It is about 68 years since Germany last had control over the budgets of most European countries. Then there was much well-documented resistance to such bossiness, some inside but mostly outside the European mainland. These days both the control and resistance take on different forms, though the latter is beginning to resemble its antecedent in some places, such as Greece.
Merkel has suggested that Germany, operating through an unelected EU front, assume control over European national budgets, telling the countries how much they may tax and spend. When some countries expressed a few timid reservations, the portly Chancellor was ‘astonished’. And she probably felt something stronger than astonishment at François Hollande acting as one of the resistants. I do not know the German for ‘ungrateful two-timing bastard’, but the words must have crossed Angela’s lips. Now she knows how Ségolène felt.
In a show of even-handedness for which I am justly famous, I have to say that I can understand both Angela and her critics. The second is easier.
After all, handing control over the national budget to an unelected foreign body spells the end of both democracy and sovereignty, and some people still feel residual affection for such things. Even though they cannot fail to see the obvious differences between now and 68 years ago, they cannot quite overlook the similarities either. Any way they look at it, they do not wish to have their countries completely ruled by foreigners, especially – and they would never dare enunciate such shameful innermost feelings – the Germans.
The jolly carnival featuring unusual costumes that greeted Angela’s recent holiday in Greece testifies to this: some people have long memories, and national pride is not yet extinct. The Greek answer to a fancy-dress party was then followed by fireworks, in the shape of some 70,000 demonstrators tossing petrol bombs at Athens policemen, what with Angela already safely out of range. But make no mistake about it: blaming outlanders is always easier than blaming yourself. Striving to become the sacred cow of Europe, Germany may soon end up as its scapegoat.
On the other hand, one can understand Angela’s frustration. She finds herself in the position of a banker who is asked for a huge and possibly unrecoverable business loan, with the supplicant refusing even to divulge what his business is and how he plans to spend the money. Angela knows that come what may she will be paying for the music, so it is only natural that she wants to call the tune. What is worse is that she may feel that she has found herself at an impasse with no easy way out – indeed no way out at all.
With some European countries racing towards 100 percent unemployment and all of them being crushed under the weight of murderous debts, Europe is well and truly bust. Not all of its predicament is directly attributable to the EU, but much of it self-evidently is. Such circumstances invariably foster strong emotions, few of them positive.
In countries with no separatist fault lines, such as Greece, resentment is most likely to be directed at the Germans, who are correctly seen as the engine of the EU. Where such fault lines exist, in places like Spain and Belgium or to a lesser degree Italy and Britain, an eruption may first occur internally, along ethnic lines. But that out of the way, Germany will be next.
National independence is the slogan under which the battle is joined in multi-ethnic federations, but it has nothing to do with reality. For the Catalonias and Scotlands of this world do not seek independence – they crave dependence upon the European Union, where they would play a much less significant role.
Why the Scots would want to leave a union cemented over 300 hundred years of the United Kingdom only to join one that is not only unproven but indeed moribund is a mystery, but not much of one. The cynic in me thinks the politicians there may be animated by the possibility of getting cushy jobs in Brussels. That, however, does not explain why the same urge thrives at the grassroots.
The explanation is likely to reside in the nature of ethnic resentment, whose fervour tends to dissipate the further away the object is from the subject. Scotland is closer to England, and Catalonia to Spain, than either is to Germany. Therefore it is easier for the Scots and Catalans to hate their neighbours, especially since neither of them was ever occupied by Germany.
This phenomenon is universal. For example, unlike Scotland, Georgia and Armenia were brutally oppressed by the Russians for at least 70 of the last 100 years. Yet Georgians and Armenians hate one another and only mildly despise their oppressors.
Pressure is building in the EU cooker, and God only knows when and how devastatingly it will blow up. An ideal position to be when that happens is as far away as possible, and instead of making vague hints at a referendum or renegotiating this or that, HMG should bang the door as it leaves.
Meanwhile Angela, still reeling from François’s duplicity, has had to settle for some sort of banking union within the eurozone, rather than the total control of every national economy she sought. That will probably come later, when this much-touted measure has failed as have all the others.
One way or the other, the Germans, the French and their puppets seem to be dead-set on salvaging this unsalvageable abomination at all costs. All we can do is pray that the cost will only be paid in money, not, as is increasingly likely, in blood.