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 94.

    Eh?! What? sorry? pardon?
    I thank one element of our European "brethren" for their considered views as regards how we govern our country. It may seem a rather radical notion, but perhaps they may wish to wait until such time that their suggestions regarding how we apply our supposed democracy are actually asked for?! Novel concept; I realise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    'germany and Britain are natural allies? Hitler said that too

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    This anti-EU stance is a betrayal to the future of England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Perhaps, but unwilling to halt the juggernaut. I can't believe Cameron will be able to wring sufficient changes from EU members to satisfy the majority of British people. The devil will as ever be in the detail... and perhaps in that which is not openly and accurately stated?
    Britain has over the years may have been thoroughly outmanouevred but we voted to join the EEC: 'Community', not 'State'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    "yet when it comes to an election approx 65-70% of the UK population can't be bothered to vote." pepuk

    That is because who wants to vote for members of the European Parliament when they cannot even make any laws?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    I don't understand why there can't just be trading agreements between countries (which we were falsely led to believe it was in the 70's) without us all having to be swallowed up into something called the United States of Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    we do still need the FULL facts on what leaving vs staying would entail for the country. something that all of us currently dont actually know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    hers an idea, shut up and let the british people decide on their future, becouse germany, america, and every other country has their own agenda that is in no way of benefit to britain, let us decide what's in our interests and stop interfering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Whatever the pros /cons are - and we can all have our own ideas - if we lived in a real democracy, which we obviously don't, we would have had a referendum years ago instead of just excuses.
    Given the often promised (never delivered) referendum, the politicians would then have to make their case, instead of just worrying about the expenses thay can claim (or having to explain the EU budget audit).

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    who are the people who really want out of the EU? Possibly those under the most imminent possibility of change, the financial sector perhaps?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I know many in the EU want to see the back of the UK.


    To move the finance sector to Germany. (Which will cost the UK billions AND make billions for the EU!!!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    The UK runs a £28 billion deficit with the EU.
    We are also net contributors to the EU.
    Who has most to lose if we left the EU?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Leave the EU and who are we going to trade with on favourable terms?
    Do we think the Americans will sort us out?
    We like to think we have influence, but you can't influence a club you don't belong to.
    I wouldn't vote to join now, but as Phil Collins said we're "in too deep."

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    60. Sam Holt - Many of us suspected at the time precisely what you say but Heath assured us that was not the case. Like a fool I amongst others believed him and voted yes. All we have now is an extended benefits system for poorer Countries who join just to further expand Merkels liebensraum. Even Greece, Italy etc! joined the EU using false economic rates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    There is a distinctly three tier Europe, always has been, always will be.

    1) North West
    2) Southern club med
    3) Eastern

    Germany's frustration is that although it is by far the strongest and most able it straddles all three geographically and politically. It should be in charge of it's neighbours, but we know what that leads to.

    You could split Europe in two, roughly, by religion also.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    what makes me laugh is at the last UK European elections the turnout was around 30% so on one hand people bring up the issue of non elected bureaucrats etc might I add does need to be addressed,as one of the reasons why we should pull out yet when it comes to an election approx 65-70% of the UK population can't be bothered to vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I totally agree with H2so4, and have said so before (the Balkan states are NOT Europe so do not count) We need to stay IN the EU and start leading from the centre of it and not pissing up against the wall moaning. In the EU and right at the centre we can eventually make changes for the better by getting more and more people to think our way certainly over the CAP that makes having 3 cows a Farm!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    biggest kid in playground wants to keep status quo shock !

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I want nothing to do with Europe thank-you very much - I feel for the Greek nation who have been proper stitched up by the Germans (again!). DC is right to keep them at arms length - they are not to be trusted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    "but we need to be in there and at the heart of it." Red Knight

    I agree but we shouldn't surrender sovereignty to achieve this.


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