Yesterday I attended a fascinating breakfast seminar about the Euro, where we heard the Greek, Spanish and German viewpoints from a panel of experts. The German speaker prompted me to think more about the evolution of the German position.
Germany is being told that a fiscal union and a banking union are being constructed to protect German financial interests. Worried by the prospect that too much German tax revenue and earnings will be needed to bail out dangerous banks and to pay the bills for excessive debts and deficits in other member states, Germany argues that the Euro area will not become a transfer union. They claim they can have a single currency where each member state has to be responsible for controlling its own debts and deficits without common funding. They are assured that the new banking union will prevent future excesses by banks within the Euro system, so a scheme for mutual deposit protection and financial support will be fair and affordable. They want to believe that you can have a fairly integrated economic government to reassure German taxpayers, without having to send large sums from rich areas to poor areas to make it work.
West Germany has long experience of the true cost of establishing a premature currency union. The East German union of the 1990s proved to be very expensive for West German taxpayers, as East Germany struggled to catch up with West German living standards. Many East Germans migrated to get better jobs in West Germany, frustrated by the lack of economic progress near to home. This experience is leading many German voters to worry about the extent to which Germany is now going to be committed to financing the large areas of Euroland that are deep in recession and deficit.
Mrs Merkel seeks to assure her voters that Germany will not undertake the same massive transfers of cash and finance to the southern states of Euroland in the way they did to help fellow Germans in East Germany. She talks tough at home. Greece and the others have to tighten their belts and borrow less. However, Germany is already committed to substantial financing of the rest of the Euro zone. German surpluses deposited at the European Central Bank, allied to Germany’s payments and promises to the various bail out funds, mean Germany already has at risk or has promised far more than E 1 trillion of money for weaker states and banks.
Some Germans are now thinking the unthinkable. They ask whether Germany herself may have to pull out of the Euro to prevent the costs spiralling out of control. The mainstream still thinks it is Germany’s destiny to be the voice for prudence and austerity within the Euro area, and to send more money after the money already spent in trying to make it work.
Meanwhile, Mrs Merkel on a visit to London warned the UK that it would not be comfortable outside the EU. I suspect such a warning is counter productive. Many UK voters hearing that would be more inclined to become more Eurosceptic as a result, rather than being intimidated by the talk. It is difficult to know what she really means by it. Countries like Switzerland and Norway are the richest in Europe whilst not being members of the EU. The UK is a far larger country than either of those, with a wider range of global interests. If none of the UK’s legitimate fears and disagreements with the centralising EU are to be dealt with or taken seriously, why would the UK wish to stay locked into a club which clearly does not have sympathy for our views? On the continent it may be about a union, about the mutualisation of various tasks and liabilities, about solidarity and common tasks. In the UK it is quite simply about whether we can once again be self governing or not.