Mind the gap. Germany and Britain divided on European democracy

Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the party which got 7% of the votes and 7 seats at the European Parliament elections in Germany, joined the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. How could this happen? Didn’t the UK’s Premier promise Germany’s Chancellor not to strengthen her conservative competitor? A majority of ECR MEPs voted against the advice of the British Conservative party leader David Cameron and it transpires that even members of his own party didn’t follow his instruction.

What does it mean for Germany? In the first instance not a lot, it seems. German media reported softly about the new joint eurosceptic forces. The main news on German TV (Tagesschau/heute) didn’t mention it at all. No comparison to the big headlines and outrage generated by Cameron’s resistance and Merkel’s brief hesitation towards Jean-Claude Juncker’s candidacy for Commission President. That was big news for them.

German media, parties and representative associations were united behind the “Spitzenkandidat”. 60% of Germans back the idea that it is the European Parliament that should decide on the new European Commission President. Just 26% of the Germans find it right that the heads of state and governments should be the ones choosing the new President (Infratest-DIMAP/ARD).

The UK’s political and media strategy totally underestimated the pluralistic German society and the democratic moment. Some years ago I had a long chat with a British Channel4 journalist. He was sent to the deep province of Germany to find Eurosceptics and anti-Greek sentiment. After many attempts interviewing members of a “Männerchor”, traditionally a very conservative German microcosm in the countryside, he gave up and came to acknowledge German pluralism as one source of pro-European feelings. I told him something about “Schwarmintelligenz” of birds or fishes. German society is not monolithic, so it is harder to be ruled by a media spin (than in the UK maybe).

The collective intelligence of Germans keeps them together without guidance, because they are independent.

Some month ago I met British government representatives in London to explain that German small and medium sized entrepreneurs, saving bank associations, trade unions but even the governing party CDU don’t have direct partners in the UK anymore. The UK became too Westminster centred and lost sight of German political diversity. The loss of understanding is evident. Germans are angry about the snooping by the NSA and its UK partner Government Communications Headquarters. But it appears that GCHQ gathered the wrong kind of intelligence and failed to assess correctly the mood in Germany. Nobody told Downing Street?

Since the financial crisis, Germans are more wary of London than annoyed by Brussels bureaucracy. The European elections confirmed Germany’s deep commitment to the development of European democracy and solidarity. There is a feeling that the UK doesn’t share the same commitment.

Returning to the AfD, this new euro-sceptic party got 2 million votes in the European election, which was exactly the same result as in the federal elections in 2013. Due to an overall drop in turnout, AfD got a relatively higher percentage in the EP election. Therefore CDU doesn’t have to be too concerned about its wannabe rival. It’s size, appeal and influence remains small.

In the same time Germans are used to grand coalitions, not only on state or federal level. The co-operation between CDU/CSU and SPD became remarkably smooth especially on European politics. People understand that grand coalitions between mainstream parties are those that offer leadership and real solutions in a time of crisis. From this perspective, the new Eurosceptic coalition between the AfD and the Tories appears to be a negligible issue for them.

Of course most of the Germans love British culture and rhetoric (sic!). But is this enough when they start to dislike Westminster’s attitude, financial market’s policy, spying and an increasingly hostile stance towards free movement of persons as well as the Germans’ understanding of the concept of democracy.
So Merkel will keep calm and carry on. Irrespective of whether the Tories decided to partner with her fringe rivals, the AfD. The lines of Social and Christian European Democrats will keep coming closer together. There will be a big majority for Juncker in the European Parliament and in the European Council. Nordic countries and central and Eastern European countries count more on Germany than on the UK these days. Germany is now far enough from World War II and Eastern Europe is more than annoyed by British hostility against immigrants.

But what about Britain’s future in the EU. It will be offered some modest (but, in many cases, non-consequential concessions) in order to keep it in the European Union. Britain is admired because it is pragmatic. So it is up to Britain to utilise the obvious benefits of the EU. And don’t mention the war anymore, dear tabloid press… The Germans would laugh out loud.

The European Movement Germany is 65 years today. It was founded on 13 June 1949 by, among others, Duncan Sandys, Winston Churchill’s son-in-law.

Published at theEuroBlog byEuropean Movement UK 13/06/2014

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