One of the most notable features of the modern EU is the growing dominance of Germany in its deliberations. This is inevitable as the Euro and the freedom of movement of peoples become central and often all consuming issues. Germany is the paymaster of the Euro and the generator of many of the jobs on the continent that people wish to move to.
UK commentators and media take too little interest in the German philosophy and policy towards the EU. It is critical if we wish to understand why the EU is as it is, and as we assess whether it is the right club for us.
Some say the Germans want similar things to us. This is completely false. It arises because the Germans do want a strong single market, as somewhere to sell their exports and keep their factories in work. However, they want a single market subject to iron disciplines laid down in Germany’s interest. Germans see the Euro as a necessary part of the single market. They see the UK’s absence from the Euro as a temporary and unfortunate delay in getting us inside it. They do not think the UK or any other country in the single market should be free to vary its exchange rate. Having locked themselves into the Euro at a very favourable rate for Germany, they want to preserve that and keep the trade surpluses it allows them to generate.
Germany thinks that having locked most countries into the Euro it is up to the others to struggle to keep up with German levels of efficiency and cost. If another country like Greece or Ireland cannot compete, then it should cut wages to price itself back in. If a country needs to borrow more than the permitted amounts under the EU scheme, they should cut their public spending or put up taxes instead.
Germany is coming round to the view that the EU’s future is for some additional EU taxes like the transactions tax, and in due course some additional EU borrowing. In the meantime they want to see more discipline, and want to see the UK join the Euro and have to face what the others face.To them a single market is a strong set of rules, usually favouring the incumbent large companies. The rules can make it more difficult to innovate and for challengers to compete. They tend not to like “disruptive” competition, but orderly competition to agreed prior designs and standards.
Germany is willing to take some migrants because she is short of new people for the workforce. However, Germany now realises freedom of movement is delivering too many additional people to Germany. Rather than change the policy of free movement, Germany believes other countries should be made to take more migrants instead. Germany does not think the UK should opt out from this either.
The UK’s problem is a membership based on opt outs is counter to the German view. In the longer run the Germans and their allies in the EU will wish to squeeze out or circumvent the UK’s refusal to join in all features of the discipline. As the main continental paymasters of the scheme Germany will continue to exercise disproportionate power in this club of 28 with just one permanent leader. The UK was not a founder member and has found it difficult to control the number of rules or to prevent rules which are unhelpful to smaller competing businesses.