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 34.

    @5 When I said 'with Mali' I literally meant alongside Mali. Was that to hard to figure out?

    @10 I think when the BBC write EU articles it should disclose how much it is funded by the EU and state its interests. This should be law to reduce propaganda.

    Don't expect any anti-EU commentary from the BBC. Know that it is biased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I don't care what Germany thinks about the UK's general perception of the EU. I don't care what most British politicians think about the general publics perception on the EU.

    What is important within a democratic society is our ability to vote for things which effect us. If we want to leave the EU, it should be our decision, not Westminster's and certainly not Germany's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    "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.
    listen to those people and Dave and get us out of this fiasco called the EU.
    If we stay in the EU we are doomed and at the mercy of every bloodsucker that wants to enter England and feed of us
    we should get out now

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    How has it come to this? We have too long a history of independence from European affairs to ever want to join a federal union. Yet we see all the benefits of co-operation and have much to offer all. We need a compromise, but are being denied one. I see us leaving, or sullenly staying put until they kick us out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    So, effectively, 'now France and Germany don't get on, we wish Germany could stitch up the EU with the UK' - as if that was ever an option for the UK. No, the UK was never given a look-in. Franco-German stitch-ups are likely to return after Hollande or Merkel move on.

    Then, it's "blackmail", and "It's starting to get on people's nerves". Well, those closely match my sentiments. I must be German:)

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Indy2010 - As the UK is NOT a Euro Currency Country, we do not directly fund Euro bail out, we only do so via our membership of the IMF - So in or our we would not pay a euro cent/penny more or less - so thats shot another Europhobic falacy down

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The European union would work if all nations within the union had the same minimum wage, same welfare systems, health care etc. As things currently stand all we have are mass migrations to wealthier countries from the poorer ones putting great strain on infastructure of the wealthier nations. Great for Industry to keep wages low but bad for the populous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    This is yet another reason why I detest the Tory parties policies on Europe. Now that Christian Democratic Germany and Socialist France are drifting apart, it should be a perfect opportunity for Britain to become Germany's new best friend and for us to get some real influence in Europe. But no, because of David Cameron it's a missed opportunity and Britain is worse off as a result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    The main concern for Germans is that they will need to pick up more of the tab for the wastrel countries of the EU when there is no contribution from the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It really is sad that we cannot see eye to eye with our neighbours! We continually side with the USA, when will this country learn that we have more in common with those across the channel than with those across the pond?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    This is pretty painful, even for the pro-EU BBC. Several German businesspeople have stated that they'd be happy to negotiate free-trade agreements with the UK because their own export markets rely on the UK. So please try and keep your reports unbiased, BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    There is one other crucial factor here: the UK is Germany's strongest ally in the EU on the matter of free trade with the rest of the world.

    Should the UK leave, the balance of power in the EU could shift towards a more protectionist union. That would be a disaster for German exports. It wouldn't be good for the rest of Europe either, but Germany would suffer more than most.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Nice to see all the Farage fans out tonight. Pity Dave seems to have done yet another U turn on the in out question. Just when the illusion of the empire was returning in the hearts of the xenophobes. Iin out referendum? Its not going to happen. Dave will go with his 'New Deal' for Britain and come back empty handed as usual. Ha ha, you've got to laugh!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The BBC should come clean and post above each of these pro-Europe fluff articles, 'WE (THE BBC) ARE PRO-EUROPE' instead of hiding behind this soft propaganda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    If we ever get asked, the hope is that we wouldn't want to be in either, so everyone's happy. Time to get out and stop being run by others

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    belonging to the the EU has it's problems. But not belonging to the EU? Can you imagine it?

    The Tories would have 10 year old's sweeping chimneys and then convincing everyone that it was in the interests of us all.

    And of course assisting in the economic recovery!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    All of this German talk of "punishing" the UK with unfavourable trade terms if we leave the EU leaves me perplexed. Is this the same Germany that we have a gigantic trade imbalance (in their favour) with? Are we not still their 3rd largest export market? The threats are vague, but are we to believe that they will stop selling us their BMWs in a fit of pique?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    How exactly does Urban conclude that 'all Germans are united in regret over the UK's stance on Europe' - how many Germans did he ask? There is no evidence at all in his piece, which is actually about German unity on their own stance on Europe. Really shoddy journalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The time has come to either accept a Euro Superstate or go our own can't work as a half way, or even quarter way house. We're either fully in or fully out...let the people decide. At least we won't be so hoodwinked this time (if it happens) as we were by Heath et al.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Its not the UK walking blindly into leaving, the EU has been blindly walking towards us leaving by having no regard to UK laws, British tax payer contribution and do they think we have forgotten the French fiasco of building a deportation center next to the channel tunnel


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