My friend Rick has asked me how Germany would vote at the moment if there was a referendum on EU membership. The answer is easy. Germany would vote overwhelmingly to stay in. The answer is easy at the moment because we are not going to have a referendum. And this means that unlike Rick and the poor residents of Britain, we are not being subjected to a ridiculous media and political “bun-fight” (Rick’s words).
Even if we were going to have a referendum, the Germans feel so much a part of the EU that the question wouldn’t be should Germany stay or go, but rather should the others be made to leave. There are also good economic reasons for Germany to stay in. The Euro for a start. Germany’s main business is exporting and the Euro has made German products more affordable abroad than they would have been with the Deutschmark. Our currency is an average of strong and weak countries’ economic power. I love the convenience of the Euro but there is no doubt that the currency makes German exports a bit cheaper than they should be and Portugese, Italian, Greek and Spanish products a little more expensive than they should be. The P.I.G.S. countries’ economies would benefit from dropping out of the Euro and being able to sell their products at cheaper prices with their new weaker currencies. There’s just one slight problem. Their Governments have borrowed so heavily and need more credit to keep functioning – and the price for that credit it staying in the EU.
I think the whole debacle is indicative of attitudes in different countries around the EU. Let’s start with Germany. They didn’t set out to be a dominant economic force and by default become the financial rulers of mainland Europe. They just did what they always do. Worked hard and made stuff which really works. They understand how to make things. They do not understand “high finance”. That’s why German banks, dazzled by the glamour of Wall Street, bought so heavily into the sub-prime nonsense. At the same time those same bankers were saying to the Greek Government – “of course we will lend you money, we believe you can pay it back”. Oops. The EU should never have made those loans, and the Greeks should never have taken them. Too late now. Now Germany and Greece are locked in an awkward dance. If the Germans let go, they lose any chance of seeing that money being repaid. If the Greeks let go they are bankrupt. But at the same time, that weaker Euro is keeping the German manufacturing industry happy so it is allowed to bumble along.
The way the Germans see the EU is very different to how it is perceived in England. People see that it has become bloated and self-serving but they make a clear distinction between the EU as an organisation and Europe. There is no feeling that other countries are ganging up on Germany and using the EU to make life difficult. They are more tolerant of new rules and laws, but the chances are there was significant input from Germany in those new rules. Of course, they know that the EU needs reforming, but that they will have to do most of it themselves. And that isn’t going to happen. Because the main emotions to surface when you mention the EU are boredom and apathy. The numbers have got so big that nobody cares any more. How many billions does Greece owe Germany? Nobody knows, nobody really believes it will ever come back but it doesn’t matter because Angela Merkel has said it’ll be OK. I looked up the answer – it’s 190 billion Euros. That’s 2375 Euros for every German – although only about 10% is cash, the rest is guarantees.
Still, I think Germany will be sad when or if Britain leaves. I have always found that Germans and Brits have more in common Germans and French. In fact, let’s be honest, neither country really likes France at all. Generally, I think Germans hold Britain in high regard. Here’s an example: when Tony Blair came to power he gave a speech to the European Parliament which was, surprise surprise, a bit cocky but it went down well. I can specifically remember my boss saying that it was good to have someone telling the truth in Europe for a change. I suppose Tony Blair being perceived as beacon of honesty really does say something about the EU, but never mind – the Germans liked him. So Germany will be sad because they like having an awkward trouble-maker keeping things more or less on the straight and narrow. Without Britain, it will be Germany on its own against the struggling Southern European States and the increasingly Xenophobic Eastern European States.
I get the extreme arguments from the British press because I read the only two free newspaper websites – the Telegraph and the Guardian. I have no idea what the middle-ground is saying because I get the red-faced leaver loonies in the Telegraph or the mature-student-preachy crap in the Guardian. From over here they both look like ridiculous fear campaigns equally lacking in common sense. I have to slam my laptop shut when somebody sensible walks past my desk in case they see the headlines.
Personally, I am pro-Brexit (I wanted to write that horrible word at least once in this post). The only true reason I have for this stance is that I want to see what happens. I suspect it won’t be that bad, and I suspect it won’t be that bad if Britain stays. But I’d like to know.
Bis morgen- or maybe Übermorgen.