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 194.

    Do you really think that the MEP's make policy and if you think that they do, why have a committee of unelected representatives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    We need to renegotiate, we do not want to be part of the federation. You cannot put a price on sovereignty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    UK national debt is over a trillion pounds, the figures I saw where around £1.3 trillion. I have seen various figures of UK contribution to EU but the highest was around £20 billion. This means this amount would take over 60 years to pay back the national debt not 5 years!!!
    Current UK government spending is some £711 billion, so spending on EU is very small in % terms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Germany, please have us expelled from the EU; I'm tired of the Little Englanders boring on about this. The sooner we're a forgotten irrelevant nation the better, it's all we deserve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    U.K. leaves E.E.C. or whatever it is called, Deutsch/Russo axis continues to grow. U.S. fears realized. Germany then steers course of 'European' decisions and is eventually declared winner of WW2. VW has just had it's best year ever. Japanese cars built in UK not PC in China, roads in UK terrible. UK has bloated sense of importance, 'Europe', most specifically Germany can survive without UK.Bye.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Simple just have EU as a trading partner that's what we conned to believe in the first place by past Governments now they want to change our way of life and culture like the rest of Europe,how boring!

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    @ Samster, that's not very nice. No one is "draining" England, because we are a UNITED KINGDOM. All four are one. It's like saying "sick of my head and it's drain on my legs, good riddance ", then chopping your head off. You really are a silly sausage...........Europe? as long as we don't have to put our pets in quarantine when we visit, then I don't care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    176. Damian
    Germany is not a nation,

    So presumably United States Of America isn't a nation? Its a group of United States. (Must be, its in the name) Get real, of course its a country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    To Old Father thames!!!!! your comment is stupid, nasty and full of hate, poor you men!!!! have a good one

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    @ brummie123 (165)
    I'm surprised your comments were allowed.
    Maybe the editor decided to let the readers see what a complete fool you are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    I'd rather the UK had a "special relationship" with Europe than the US. Things are already going downhill for the majority of people in the UK. If we left the EU it would only get worse.

  • Comment number 183.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    GChap1 (174) - are you Scottish by any chance? Why chose the word rump? Christine Graeme uses that term - make no mistake, rump means buttock. So you believe in democracy, yet those who don't agree with you are buttocks are they? Imbecile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Fish & Chips twice at my local chippy is now £10.40 and I directly attribute the ridiculously high cost to when McBlair agreed to the EU that we would slash our fishing fleet. Furthermore, we have the ongoing, non-sensical, stupid, idiotic situation of fishermen catching fish they have to throwback! We were promised it would stop, but we're still waiting. Just ONE example of the EU Lunacy! Spit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    @171 With a population of 75 million, Turkey would be only second to German in EU representation. They'd have a bigger say than us. And in a few years they would have the biggest say as their population looks set to overtake that of even Germany. Why would any of the big nations let them in only to give them the reigns?
    Germany is interested in leading Europe, not just being a part of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.


    Never said it would fail, but merely that others may follow. As regards failure that's surely a subjective viewpoint anyway - good for the weak nations no doubt! In or out I won't have an issue getting work in the EU as long as I offer a quality service at competitive rates. Just finished a stint in Dublin as it happens!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    It should not be about UK v EU. We should be a bit smarter and get together with all the other non-euro EU members and re-negotiate our collective relationship. Whether we like it or not there is a 2-speed Europe. Those unfortunate enought to be in the euro and those lucky enough to be out of it. Where are Denmark, Sweden, Poland...when you need them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    My entire generation has had no chance to express their views on this.

    As a result I feel completely impotent and politically disenfranchised. I won't be voting this election (or else I'll be making a protest vote or spoiling my ballot).

    Mr. Cameron literally does not seem to understand it. It's so simple. You are the servants of Britain. You listen to us. If you keep refusing, we stop voting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Germany is not a nation, it's a Federation (Bundes means Federal, that wa=hy every German insitution is prefixed with it) So to them Federal is natural. They look at the UK and think it's federal too so can't understand why we can't seem to live with a federal europe with germany at the helm, after all, it's just natural...

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    The E.U. was sold to us as a trading bloc only. Since then, it's developed into a body that has influence on our domestic decisions and undermines our sovereignty. That's not right. We should trade with the E.U., but not have them infringe on us. This is perfectly possible to achieve, but if the E.U. don't respect our decision, and then place obstacles in our way, perhaps we're better off leaving.


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