Friday, March 18, 2016

Brexit: the fundamental issue is the UK vis-à-vis Germany

Henry Kissinger once famously observed, “Poor old Germany. Too big for Europe, too small for the world.

The British seem to believe that the EU is perpetually on the brink of collapse due to this or that crisis. In fact the EU subsists in a political 'lowest-energy state' - it continually varies its political geometry to accommodate challenges; it endures, it does not collapse. There is, however, an underlying secular trend towards German dominance.

For well-known historical reasons, Germany has hitherto been reluctant to overtly lead the EU - but things are changing. The EU core zone is evolving into Germany and its satellites, client states if you will. The suggestions of a supersized Holy Roman Empire are not misplaced.

The Holy Roman Empire in the early 16th century

Put to one side the headline issues of euro-idealism, immigration scares, trade-tariff issues, easy currency transactions and free-ish travel arrangements. Political strategy is about interests and power. The strategic issue facing the UK (perhaps I mean England) will be the same in the twenty-first century as it was in the twentieth. What's the best way to deal with Germany?

  1. If the UK stays in the EU, will it end up as a German satellite? 
  2. If it leaves, will it still end up as a German satellite, albeit at arm's length?

It might be argued that other countries were quite prepared to tolerate being 'Germany's running dogs' - in that old, unpleasant communist phrase. Sure, they yap, bicker and whine a bit, but they were keen to join the EU and prepared to embrace the Euro. They knew what they were getting into. Even Greece figured it out in the end.

England, you say, has always made it clear we're not signed up to the EU vision. We don't believe the answer is always 'more Europe'.

From Germany's point of view (and that of its allies) that makes the UK a real pain to deal with. The UK is the Kevin Pietersen of the European Union - a big hitter with no loyalty or esprit-de-corps. There are those in the europroject who would be delighted to see such an awkward member-state just push off.

But in or out, we continue to face the fundamental issues of power relationships and the resolution of conflicts of interest between the UK and a German-led Europe.

My feeling is that there can, in the end, only be one leader of the EU and that's Germany. So the answer to question 1 above is 'yes'.

There are historical precedents for offshore islands maintaining independence from a mainland hegemon (Japan, Taiwan, Singapore) although it's never easy. So my answer to question 2 above is 'not necessarily'.

But don't rush to judgement - perhaps there are worse things in the world than being Germany's competent and loyal senior lieutenant?


Marl Mardell at the BBC website has a perceptive piece on this.

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