The EU has never been a vote winner in UK politics, given that UKIP only managed less than 4 million votes nationwide in the 2015 election, it should have been an easy 60/40 margin for ‘Remain’ on any turnout but Brussels snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with its smugness and laziness. Handled properly, the Brexit negotiations should, lay down the markers and principles for the reforms the EU needs right across the board in order to prosper into the future which is what the UK would wish to see even though outside of the EU. However even if these negotiations go very well, the EU still needs to fix its mightiest peril and the thing that will kill it stone dead if it doesn’t, that awful mess called the Euro and they are approaching that by trying to ignore it the same way they approached Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ so this will run and run until the whole thing falls apart.”
Quite amusingly this elicited a response from somebody, The Economist attracts a lot of foreign readers, this one is possibly German. This is part of his post in order to give context to my reply, you can obviously see the full thing by following the link I gave at the beginning of this post.
Reply from Smug
“Brexit is probably for the best too. Although the UK brought lots of positives to the EU. I can’t see how anything but a hard Brexit is going to work for the UK. Ending up like Norway, will actually have made the Brexiteer myth of having to accept rules they have no say in, come true. Obviously trade won’t stop, but being harder, will mean it reduces over time, and the UK economy will suffer a death-by-1000-cuts type scenario, until it finds itself back in 1973, but without the industry it had then.
By that time the current generation of politicians will have moved on, and a new generation will be trying to get back into the EU, they’ll probably have to accept a worse “deal”, not have any opt outs, and be looking for subsidies for whatever industries are in existence at that stage, once the Japanese, French and US car plants, Indian Steel producers, Japanese, French and Canadian train manufacturers, and whatever remains of Airbus Industrie in the UK that didn’t migrate to continental sites, to service the EU market more effectively.
Maybe you’ll all be driving Morgan cars, and riding Triumph motorcycles.”
My reply to that:
“About the only thing I agree with you on is that Brexit is irreversible but the rest of your rather malevolent projections or “wishes” are based upon the same smug assumptions that reigned in Brussels when Cameron wanted a renegotiation. That the UK will go through some degree of “hard times” is a distinct probability but that will have little to do with leaving the EU and rather more with the economic tsunami that is about to engulf the entire global economy. The digital age has only just begun and like the invention of the printing press which was a minor thing compared to the digital economy, will/is bringing massive economic and social changes which unshackled from the EU will allow the UK to absorb those changes and deal with them through a British consensus.
For me the main flaw with those that think Brexit is some kind of calamity, lies is the rather foolish assumption that in leaving the EU the UK is “banishing itself from Paradise”, frankly you have got to be kidding, no we won’t be coming back begging bowl in hand but I thank you for your good wishes.”
The Problem for the UK
It is in our interests that Continental Europe is both prosperous and at peace but right now there is a degree of complacency that probably matches that which applied prior to the outbreak of WWI right across the Chancelleries and Boardrooms of Europe. Just like Gordon Brown declared that he had put an end to Boom & Bust in the British economy just before 2007/8 or, the Generals expected massive cavalry charges to sweep away the enemy armies in 1914, people seem blissfully unaware of the ‘gathering storm’.
Starting in our own backyard, we need to start preparing for the economic and social changes that will hit us in waves over the next decade that will see thousands of jobs swept away and the inevitable hiatus before new jobs and opportunities start to emerge that will absorb the surplus labour. This will not be easy however, being outside of the EU should make it easier to evolve a perspective and policies that best chime with British sentiments which would be impossible if we were inside the EU.
The danger given the highly disparate needs of the EU member states and the slow acceptance of the necessity for change by the EU and in particular the French and German political establishments, the EU may buckle under the weight of its own inconsistencies. It is in no ones interests to see large scale civil strife in major European countries but it is a possibility, that is not in Britain’s interests because we have been at this point far too many times before over the centuries and it has always cost us dear.