A vague impression is wafting in off British newspaper pages that the Germans have had it with the EU project. Supposedly, they are so exasperated with the less frugal and industrious nations that they are prepared to tell them to shape up or ship out. There’s also a feeling that Angela Merkel is so at odds with her electorate that her position is becoming precarious.
Nothing can be further from the truth, and French papers seem to grasp the issues better, but then of course they have more at stake. Also, the French in general are more likely than the Brits to see the big picture without getting overly bogged down in small-print nitty-gritty.
The big picture has a photographic clarity so rare in modern political art. The purpose of the EU, as far as Germany is concerned, is to put Europe under German management. Political power, not money, is the ultimate prize, just as a gold medal, not money, is the immediate goal of any Olympic athlete. Every such athlete takes it for granted that, once the medal is over his neck, millions in endorsements will follow. But first things first: the original goal is primary, everything else is derivative.
It would be odd if other EU members, even France, felt as positive about the possibility of Germany’s political domination. They don’t. But they desperately need German money to stay afloat, and the money – whatever our papers are saying – is on offer. However, the offer comes with strings attached: by way of interest and finance charge, France is expected to do a Vichy. Déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra, American baseball coach and cracker-barrel philosopher, once said.
This is it in a nutshell, pure and simple. But the language of politics and diplomacy is seldom simple and never pure. And the European dialect of that language would make even Aesop sound too forthright. A translation from European into human is always necessary, and this is a service I’ll try to provide to the best of my modest ability.
Angela, as quoted in Le Figaro: ‘We need more Europe…’ [Since the geographic size of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, is immutable, this has to mean a more German Europe.] ‘…more budgetary union…’ [A German finance minister ruling the roost.] … ‘and, above all, we need more political union.’ [Like the one between Berlin and Vichy.] ‘We must, step by step, cede power to Europe.’ [Does this mean Germany ceding some of her power to Portugal, or Portugal all of hers to Germany? No translation needed there.]
In his response, Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s Minister for European Affairs, proved he is a fluent speaker of European too. France ‘favours the deepening of European integration. But institutional reform can’t take priority over the urgent need to respond to the crisis…’ [Just give us the dosh, Angie, and never mind your boche megalomania.] ‘Closer long-term integration of European nations will be impossible unless the EU demonstrates its ability to respond to the crisis.’ [It’s cash on the nail, Angie, or the deal’s off.]
‘Eurobonds must make a contribution to overcoming the crisis.’ [Germany must pay for everyone.] ‘The bonds will help catalyse the process of institutional integration.’ [No bonds, no integration.]
And then came the clincher: ‘We continue our discussions of this issue with our German friends and other partners to arrive, by the European summit at the end of June, at a ‘road map’, which is to say a method… of acquiring a clear perspective.’
What can be clearer than this? Pay up or shut up, Angie. If by 28 June your signature, preferably in blood, isn’t on the bottom line, might as well not bother with the summit. Then, and only then, your electorate will really land you dans la merde profonde. They know and you know what Germany really wants. Fine with us, but don’t think for a second you’ll get it for free.
Can’t you just see Angie squirming, ‘What’s this dummkopf on about?’ But deep down she knows exactly what François, the ventriloquist speaking through his dummy, wants. She knows what they all want – they want Germany to pay for what she has always craved: political domination. The method of payment is up to her.
A couple of times in the last hundred years Germany tried to pay for it in the currency of blood, but the price wasn’t right. Now she must pay for it in legal tender, and that just might do the trick. But pay she must, and pay she will. The question is, are we going to chip in?