Tension over 'Europe' rises between UK and Germany

David Cameron (R) at the Lord Mayor's banquet in London, with his wife Samantha (L) and Lord Mayor of London David Wootton (C) The British prime minister questioned "grand plans and utopian visions" for Europe

As the eurozone crisis defies resolution, so the tension rises between Europe's leaders.

President Sarkozy and David Cameron have argued, so have the French leader and the German Chancellor. Now there is tension between the UK and Germany.

Tomorrow David Cameron flies to Berlin to meet Angela Merkel. Previously they have got on well and they should be natural political allies. But the issue of 'Europe' has got in the way, as it has in the past.

This week they paraded very different visions for Europe.

Division over vision

Speaking at her party conference in Leipzig, Angela Merkel said, "The task of our generation is to complete economic and monetary union, and build political union in Europe, step by step... that does not mean less Europe, it means more Europe."

A short while later David Cameron, speaking at the London Lord Mayor's banquet spoke of "we sceptics" being right to question "grand plans and utopian visions". His vision was of a Europe operating with the "flexibility of a network".

The atmosphere between the two countries was not eased by the comments of two German MPs.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at her CDU party conference in Leipzig, 15 November 2011 Angela Merkel put 'more Europe' at the heart of her message.

Volker Kauder accused Britain of being too self-centred in its relationship with Europe.

"Just looking for their own advantage and not being prepared to contribute - that cannot be the message we accept from the British," he said.

Then Michael Meister, the deputy leader of the Christian Democrats in parliament, warned Britain against catering to nationalist sentiment over the euro.

"I'm baffled," he said, "that in Great Britain there doesn't seem to be a clear view of the consequences a collapse of the euro would have on the city of London. He seems to have missed the repeated notes of alarm coming out of London about the dangers from the crisis."


Certainly there is irritation at what the Germans see as British criticism of the handling of the euro-zone crisis.

It got under President Sarkozy's skin and it irritated the French paper Le Monde this week which urged Britain to "shut up".

A senior diplomat with knowledge of the relations between the two countries told me that the differences were significant but should not be over-stated. There is not a rift but there is tension.

Both in Paris and Berlin they are infuriated with some of the British press comment.

The Germans are not that impressed by the UK economy either. They believe the UK made a strategic error by relying so heavily on financial services while allowing the manufacturing sector to shrink.

A widely held view in German government circles is that they are in no position to lecture anyone.

The UK government insists it has a big interest in resolving the eurozone crisis. Ministers believe that the UK will be seriously damaged if the euro collapses.

Reform incentive

The British, like the French, want the European Central Bank to act as a lender of last resort.

Chancellor Merkel, for the moment, will not accept that. She thinks it would be against EU treaties and her closest advisers say that it would result in printing money and stoking inflation.

It would also remove the incentive on Greece and Italy to reform themselves.

Yesterday President Sarkozy said, "If the ECB does not enter squarely into the fray, there will one day be no euro at all."

The British share that view.

The other major area of tension is over influence. Angela Merkel wants a much more tightly-integrated eurozone.

The fear in Britain is that this will lead to a two-tier Europe with the UK in the outer ring. For David Cameron remaining at the top table when key decisions are taken on the single market or the financial sector is a British national interest.

In more recent comments the Chancellor has stressed that the EU is a union of 27 members. David Cameron will be seeking further reassurances.

According to diplomats, the Germans would like to see Britain doing more to help the EU in its hour of need. There is frustration that the UK won't do more.

The British point out that they are the fourth biggest contributor to the IMF - which contributes almost one-third to EU bail-outs - they have given bilateral help to Ireland and supported Greece through the contribution to the EFSM.

Tax 'bullet'

Another source of irritation is the financial transaction tax. The Germans want it. They see it as raising valuable funds.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said such a tax would be "a bullet aimed at the heart of the city". In UK government circles there is a belief that France and Germany are trying to weaken the City of London. That is a source of tension.

Over the tax, however, the UK has allies.

When the two leaders meet, there is unlikely to be a major row. Neither leader wants it. Angela Merkel has today tried to reach out to the UK, praising its austerity programme.

The relationship between David Cameron and Angela Merkel is probably more natural than that between the British Prime Minister and the French President.

But the eurozone crisis and the risk of recession in Europe is bringing tension to the surface and very different visions of Europe.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    389. quietoaktree


    Ireland = €390,969
    UK = €117,580
    France = €66,508
    Germany = €50,659 (not counting 350billion debt to Greece)
    Spain = €41,366
    Portugal = €38,081
    Greece = €38,073 (not counting the 350 billion debt from Germany)
    Italy = €32,875

    Not peanuts - it is the per person debt of EU countries' citizens.

    In EU the less you are indebted the worse...

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    389. quietoaktree
    "I love non-thinking nationalists --fried."

    Being not nationalist but rationalist I still do miss nearly 1 million people from the 1941-1944 era for which Germans have not yet answered. War reparations are missing too. Fact or not? There is not much to discuss on that other than justice is the decision of the strongest. Germans lost but were let to be such.

    back to the issue...

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    #388 tonep

    --- and don´t forget your ´rubber ducky´

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    -the EU just does not have enough handkerchiefs --For the Brits AND Greeks.

    To misquote W.C. Fields--

    I love non-thinking nationalists --fried.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    387 .(Both Britain and Greece should be the first to leave)


  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    Part 6

    The EU is the only game in town--and if this means including only those who are capable and also those who show willingness to be members--then so be it.

    Both Britain and Greece should be the first to leave --and who is in the first and second tiers -- finances will probably dictate.

    In 5 years, one may have a better idea of how this irresponsible mess by banks and governments looks

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.


    I vote that your 5part mini-series is insufferably dull and should be stopped before you unwittingly kill someone from boredom. Its for your own good, there's a good chap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    part 5

    With nationalistic imbeciles from mainly America and the UK on these blogs, it has not dawned on them that their petty crying has no place in this world after the fall of Communism.

    With the UK attempting to block German unification -- and Eastern European countries becoming free -- Britain could only think of ´stop the Germans´ --and our troops should stay --today 20,000 of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    382. gm
    ''If you keep using lies to bash the Germans'''

    Fact 1. The german invasion in Greece caused the death of nearly 1 million Greeks.
    Fact 2: The Germans have never apologised
    Fact 3: The Germans never paid war reparations

    ''Also, the Germans I've met were just people like you and me.''

    I know. Turks are people like us too. Problem is both never apologised for the genocides against Greeks

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    Once again Germany and England are at odds. The failure of the EU was predicted years ago. Google, "Why the European Union will fail" by Joseph Kibitlewski, Ph.D.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.


    If you keep using lies to bash the Germans down they will start referring you for bigotry. Quit it.

    Also, the Germans I've met were just people like you and me. And they are just people whom have all the traits humans have--niceness, greed, sorrow. etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    368. quietoaktree
    """Germany is one of the few nations on the Earth that has apologized for its past atrocities"""

    Oh really? They apologised Did the Germans recognise the genocide of nearly 1 million Greeks and 1 million Serbians in WWII? Did they pay war reparations?

    """and claim neither pride nor justification for them."""

    Ya ya... blah blah...

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Had the US not entered WWII in Europe directly and sent massive amounts of food, military equipment, and other material for the war to the USSR, the Nazis would have won.There is no doubt about it. As in WWI the US participation made the telling difference between who won and who lost.In fact had the US not entered WWI it might still be going on. The US also won the Cold War pretty much by itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    374 The French dont live off former glories and have an over inflated view of themselves and their place in the world? Crazy! De Gaulle was the biggest French ego maniac of them all lol. Is your anti British bigotry that ingrained that you believe this stuff or do you just enjoy getting a rise out of people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    part 4

    The popular UK belief that Germany always only does things for its own self-interest and against others within the EU, is a misrepresentation of the facts -and suitable for the UK powers that be.

    The UK is far from being respected by countries who have the same wishes and dreams as Germany of another different Europe -others can now also read British media --and read BBC bogs.


  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    David and Angie -
    Europe´s conservative dream team that goes for growth

    The difference: David believes in a more risky no-regulation as key to economic success, whereas his German counterpart plays it more safe by thinking regulation is needed to stabilise the financial markets.

    However, David and Angie are more close to each other than with France´s Sarkozy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.


    " ... media (also Gavin) and the British government, by continual propaganda against both Europe and in particular Germany."
    1) The "EU" is not Europe.
    2)The anti-"EU" stuff is not all propaganda. A lot of it is true. It does not go far enough.
    3)Some very silly (IMUO) anti-German stuff gets mixed in with this. The "EU" results in some thinking the Germans are our enemies

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    A German teacher said:
    "You are not allowed to be proud of your country.
    It´s because of Nazi Gertmany."

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.


    Having lived in both UK and Germany it is clear the British ´establishment´ see the EU as a danger to their privileges --for that reason the UK must leave. De Gaulle saw the problems ahead.

    A nation that harps on past questionable ´glories´ is incapable of being a member of a club with 26 others who do not.

    - surely most (if not all) will agree on that ?

    -other countries do.


  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    To QOT

    I do accept that the British bombing of German cities was a war crime and have been saying so for thirty years.

    I had an interesting discussion with a German about this. He said "Germans have got to realise that Germany started the war."

    My answer to that was and is:" Two year old children on the ground in Dresden did not start the war."


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