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UK: Germany alienates by pushing EU too hard

Published: 23 Oct 2012 11:21 GMT+02:00
Updated: 23 Oct 2012 13:55 GMT+02:00

He said the push for ever-greater coordination in areas like the banking sector and national budgets to fight the euro crisis risked in fact driving a wedge through the EU – creating mistrust particularly in his own Conservative Party, currently in an ill-tempered coalition with the British Liberal Democrats.

"The coalition government is committed to Britain playing a leading role in the EU but I must also be frank: public disillusionment with the EU in our country is the deepest it has ever been," Hague said.

"People feel that in too many ways the EU is something that is done to them, not something over which they have a say... People feel that the EU is a one-way process, a great machine that sucks up decision-making from national parliaments to the European level until everything is decided at that level."

He added: "These points may be felt most acutely in Britain but they're not felt only in Britain."

As Europe faces a growing gulf between the 17 countries of the eurozone which have the euro currency, and the remaining 10 EU member states, Germany Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle insisted all 27, including Britain, should encourage a sustainable end to the euro crisis.

"All Europeans, and not just those in the eurozone, share an interest in a strong Europe and a healthy euro," Westerwelle said.

He said Berlin's drive for a fiscal union imposing budgetary discipline, which Britain has refused to join, and EU plans for a banking union were part of a crucial integration process that would be beneficial for all.

"We need to develop Europe further," he insisted, comparing European reforms to "diamonds, formed under great pressure".

Tensions between Britain and Germany over Berlin's push for greater European policy coordination have come to a head in recent weeks.

A report in Der Spiegel magazine this month said that Chancellor Angela Merkel in private compared British Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet members to the grumpy Muppets Statler and Waldorf, moaning and criticising from sidelines.

The German government has declined to comment on the report and on Monday joined Britain in denying that Merkel would have a November EU summit on the bloc's seven-year budget scrapped if Britain threatened to veto a deal.

Germany is calling for a one-percent spending increase, a proposal Hague again dismissed as "massive" at a time when Britain is implementing swingeing cuts to its own public budget.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who also took part in the debate and whose country has frequently sided with Germany in its austerity drive to beat the euro crisis, voiced concern about growing British euroscepticism.

"I am really worried about the UK and the way it is going," he said.

"I think if the UK is marginalised or marginalises itself... it will be bad for Europe and bad for Britain."

Hague said the EU needed to solve three problems to maintain its relevance: structuring the bloc so countries could pursue different levels of integration, dealing with a lack of democratic legitimacy and accountability and getting the right balance between what the EU does and does not do.

In a later debate, Westerwelle appealed to London not to drift away from Europe.

"We want to have Great Britain on board," he said. "We think Great Britain is not an island in the middle of the Atlantic, it is a European country, there is no doubt for us."

AFP/DPA/The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

13:33 October 23, 2012 by michael4096
It is difficult to take Britain seriously on Europe. "We want a leading role..." but "we'll veto everything unless we get our way..." They haven't yet worked out that leadership has nothing to do with getting your own way. Though, they have worked out that blaming Europe for Britain's ills works well with the voters and takes pressure off themselves.

"People feel that the EU is a one-way process, a great machine that sucks up decision-making from national parliaments to the European level until everything is decided at that level."

People will continue to feel that while they keep getting told that is so by their politicians. If unhappy with they way something is going, a real leader's approach would include: participating in the rule making process instead of sending the Farage Marauders; negotiating better mechanisms instead of blindly vetoing anything that doesn't give you an immediate advantage over everybody else; and, openly supporting the initiatives that you do agree with instead of rubbishing everything that is not-invented-here.
15:44 October 23, 2012 by sonriete
Whether it is Westerwelle or the previous commenter, nobody has answers the British argument , they just answer different questions which have not been asked.

Hague's point is the German idea about the EU is to consolidate more and more power in a Brussels super state at the expense of nation states.

When Westerwelle speaks of "developing" the EU what he really means is ramping up EU powers and spending.

The citizens of most EU states often agree with the British, look at the French and Dutch referendums, those votes were all about sovrienety, it is not that the French and Dutch favor more integration, it is that their people are ignored by the elites.

Hollande last week even proclaimed he wanted to avoid any more referendums,"because we may not get the desired result"

Who on Earth are "we" I wonder? The elites or the people?
17:13 October 23, 2012 by michael4096

The EU is probably the world's biggest experiment. Pull it off and we get one of the world's greatest achievements - a continental restructuring with enormous benefits and not one drop of blood spilled. However, it isn't a surprise that not all goes according to plan. Democratic accountability? Speed and depth of integration? Issues that must be centralized vs. those that can be devolved? Not only haven't people got the right answer, it isn't even clear if there is a right answer.

So, what do you do when you represent a participant country in such an experiment?

Well Westerwelle has his ideas and he is taking them to the big table and arguing for them. Sounds positive. The Dutch, Irish and others do the same. This is not the British approach which was best summed up by Cameron last year, paraphrased: "we take an enormous amount out of Europe; if Europe sneezes, we catch a cold; but, help - not likely sunshine."

The EU has problems and, given its ambition, this isn't surprising. The alternatives are to fix the problems together or scrap the entire concept and lose all benefits. I think people will be far more upset about the EU if it goes away.
17:50 October 23, 2012 by marimay
Sharing a currency was the dumbest idea ever. Every day is proof of that. Long time failed experiment if you ask me. Time to give it up, if the banks allow it.
18:29 October 23, 2012 by Beachrider
I agree with some parts of these commentators:

1) It doesn't make sense to share the currency without more centralized economic coordination.

2) Clearly the British don't believe in shared currency (hence, the Pound)

3) This is an easy decision. Living with the decision is hard.

4) Go either way, but you must make a decision and go.

Germany and England both have valid paths-forward for the EU. England is simply not in the EU for the currency. I don't ever know why the EU let financials gravitate to an EU-member that has so insulated their home country, though.
18:30 October 23, 2012 by sonriete

I think what the British government and many millions of citizens in other countries are expressing is that there is a brick wall in Brussels and among elites in most core states when it comes to democratic accountability. There is only ever one choice presented, more power to Brussels, more shared soveirenity, and never any devolution whatsoever.

When the citizens are given a right to vote by referendum, it is crystal clear they support a common market in goods and services and not much more. The referendum results are simply ignored if they are in big countries, in small countries they are forced to re-run the referendums, and with huge pressure and veiled threats, they come around motivated by fear rather than conviction.

Why when greater intergration is passed is it never subject to a re-vote? The French voted for Maastricht by a tiny fraction, why not a re-vote on that? Of course Brussels would never allow that.....
18:42 October 23, 2012 by Rischart99
The British are continually bombarded in their press with negative Euro stories, remember that the press in the UK is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals enjoy great influence over government and don't want that to change. The fact that vast amounts of Euro money are spent on regeneration of the UK is unknown to most here because there is no honesty of debate. Half the Tory party would prefer it if we became another American state, we're halfway there already.

Until the population of the UK is given the facts (like actually having a legal right to holidays is as a result of being in the EU) then the debate will continually be heading for the door marked Exit. We will of course demand free entry to the EU market because we want something for nothing.
18:59 October 23, 2012 by raandy
Yes a common currency between Nations with different standards was a dumb idea.

First , we all need to be on the same page.

and next we need to be able to enforce the regulations in all member countries.

That is not the case here in the EU.

Either we give up sovereignty and give all power to a Central governing body made up by EU members or we give up the currency and the idea of Unity.
19:01 October 23, 2012 by michael4096

It is not as clear cut as you state.

Firstly, the Brussels agenda is set by country representatives. If devolution is not on the agenda, it is because your elective representative didn't put it there.

Secondly, all the referenda have shown is support or otherwise for the local government at the time the referendum was taken. Which is why the results change.

Thirdly, if a government ignores a referendum it is because it wants to - not because of Brussels.

Fourthly, if the Brits are so keen on democracy, why do they keep voting anti-democratic clowns like Farage and co to represent them in Brussels?
19:45 October 23, 2012 by avatar009
It seems EU has no solid structure, when it comes to govern the EU members. Spend spend, and no return. This organization seems corrupt and cant figure out where is the money from EU nation is going, although is great project from the reichstagg, i wonder it becomes the hinderberg disaster. EU needs big change to be global chalengers.
21:56 October 23, 2012 by sonriete
I don't think it is true that national governments ignore referendum results simply because they "want to". , it is naive to think EU pressure is not the principal reason we see all these rejections and then re- runs, all one needs to do is look up newspaper archives from the times to read all about the veiled threats that funds will be with held or even than countries will be kicked out if they don't submit.
23:12 October 23, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Agree with Raandy. Would also like to add that Germany alienates by being too German.
00:22 October 24, 2012 by ChrisRea
@ sonriete #6

"it is crystal clear they support a common market in goods and services and not much more" - Well, actually people support much more than that. It is also about free movement within EU (and less bureaucracy when travelling within Schengen countries). And also about EU intervening when the state of law is attacked (like the case of Romania this summer). Even a common currency helps international trade both at personal and company level. Did I mention the aquis communautaire which makes it easier for people and companies to adapt when settling or just doing business in another EU country? You ignoring these makes me think you are not an European.

The fact that countries are lining up to join the EU should give some food for thought.

So what does Hague say the problems are?

- "structuring the bloc so countries could pursue different levels of integration" - he and his guys might want that, but it is definitely not supported by all EU countries;

- "dealing with a lack of democratic legitimacy and accountability" - really? The EU representatives are elected just like a normal parliament and government are elected;

- "getting the right balance between what the EU does and does not do" - right, he is afraid of losing power. So it is actually his problem, not the problem of the EU.

Hague sounds to me like a typical politician fearing his position and trying to manipulate the electorate.
01:26 October 24, 2012 by sonriete
I can agree that poor countries in the Balkans are lining up to join the EU, they want access to structural funds and free movement, so they can legally pick up and move west, not to mention coerce their millions of Roma to go west when no one is looking, as the Romanians and Slovaks are subtly doing but what rich countries are lining up? The elites in Iceland have submitted an application but polls show two thirds of people opposed, how are they ever going to pass that referendum, I'd like to see. Who else is clamoring? The Swiss? The Norwegians? I think not. For that matter, what would happen if British or Danes or Swedes were given a referendum to re- affirm their membership? The elites don't dare allow it......
08:09 October 24, 2012 by ChrisRea
OK, let's talk specifics. The candidate country considered next is Croatia. From Wikipedia: "Croatia today has a very high Human Development Index. The International Monetary Fund classified Croatia as an emerging and developing economy, and the World Bank identified it as a high income economy... According to Eurostat data, Croatian PPS GDP per capita stood at 61% of the EU average in 2010... In the 2001 census, there were 9,463 Roma in Croatia or 0.2% of the population"

The country that applied next after Croatia is Turkey. Wikipedia: "Turkey has the world's 15th largest GDP-PPP and 17th largest nominal GDP...The GDP growth rate from 2002 to 2007 averaged 7%, which made Turkey one of the fastest growing economies in the world during that period. However, growth slowed to 1% in 2008, and in 2009 the Turkish economy was affected by the global financial crisis, with a recession of 5%. The economy was estimated to have returned to 8% growth in 2010."

Balkan countries? Yes (well, at least with part of their surface). Poor, waiting to send their Roma to go west? Definitely not.
09:23 October 24, 2012 by michael4096

If public sentiment really was as you say, then a government would stand up to Brussels following a failed referendum with massive voter support - which is all they care about.

You mentioned the Swiss. The only reason Switzerland has not applied to join the EU is the cantonal referendum system which give a minority of rich landholders in the small cantons as much voting power as the millions in the big cities. The cities voted for the EU years ago. As a democrat, you don't really want to wave Switzerland around as an example of anything.

I agree that the EU needs change. It's just a question of how that is achieved.
10:03 October 24, 2012 by jpl82
The British voting in their national interest is normal as Germany voting for their national interest. Germany stopped all the easy possible solutions to the crisis so far out of legitimate self interest . So why cry wolf when the British vote against a plan they don't agree with.

Despite the common perception Britain is on the hook for any ECB loss, Germany is on the hook for 18% of any loss and Britain like France for about 14%, they have as much as say as anyone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Central_Bank
10:30 October 24, 2012 by sonriete

My point was that when citizens vote yes to integration, it is taken at face value and never revisited.

When people vote no to integration their vote is either ignored or the referendum is re-run.

I see this as totally undemocratic and disturbing, that is all.


Your post is confusing to me, how are the British on the hook for 14% of ECB losses when they are not members of the Eurozone? As I understand it that should also mean they are not members of the ECB.
10:31 October 24, 2012 by LecteurX
@ sonriete - OK, we got it, you don't like the latest Nobel Peace Prize laureate and won't let those pesky little things called "facts" stand in the way of your peculiar interpretation of reality...

However, for the sake of having an honest discussion, I would like to point out that the people of Sweden voted in favour of joining the EU in November 1994 with a 53% majority; in Finland it was 57% in October of the same year. That was only 18 years ago, and in any case, well after the Maastricht treaty was signed. Should every member state organise a refendum every 10 years or so, in order to "re-affirm membership"? Well, of course eh, they have nothing else to do, don't they. While they're at it, they could also give the people a couple of referendums on whether they still want kings and queens "by the right of God" rather than democratically elected heads of States, but I digress...

Denmark seems to be pretty happy in the EU as well. Not that this kind of fact matters for blind EU-haters. Two years ago, a populistic right-wing government in DK reinstated border controls ("to keep criminals out", yeah right, all those criminals from Schleswig-Holstein and Meck-Pomm). This was an impopular measure and when that cabinet were voted out of power, the new government repealed these anti-Schengen measures, much to the relief of the population. Denmark enjoys a certain number of "opt-outs" on several EU common policies and the people is rather happy about that consensus. Abandoning any of these opt-outs would be subjected to a referendum and at the moment there is no question of doing such thing. Other than this, Denmark is an EU country like any other. I would like to ask you to come up with any evidence backing up your claims on Danes and Swedes being so desperate to leave the EU, and kept inside against the will of their peoples, but I have a feeling these "facts" came right out of your rear end.

In any case, there are lots of things we can criticise the EU for. Enough real shortcomings, not made-up ones. Thanks.
11:15 October 24, 2012 by sonriete

It seems you are the one who leaves out inconvenient facts in your analysis.

while you correctly point out that Sweden voted to join the EU in 1994 with a 53% majority after the Maastricht treaty came into force, you leave out the detail that they went on to have a referendum on joining the euro in 2003 and the voters rejected it by 56%. And no, the Swedes did not have any opt out clause, when they joined the EU 9 years earlier, their ascension treaty actually obliged them to join the euro so the later referendum results could very reasonably be interpreted as buyers remorse.

You say there are no plans in Denmark to give up the opt outs, but fail to mention that the pro euro camp did in fact organize a referendum to do just that in 2000, and lost it by 53% to 47%.

Btw, no facts come out of my rear end, just gold dust.
12:27 October 24, 2012 by michael4096
@sonriete - a majority voting yes to a 1-way ticket can be called short-sighted, inflexible, lots of things - but, not undemocratic.

Of course, it would be fantastic to have an EU where members can just drop in when the feel like it and pull out when they don't. However, given the long-term nature of its aims it's really difficult to see how it would work. Besides, with the flip-flop nature of the most British governments they would still need another way. Maybe Europeans Monday thru Thursday, the 51st state on Friday and Saturday but solidly independent on Sundays.
13:06 October 24, 2012 by sonriete

I certainly agree with what you say here, moving ahead with a majority voting one way is certainly democratic.

What I meant in my earlier post was the way in which those who control the process have been for years ignoring votes or forcing revotes when the vote goes the "wrong" way, while when the vote goes the "right" way it is treated as legitimate and irreversible.
14:28 October 24, 2012 by debster
I think everyone has missed a very important point here. The only referendum given to the people in the U.K. was in the early 1970's. People thought they were voting for the 'free market' NOT for a European Union dictatorship. As time has gone on and people have now realised (many city centres could easily be mistaken for Eastern Europe now). Anyone below the age of mid 50's has never been allowed any say because they won't allow a referendum. People want to know what paying £53 million per day brings back apart from raised crime figures and more unskilled people taking lower paid jobs.

If people think this is the British National media peddling bad news about the E.U. then please pick a city in England (mainly middle England) and look at the surnames of the people committing the most violent crimes now. Particularly when the seasonal work becomes available.
14:48 October 24, 2012 by michael4096
@sonriete - I understand exactly what you are saying and agree with you to a small extent. But, in my opinion the problem lies in using referenda for these issues at all.

Scotland will have the same problem in its referendum for independence - after a vote to remain in the UK the independence group will simply call for more referenda until one gives the 'right' answer and then it will all stop.

Referenda are not the solution-to-world-hunger tool many 'democrats' believe and, that is the reason most countries do not use them - they are not frightened or undemocratic or dictatorial but they know that a referendum is the wrong tool for this job. The results of a referendum depend on the celebrity status of the different champions, the state of the economy, who's been caught lying / sleeping around / telling racist jokes most recently, whether the Germans / French / English / favourite-baddie-nation is involved; indeed, anything but "is it a good idea?". I'm not disparaging people, this is human nature: when you don't know if something's a good idea you vote with your favourite personality. Or, at least today's favourite.

So, how can you democratically make a decision that will last for a century or more when most of those affected haven't even been born yet? I don't know. My solution is to go with change and work hard to make that change create a better world. Referenda are for those who believe in sound bites as a cure-all.
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