Last week I attended a dinner organised by German hosts, who had gathered an impressive group of the economic and political establishments of the two countries to discuss the history and future of the Euro. I am grateful to them for their hospitality.
I am sure they were aiming to be friendly, but the exchanges I experienced reminded me why the UK can never become part of Euroland, viewed as a kind of Greater Germany by some of those present.
The conversations did not begin well. I was asked by a friendly German where I came from. I explained I came from Wokingham. Asked again, I said England. He wanted me to give him the name of a region, and went into a long explanation of his regional identity before asking me again.
I explained patiently that I fully understood regional identity and lander power in Germany, and was happy for him that he liked his land so much. I had no wish to change that for Germany to bring them into line with our system. If he wanted to understand my country he should know that we hate enforced regionalism in England, and have voted it down when given the opportunity. I am not and never will be a Rest of the South easterner. We dislike attempts to balkanise England and hate the EU’s refusal to recognise England as part of our history and identity.
The conversations got worse. I was asked pleasantly when we would want to join the Euro. They explained that they knew we did not want to join it now, and agreed with that judgement. The more I explained we never wish to join it, the more argumentative they became.
I was then told very firmly that if we carried on behaving like that – refusing to have regions and refusing to join the Euro, – we would “not have any influence”. They seemed amazed when I said I do not seek any influence. I have no wish to try to govern Germany, and wish her every success. I am certainly not going to volunteer further large sacrifices of power to govern ourselves in the vain hope that it will bring us influence over the government of the continent. To date it has not brought us any such influence. The EU project has continued on a pre-ordained course of more centralised power whether the UK has stood aside or has given away her rights to self determination.
The mood of the gathering generally was sombre. For the first time Euro enthusiasts realise there are threats to the Euro’s future. They are grappling with the problem of bailing out Eastern Europe, with the Euro fanatics keenest for Germany to pay the bills. There was a shock to discover that Germany’s successful export based economic model has been harder hit so far than the US’s debt based consumption model, as orders have dried up for German cars and capital goods.
My suggestion is that Germany should be less insistent on countries joining her union. She should concentrate on completing the union with the inner core who are willing and ready. She needs to understand us better so we might buy more of her goods. The single market was not a favour granted to the UK in a moment of weakness, but legal underwriting of Germany’s export superiority at a time of tariffs and other barriers worldwide. This has been largely supplanted by the world trade framework anyway since then.
So who should we be special friends with? I have always found the Commonwealth a better gathering, where the strong ties of language, history and culture create more of a family atmosphere. Let’s be friendly with as many as possible, but not strain to be more friendly than common interest allows.