Perfect timing for Germany to lecture us on political rectitude

On 30 January, the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s ascent to power, the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle published in The Times an article with the self-explanatory title Britain’s narrow view of the EU is wrong.

Far be it from my mind to tie the two momentous events together or to suggest even obliquely that Herr Westerwelle is in any sense a direct heir to Herr Hitler or, come to that, Westerwelle’s institutional predecessor Herr Ribbentrop. However, if there is one thing they have in common, it’s a propensity for brazen effrontery, and Westerwelle’s article establishes his credentials in this area beyond any dispute.

Personally, I don’t think the Federal Republic, for all her exemplary post-war record of benign government, has yet earned the right to lecture countries whose political virtue is of rather longer standing. But even if at a weak moment we feel generous enough to listen to Germany’s views on such matters, they ought not to be conveyed in a peremptory manner that, alas, does evoke Ribbentrop circa 1938.

In common with our home-grown champions of a single European state, such as Ken Clark who in his dotage claims that leaving the EU would spell the end of Britain, Guido is long on meaningless waffle and short on meaningful arguments.

He starts out by patting Dave on the back for some parts of his epochal speech, while issuing avuncular admonishments for some others. Specifically, he agrees with Dave that Europe must stay competitive in the face of a rapidly growing Chinese economy.

Of course, if Europe were to become a single state, this desideratum would have to be on the agenda. Conversely, for this desideratum to be on the agenda Europe would have to become a single state. Otherwise, sovereign states could rely on their own efforts to sort out their economic position vis-à-vis China or any other competitor. The German motor trade, for example, ought to be able to hold its own – one doesn’t see too many people driving a Leefan, a Geely or any other Chinese vehicle, and nor does one anticipate those cars ousting Audis and BMWs in any foreseeable future.

In other words, Guido commits the widespread rhetorical fallacy of using as an argument the proposition he’s trying to prove. A lesson in rhetoric, not just in manners, is clearly in ordnung.

He then magnanimously concedes that ‘the EU does not need to set down rules on everything – only on those issues that, say, Britain, France or Poland cannot resolve better on their own.’ The choice of those three countries as an example is timed as perfectly as the whole article: after all, Britain and France last went to war with Germany when the latter helped Poland to solve the problem of Danzig.

So which problems require German (or EU) assistance this time? ‘Brussels,’ explains Guido, ‘could do better to tackle money laundering and banking transparency.’ One wonders how such problems had been tackled before the EU. Cooperation between friendly police forces springs to mind, along with such cross-border setups as Interpol. I’d like to see some evidence that the situation with money laundering was any worse then than it is now – and no one at the time suggested that member countries had to abandon their national sovereignty.

As to ‘banking transparency’, Guido clearly has in mind an arrangement that existed in Germany back in the thirties, when banks were under state control in all but name. Except that then the purpose of such bullying was to provide unlimited financing for Germany’s planned war effort. The purpose today is to close every loophole enabling Europeans to shield a little of their money from oppressive, confiscatory taxation.

Then Guido comes to the meat of his message by making an earth-shattering pronouncement that ‘there are no rights without duties. There can be no cherry-picking. Saying “You either do what I want or I’ll leave!” is not an attitude that works.’ Bend over, Britain, and take your punishment.

Dave’s hints at a certain democratic deficit in the EU didn’t sit well with Guido either. Democracy, he says, ‘should also include the European parliament.’ The ghost of Enoch Powell appears before us, informing all the Hamlets in the audience that no European democracy can exist because no European demos exists. But discussing such ideas would take Guido so far out of his depth that it would constitute cruelty to animals. (Incidentally, I bet Guido supports animal rights – his kind always does. How does that tally with rights entailing duties?)

Guido is on safer grounds when displaying a trait that many associate (wrongly!!! I hasten to add before this becomes a police matter) with the German national character: stating the blindingly obvious. ‘One thing… is not negotiable from Germany’s point of view. For us the European Union is far more than just a single market…’

But we never thought it was negotiable, Guido. We have always felt that the EU is for Germany a single state she can run in ways that would expiate her past sins and light up the path to her future grandeur. Still, thanks for reminding us.

There, Dave, you’ve been told. There will be no ‘new settlement’ on which the British public will have its say in some unspecified referendum at some unspecified time. So what are you going to do about it? Extricate the thorny European dilemma out of the long grass into which you tried to kick it in your speech? Call an immediate referendum? Fat chance.

As to Guido, one wonders if his article was translated into English or was originally written in that language. If so, he shows an enviable command of the English idiom, exceeding even that of Joachim von Ribbentrop’s. Therefore he won’t have any trouble understanding this English expression: pull the other one. 

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