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Democrat Janurary-February 2013 (Number 133)

View of Britain from Germany

by Horst Teubert of German Foreign Policy Group

The German elites reacted quite angrily when British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that there would be a referendum in the UK on EU membership.

The government as well as foreign policy experts in Germany are fully aware that conditions in the EU have become more and more unfavourable for London in the course of the euro crisis. Today, many important decisions are being made by the eurozone countries alone, even decisions which affect Britain strongly. As an article in the influential German magazine "Internationale Politik" admits Britain is further losing influence on issues vital for the country.

But in spite of this, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle declared that Britain should stay in the EU. London can't “cherry¬† pick”, he said.

Germany has a strong interest in Britain remaining in the EU. One reason is that the German government is trying to impose a fully neoliberal economic policy on the EU, despite strong opposition from France and some southern European countries. Politicians in Berlin argue that now and then London has played an important role in breaking up French resistance against neoliberalism. Referring to this, one of the most important German dailies wrote after Cameron's referendum announcement, "we don't want to be left alone with the French".

Another reason is that Germany wants to create a European Army with the aim to be able to compete even militarily with the United States as a world power. Just a few weeks ago, Wolfgang Ischinger, a former top diplomat and today's Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, confirmed that a strong EU military "would be unthinkable without the strong involvement of the United Kingdom". Expressing his opinion that Britain should stay in the EU he added, "we will either act largely together or be largely irrelevant".

So, in spite of the many angry reactions, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "of course prepared to talk about Britain's wishes". What this might mean is shown in a short analysis which was published in January by the European Council on Foreign Relations. The author recalls the 1975 referendum on British membership in the then "Common Market". He reminds that at first "most voters wanted to leave", but then "polling suggested that if the terms of membership were renegotiated with the prime minister recommending the new deal, opinion would swing in favour of British membership".

The British government handled the situation in this way. According to the analysis, "Wilson did talk to his European partners, claimed a great victory" and "won a 2-1 majority for staying 'in Europe'". This happened despite the fact that, as the analysis says, "dispassionate observers could find" no "great victory" but only "little change in Britain's membership terms". Obviously, all that was to be done to get a Yes! was putting on a show.

An analysis by YouGov in July 2012 concludes that, "polling (from YouGov in July 2012) suggests a similar outcome, should a referendum be held after the euro crisis fades", with Cameron being able "to say that he has negotiated a deal to protect British interests" - just like Wilson in his "great victory" of 1975.