Fear & Resentment of German Dominance Present in the E.U.

Sixty years after the end of the Second World War, suspicions of German power remain an important influence on European politics.  Most of the member nations of the European Union, with the significant exceptions of Britain, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Ireland, were invaded by Germany in the course of the Second World War, or, like Italy, were allies of Germany who found themselves unable to break free.

It is often said that Britain has a cult of the memory of the Second World War, which is still seen as Britain’s “finest hour”.  Even if there are no longer many war films, and the surviving ex-servicemen are in their eighties, repeats of the old war films still have their appeal on television, and Hitler seems to be the most studied historic figure in school curriculums.  However, it was the French who voted down the European Constitution, and Poland which is objecting to the plan of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to reintroduce the European Constitution itself, in a form only somewhat modified.

One also has to take into account German criticism of the present structure of the European Union.  The German critics are acutely conscious of Europe’s “democratic deficit”.   After all, the German Constitution and the Constitutional Court are based on a commitment to democracy.  Germany’s experience of an anti-democratic regime in the 1930s was a disaster for Europe, but it was also a disaster of the most extreme kind for Germany herself.  If other European electorates say “never again”, so do the Germans, and with good reason.   Many may blame Britain for the actual bombing of Dresden in 1945, but Germany only has herself to blame for the chain of events which led to the bombing of Dresden and, more broadly, the destruction of Germany.

There is no doubt about the democratic deficit of the existing democratic deficit of the system of European treaties and the structure dependent upon them.  From the Treaty of Rome to the Treaty of Nice, the Constitution that Europe built was bureaucratic rather than democratic.

In the Laeken Declaration of 2001, which led to the drafting of the new constitution, the European nations committed themselves to a constitution which would be more democratic, more transparent and more efficient.   The Constitution was drafted by a non-democratic group, the so-called Praesidium, which did not meet in public and has not published a record of its full proceedings.  As Dr. Michael Efler of the Mehr Democratic group in Berlin, observes “the whole of Part III, containing 321 of the total of 448 articles, was scarcely discussed at all”.

The result was a draft Constitution which further centralised decision making, transferring “competence” from the national Parliaments to the Commission.  As Dr. Efler observes, “most of the laws in force in Germany are no longer passed in the German Federal Parliament, but in the E.U.  The Federal Ministry of Justice has released figures which compare the number of legislation processes which took place within Germany between 1998 and 2004 with E.U. legislation passed over the same period:  84 per cent of all laws were passed in Brussels, only 16 per cent in Berlin.”  Had the new Constitution been ratified, Brussels’ 84 per cent share would undoubtedly have risen.  Yet Brussels is essentially a bureaucracy, not a democratic process.  Similar percentages would apply to all the individual national parliaments of the E.U.

As Germany is the industrial heartland of Europe, and has the largest population and the strongest voting power in E.U. procedures, other nations tend both to fear and to resent the dominant influence German exerts in the E.U.  That has been reinforced by the closer links between Germany and Russia.  Yet the protests inside Germany are equally valid.  Constitutionally Germany is committed to democracy.  Yet a former President, Roman Herzog, has said “we have to ask whether the Federal Republic of Germany can still be unequivocally described as a parliamentary democracy.”

That is a good question for Germany.  It is also a good question for Britain.  In both cases the answer must be “no”.

William Rees-Mogg
for Markets and Money

William Rees-Mogg
Leading political editor William Rees-Mogg is former editor-in-chief for The Times and a member of the House of Lords. He has been credited with accurately forecasting glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall – as well as the 1987 crash. His political commentary appears in The Times every Monday. His financial insights can only be found in the Fleet Street Letter, the UK's longest-running investment newsletter.

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