Germans united in regret over Britain's EU stance


Watch Mark Urban's full report on what Germans think of Britain's relationship with the European Union

HANNOVER, GERMANY: At a campaign gathering held by Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU) a garrulous man slapped me on the shoulder and asked, "How does this compare with your Conservative Party?" It was a knowing question, delivered with wink.

The CDU drive to get their man, David McAllister, re-elected to run the state government of Lower Saxony, is well funded, confident (despite the closeness of opinion polls) and united on the question of Europe.

There is no real dissent across the German political spectrum on the issues of integrating the European Union (EU) more closely, apart from on the extreme right.

Indeed talking to people across northern Germany during three days of filming, it is apparent that there is a broad degree of consensus both on the EU and on Britain's position within it - from the CDU election event we attended, to the floor of the Sennheiser microphone factory or from the Hamburg students' union.

Firstly, people express regret that, faced with the faltering of Germany's traditional EU partnership with France (socialist President Francois Hollande is too much the tax and spend type for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her CDU), that it is not possible to make common cause with the UK in the council chambers of Brussels.

Start Quote

If we agree we will have a blueprint and next, for example, Poland or other countries will demand the same and this will be a first step in the melting down on the whole union”

End Quote Ralph Brinkhaus German MP on threat of Britain renegotiating EU position

From Ralph Brinkhaus, a local member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, to Christine Lemster, a chemistry student at Hamburg University, we heard a similar refrain - the UK and Germany ought to be natural allies, and it is too bad that they cannot unite around EU issues.

The second issue on which there appears to be wide agreement is that Germany opposes the type of renegotiation of membership terms or competencies that UK Prime Minister David Cameron has talked about.

We have heard the apparent British threat to block other EU business unless its agenda is met described as "blackmail" by the head of the Bundestag Europe committee, Gunther Krichbaum, and by Cornelia Fuchs, former London correspondent for Stern magazine, as something that will soon exhaust the patience of ordinary Germans as well as their government.

"It's starting to get on people's nerves… there are already people who say 'if they don't want to be here they should get out'," Ms Fuchs told Newsnight.

The last topic where the Germans offer Tory Eurosceptics cold comfort is on their idea that Britain, even if it actually left the EU, could negotiate the same type of free trade arrangement with it that Norway or Switzerland have.

We went to the Sennheiser audio plant near Hanover; where something like 10% of their worldwide sales are made in the UK, to canvass their view on this:

"I know how complicated it is to negotiate", said board member Volker Bertels, referring to Switzerland's long discussions over the terms of access to the European market, adding that in the case of the UK, "we all need to be careful about putting up additional obstacles".

Like many German producers, there is a worry that market share might be lost during a long period of uncertainty about access to the UK.

At the heart of the anxiety expressed by German politicians is a fear that British renegotiation could eat up a lot of time at EU meetings at a moment when voters would prefer a focus on economic recovery and that even if ultimately successful, such talks could set a grim portent for Europe more widely.

"If we agree we will have a blueprint," said the CDU MP Mr Brinkhaus, "and next, for example, Poland or other countries will demand the same and this will be a first step in the melting down on the whole union".

Mark Urban Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 914.

    A recent German poll related to allowing Brussels to increase control of German finances resulted in hundreds of thousands of votes against.
    This has not been reported in UK press.
    We need far more truthful reporting of what is happening across Europe.
    There is far too much suppression of the opinions and attitudes of the real people of Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 913.

    The only way to resolve this whole EU / UK issue is to have town hall events, using a combination of local radio, Press, TV & internet, along with National TV Radio & Press reporting, with open questions, not pre-screed ones, with both local and national experts on History, Politics, the Economy and so on present at all meetings, and all the media to sign a understanding to publish the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 912.

    UK used to have the Commonwealth which now represent major devel opportunities,but that bridge was burnt.Germany is correct in pressuring UK to make up it's mind.While they stall, UK is persuing exclusive alliances with Australia, New Zealand & Canada, ironically omitting US which is also persuing similar with Pacific rim. It is safe to presume some estb treaties/agreements will be discarded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 911.

    Me and my rival chippy sponsor the local orphans jogging club. She donates a bit more than me so she chooses the shirts and gets her chippy logo on the front. Mine is on the shoulder. But she can't afford to buy all the shirts So when I said I wanted to choose the shirts or I would stop sponsoring the club she started telling everyone how great my chippy is, something she's never done before.

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    @906 (2) As for listening to Sarrazin, I've read his book "Europa braucht den Euro nicht"; by no means an easy read unless you enjoy dry figures and statistics, but it makes sense and he backs his statements with facts. So far he has been demonized for daring to state his opinion which is not considered "politically correct", but nobody has been able to refute him yet on a factual basis.


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