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McAllister: UK troops leaving a 'sad moment'

David Wroe · 21 Oct 2010, 15:41

Published: 21 Oct 2010 15:41 GMT+02:00

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The 39-year-old Christian Democrat widely known as “Mac” was born to a Scottish father serving with the British Army in West Berlin and a German mother.

Despite the incessant questions about bagpipes and kilts, he has risen through German politics to lead the nation’s fourth-most populous state.

In the wake of the British Government’s announcement this week that it would pull half of its 22,000 troops out of Germany in the next five years and the rest by 2020, McAllister spoke to The Local about the impact on his state as well as his personal regret.

You’ve obviously followed this issue closely for some time. How do you feel about the outcome?

First of all, we’ve got to respect the decision of the British Government. Until now, we were sure the British troops would stay at least until 2035 in Germany … so of course that’s disappointing news for us because the British forces in Germany and especially Lower Saxony are welcome guests and friends who are very well integrated and have an important role for the local economies.

Were you surprised by the short time-frame for the withdrawal?

We all knew that October 20 was going to be a very important day when the British Prime Minister (David Cameron) was going to announce his strategic defence review and we knew that the presence of British forces in Germany would be an issue, so it wasn’t such a big surprise.

The surprise for us was that it is quite a tight schedule. It’s not a lot of time. In Bergen in Lower Saxony, for instance, new houses are just being built for the troops.

Cameron promised to consult with the relevant German state governments, yourself included. Are you happy with that consultation?

The British liaison officer gave us early information and I had an hour-long talk with the former British ambassador, Michael Arthur, who’s just left Berlin. So … of course we’re disappointed and of course this will hit the communities hard, but I still say we’ve got to respect the decision of the British government and thank the British government and British forces for all the time they’ve spent in Germany. They have certainly made a large contribution to peace and security in Europe and in Germany.

What kind of impact will it have on smaller communities around these bases. What are their prospects now?

You can read in the newspapers today how worried the mayors are. That’s understandable. For instance in Lower Saxony the town of Bergen will be hit extremely hard. You can hardly imagine it without British troops because there is a huge barracks from which personnel and their families went shopping, bought their cars, went to the restaurants.

I remember how sad the West Berliners were when the Allies left in the 1990s and I remember how hard cities like Osnabrück, Verden and Niederberg were when the British left in the last 10 or 15 years.

Life will go on but especially for Bergen and Fallingbostel it will be very, very hard and of course these cities will need some kind of assistance. That’s something for which the federal government and state government will have to come up with a plan.

What do you intend to do as premier of Lower Saxony to start preparing those communities for the transition?

First of all, we need more detailed information about which garrisons will be closed. We don’t have any detailed information yet but I got a letter today from the British ambassador saying the British would inform the states and local authorites and the government on a regular basis.

We are now in close contact with British liaison officers and also with the German ambassador to London as well as the new British ambassador in Berlin, Simon McDonald. I’ll probably try to meet him in the next few weeks.

The other thing is that the German government is working on a strategic defence review, quite similar to the British government’s. (Germany) will also be talking in the coming months about closing down barracks and garrisons and we’ll have full details about that in the summer of next year.

I do think that decisions the German Ministry of Defence takes need to take into account the decisions of the British Government. If the Bundeswehr planned also to withdraw troops or to close down barracks in the same areas, they would be hit even harder. I think you’ve got to consider what Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia will be facing in the next 10 years with the British forces leaving.

Story continues below…

Are you making that argument to the federal government now?

I already made the argument to (Defence Minister) Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg two weeks ago.

At the risk of getting metaphysical, you wouldn’t be here if not for the post-War presence of British troops, so on a personal level how does it make you feel?

Of course, because of my personal background I’m quite emotional about this issue. We all knew it would happen one day. It’s understandable when you look at the British budget how important the reorganisation of forces are from a strategic point of view but still it will be a sad moment when the last British troops leave.

Do you feel they’ve reshaped in a positive way relations between the two countries since World War II?

Absolutely. The presence of the British Army in the last 50 years in Germany had a major impact on close Anglo-German relations. Lots of friendships and mixed-marriages and the products of mixed marriages were created – and one of them is now premier of Lower Saxony.

David Wroe (david.wroe@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

19:10 October 23, 2010 by Bishopbayern
A great scots/german leader. Wundrebar
00:13 October 27, 2010 by davidjc1
Hmm..why is it that Germany has to depend on the influences of other nations, like Britain, for it's own good, whether it be troops, or people of foreign descent to lead it, etc. Germans are constantly minimized, even in their own country! Echt wahnsinning! It seems that a postwar bias against anyone of German descent, particularly men, continues to this day. A German man, according to the media, couldn't possibly be a good citizen, or a good leader, or a good human being. No, according to the media, only the US and Britain know what's good and right. Nothing could be further from the truth!
15:44 October 29, 2010 by Major B
Come on davidjc1!!! Understand your point but with stars like Adenauer, Schmidt, and Kohl -- true leaders on the world stage, German men have contributed greatly to world peace and affairs. Tremendous sports figures. And it looks like Guttenberg is going to take it to the next level, given a chance.
18:43 October 29, 2010 by davidjc1
Fair points..but that doesn't change the fact that Germany is STILL AN OCCUPIED COUNTRY. Sensibly, the British have just announced their intention to withdraw all it's troops from Germany, but US and NATO forces remain. The ultimate irony, Polish troops playing war-games on German soil..Imagine the uproar and outrage that would ensue if Bundeswehr troops did the same just outside Warsaw. It is the hypocrisy that is galling and mind-numbing. Also, I would argue that while Kohl did a lot for Germany on the world stage and was a good cheerleader, he sacrificed Germany's sovereignty at reunification time when he allowed the US to continue basing troops there and eventually launch illegal wars of aggression from German soil. What a farce! The Allies lecture the Germans about naked aggression at Nuernberg in the aftermath of WWII, and then launch wars of aggression from German soil. Hypocrisy in its truest form. Through it all, I truly do hope that figures like zu Guttenberg will speak more strongly and succinctly on behalf of the German constitution. Germany IS a sovereign state, not a vassal of the US and Britain.
16:51 October 31, 2010 by Sastry.M
It is time that Germany take more responsibility as a mature nation having its people endured untold sufferings in the aftermath of ww2 and democratic institutions taken firm hold in national life to take active lead as a self reliant nation in the lot of European politics and prove to the world how truly Germany yearned for peace and European integration as well as international cooperation.
01:13 November 6, 2010 by Dizz
I don't get it. Half the time people on here are ranting about foreigners coming in and the other half about them leaving.
10:48 November 6, 2010 by Ramachandra Wani
The British govt ruled over Germany more than 60 years. Every American as well as British wants the independence of Germany. I support this view of Germany to tackle the British problem. Here terrorism is creating havoc in the minds of London. But as a true EU member Germany has to taint the image of commonwealth. If the Dinkirk retreat was unsuccessful Germany would have rule over the UK. Learn your image from the Royal history of World Wars. England's appesement of Muslim countries will lead to another world war. We have to think about the future of Germany.
04:21 November 7, 2010 by adrianrobinson
I think you are missing the issue - the economic impact of the withdrawal on local German communities is what "Mac" was talking about - I think its important to bear in mind that we are living in a changing world and there is little doubt that the original and secondary reasons for the British and US presence have disappeared (namely post WW2 governance and the Cold War). As a full member of NATO, Germany has a duty to provide training areas for NATO members to use (as does Poland - and I would be surprised if German troops have not "exercised on Polish soil!!) - and as a mature and influential European Nation State and a full member of NATO perhaps German is showing its statesmanship by "allowing" the US to stay...finally, I know with a certain amount of certainty, that contractual obligations and financial penalties plays a part in deciding who stays and who goes....remember the bases are leased, and the very real economic impact is felt by Germans above everybody else.
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