Anti-European Sentiment Grows: German Warnings to Britain Fall on Deaf Ears

By Ralf Neukirch

Growing ranks of euroskeptics in the UK have Prime Minister Cameron scrambling to adjust his country's relationship with the EU. And diplomatic warnings from Germany and the US against such measures have only further encouraged anti-EU voices there.

A German politician created a stir in the UK last week when he said that isolation within the EU "cannot be in Britain's interest." Zoom
picture alliance / dpa

A German politician created a stir in the UK last week when he said that isolation within the EU "cannot be in Britain's interest."

Gunther Krichbaum is a quiet man who rarely makes front-page news in Germany. But the member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) did just that in the United Kingdom last week.

"One of Angela Merkel's closest allies has warned David Cameron not to try to blackmail the rest of Europe," wrote the Guardian. The tabloid Daily Mail called Krichbaum's remarks "effrontery." And Douglas Carswell, a parliamentarian with Prime Minister Cameron's Conservative Party, said that Britons "don't want to live a life directed by Germany."

The comments were sparked by statements Krichbaum made in London after traveling there with a delegation of German parliamentarians for political talks. Krichbaum, who chairs the European affairs committee of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, had warned against the UK's possible isolation within the European Union, saying that it "cannot be in Britain's interest."

The statements were prompted by Cameron's announcement that the UK intends to loosen its ties with the EU in some shared policy areas. His statements also couched a threat. If the UK's European partners refused to consent to its plans, he suggested, it might block efforts by Germany and other member countries to further integrate the euro zone. When asked how Germany might respond to this threat, Krichbaum said: "You cannot create a political future if you are blackmailing other states."

Fears of a Referendum

It might have surprised Chancellor Merkel to learn that people abroad view Krichbaum as a member of her innermost circle. But it wouldn't have bothered her, because she probably tends to agree with what he said. For weeks, in both official meetings and through unofficial channels, Merkel's conservative government has been sending Cameron the same message: We want to keep you in the EU -- but we won't create a new EU just for you.

It's no coincidence that this message is growing louder, either. Cameron plans to deliver a long-awaited keynote speech on EU policy in the coming days. Both Merkel's Chancellery and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs fear that he will use the speech to announce a referendum on the UK's membership in the EU, in addition to making further concessions to the euroskeptics within his party. Before that happens, Berlin wants to clarify what will be tolerated -- and what won't.

The German government has already said multiple times that Cameron shouldn't expect much accommodation in the matter. Granting the British additional special rights, it argues, would prompt other countries to make similar demands -- something Berlin certainly intends to prevent. "Europe isn't some event at which everyone can do whatever they feel like," says one senior government advisor. "In the end, the British have to decide whether they want to remain in the European Union or not."

High-ranking diplomats from both countries had a chance to discuss their differences shortly before Christmas at a closed-door meeting in Berlin at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The Germans in attendance got the impression that the British were unwilling to budge. "In London, they think they have the upper hand," says one top German diplomat. "They already made the same mistake two Decembers ago, when they blocked the fiscal compact." The agreement championed by Merkel obliges signatories to implement balanced-budget legislation and accept automatic sanctions for violating the new deficit rules. In the end, it was signed and implemented without British or Czech support as an international treaty outside the EU legal framework.

Euroskeptics Gain Ground

There is growing concern in Germany that Cameron won't be able to keep Britain in the EU despite his own desire to prevent an exit. His plan to renegotiate the country's position within the 27-member bloc is an attempt to mollify an increasing number of euroskeptics who are becoming more radical.

"There is a great danger that Great Britain's exit from the EU will become a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Barbara Lippert, the SWP's director or research. "The pressure on Cameron from the right wing of his party is enormous." However, Lippert also concedes that, if a referendum were to be held, "the pro-European forces will also make themselves better heard."

Last Wednesday, Germany received clear and unexpected support for its position. Philip Gordon, the United States' assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, used a visit to London to make it clear what Washington thinks about Britain's plans. "We want to see a strong British voice in (the) European Union," Gordon said, adding that this would also be the best thing for the "special relationship" between the British and the Americans.

Still, it's doubtful whether Germany's refusal to compromise or US interventions will succeed in influencing sentiments in the UK. Warnings by the country's partners seem to have had little influence on the anti-European press. "How Dare the US Lecture Us about Staying in the EU" read the headline for one outraged commentary in the tabloid Express. Janice Atkinson, its author, went on to surmise that, even though she is "not a conspiracy theorist," the fact that Cameron is about to give his speech and Gordon and Krichbaum issued "parallel" warnings on the same day "suggests that somebody is manipulating us."

It seems that rational arguments don't get very far in today's debate over whether Britain should remain in the EU.

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

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1.
thorpeman@sky.com 01/14/2013
Zitat von sysopGrowing ranks of euroskeptics in the UK have Prime Minister Cameron scrambling to adjust his country's relationship with the EU. And diplomatic warnings from Germany and the US against such measures have only further encouraged anti-EU voices there. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/euroskepticism-grows-german-warnings-to-britain-fall-on-deaf-ears-a-877406.html
Why cant Europe just accept that Britain & the EU are not compatible & stop trying to stir things up even more? This will only harden attitudes even further & guarantee a more hard line attitude towards the EU. Its less that people here dislike Germany or France or Spain rather we simply detest the European Union & its social mismanagement of people & their economies. The Euro is an idea that is at least 100 years before its time & that is why there is a problem that will never go away.
2.
pmoseley 01/14/2013
As a Brit, and a pro-European, having lived on the continent for some years, I am in agreement with most of this article and believe that a UK exit from the EU would be an economic and foreign relations disaster. I also strongly disagree with the notion that Cameron is to attempt to blackmail his European partners by clawing back some agreed powers in exchange for allowing neasures to save the Euro; the currency which Cameron claims to support. However, part of this scenario is built from a frustration with the slow pace of budget and policy reform in the EU, the increasing dominance of Germany as a dictator of economic policy, the undemocratic nature of the decision-making in the leadership, and the historical, economic and legal differences between the UK and most of the rest of the EU members. In addition, the UK is actually helping the EU to make economic progress by blocking EU treaty changes because these would most likely be rejected by the electorate of several states, as has been proven in the past. Instead of constantly griping at the UK's unwillingness to submit itself to conditions which are not in it's self interest, the EU leadership should focus far more on resolving these issues as they represent a source of friction, not only with the UK, but also with several other EU states.
3. Britain in the EU (or Britain Out of the EU)
sylvesterthecat 01/14/2013
It was exactly forty years this month when Britain joined the 'EU mark 1'. It was 'sold' to us by our politicians as a trading bloc in a way that only a xenophobe could object to, so we joined. What has happened since has been well documented and for one reason or another we are a divided 'union'. As a Eurosceptic, I want my country out. However, I do understand the majority of our EU partners want a real 'all in the same bed' European Union. That's OK by me as long as Britain is not part of it and that fact is respected by our partners. No doubt things would work out quite smoothly were it not for our politicians who actually want to stay in the EU. Yes, Cameron is a Europhile which is why it is necessary for the apparent majority of people,to push him towards a referendum and possible exit from the EU. It is ironic that the perceived 'tipping point'was Cameron's veto just over a year ago. People and the press seemed to realise that the pretence that while we could have different views of where the EU was heading, we could nevertheless cooperate and proceed more or less as before. After all, actual union is decades away isn't it? .. er well, no it isn't, not any more. So here we are, thinking about divorce if not yet started proceedings. whether or not Britain leaves the union will depend on the results of the referendum (and we WILL have a referendum.) If we are to leave, please let the divorce be amicable.
4. Britons not wanted
Inglenda2 01/14/2013
Britain has a class system which can only work in isolation. Only by avoiding such things as equal chances for all, can those in power continue to enjoy their unearned privileges. For this reason the British folk have never been told the truth about the chances a really United Europe could give, were it not for the national egoisms, which ruin every authentic chance for unification. Britons who have made the decision to reside on the continent, are mostly Pro-European, but strangely enough, this open-minded group of people is punished by EU policies. For example, a Briton who lives permanently in Germany loses his right to vote for the British government, but is also not allowed to vote for the German parliament either. Obviously Pro -European Britons are just not wanted in their own country and have no place within the Union.
5. Choices
Iwantout 01/14/2013
The reality is the UK population appears to want nothing to do with a project that results in a politically united EU, despite 40 years of leaders telling them what a great thing it is. For obvious reasons the Euro Zone must have closer integration and soon. The problem is then two diametrically opposed drives. The solution is either the UK leaves the EU entirely with consequent difficulties for both parties, or a looser purely trade based association with consequent difficulties for both parties. In short either way there will be problems. A looser association would however offer both sides a greater likelihood of maintaining positive relations to the benefits of all. The third possibility of retaining the UK in a highly / totally integrated EU against the obvious will of the people despite the consent of the elite would be a nightmare for all. If you thought the UK was awkward before I suspect a population that felt completely disenfranchised would be even worse.
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