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

New Nato boss Jens Stoltenberg on alliance's challenges

With most Nato members intent on cutting defence spending, Mark Urban asks the alliance's new chief Jens Stoltenberg how he can stop it becoming an association of broken promises.

Read full article


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Melting down the whole union???

    We never joined a union, we never voted for a union.

    We joined, and voted for, the Common Market.


  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    There can be no Federal Europe with true sovereign nations within it and while some of the struggling nations may be prepared to give up certain powers of self determination they may find they have sold their souls to the devil since it won't be a broad democracy they are governed by but a narrow technocracy. Can centralization of power ever be a good thing if unrepresentative of so many people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I can see the usual not very bright anti EU mob are on

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I am old enough to have voted to go into the Common Market. It was sold to us as a Common Market, rather like EFTA which we went into when President de Gaulle vetoed us joining the Common Market.

    It evolved into what is rapidly becoming a Federal Europe (rather like another tier of the way Germany is organised). I think this was what Germany wanted all along - who won the war?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    BBC, are you going to write any anti EU articles in the near future? I think not. You may hold a pro European candle very close to your left wing hearts, but many people in the uk do not. A bit of balance would be nice

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    We can trade with these countries without entering into economic and political union so what's with the scaremongering from liberals? Time to get out and make our own way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Let us hope that Merkel does not succeed by political means, where Hitler failed by military means in 1945.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Surely the Germans will decide for themselves what they think of the UK. Yes the Euro was a mistake in my view. What a shame Margaret Thatcher signed the Maastricht treaty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    i couldnt give a fig about what germany or any other country thinks about us wanting to renegotiate new terms for us being in the EU. If they dont like the idea then we should pull out and let them stew in their own economic mess. England will survive outside the EU like it did before we joined the Common Market. They need us just as much as we need them

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    All these EU countries should remember the debt they owe us (UK)...Liberation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    We need to be out of this like yesterday, hopefully I can get a contract finished in Germany before that happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    What most people can agree on is that we should keep strong economic, diplomatic and even military ties with Europe. However surely the Germans can understand that we are not happy to bail out failing EU members who lie about their books (let alone the fact that the EU can't seem to do any real book keeping of any kind) and we are also unhappy about adopting legislature created in Belgium.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    But the Euro is flawed. You cannot have a common currency unless you have common everything.
    Example. France have gone to war with Mali. Well traditionally a nation would print fiat money to fund the war. But France can't do that because everyone else in Europe will complain about inflation of the Euro. So France are now impotent.
    It can't work unless Europe is one nation.

    No thank you.


Page 46 of 46



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.