Michael Mertes, Helmut Kohl's European policy strategist, warns Euro-sceptics that the German electorate will not revolt against monetary unionby Michael Mertes / May 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
The great thing about voters is that they do what they like. In early 1994, a British colleague tried to convince me that the Bund Freier B?rger, a German anti-Maastricht party, would score 10 per cent in the European elections. It had just been founded by Manfred Brunner, a former member of the Free Democrats and chef de cabinet of EU commissioner Martin Bangemann. Its ideology hovered somewhere between economic liberalism and teutonic jingoism; its programme is a crusade against Emu.
My British friend’s argument had its logic: some two thirds of the German electorate dislike Emu and love their Deutschmark. But mainstream parties in Germany support Emu. Hence, there must be room for an anti-Emu party. This is the logic which no doubt seduced Brunner to set up his one-issue party.
Brunner’s party ended up with 1.1 per cent. Why? The only conclusion we can draw is that German voters distrust the single-issue/one-man show. This is hardly news. We all like a safe bet. Helmut Kohl knows it, and so did Konrad Adenauer. His 1957 campaign slogan “Keine Experimente!” has been the most successful ever in German democracy. But isn’t Emu a colossal experiment? To prevent it, all you need is a mainstream party to take up the anti-Emu issue.
Which party could that be? Obviously not Kohl’s Christian Democrats (CDU); as Michael Maclay put it in Prospect (March 1996), they are the true believers in Euro-federalism. The Free Democrats (FDP) will not desert to the anti-Emu camp either; otherwise why would Brunner have left them? What about the Greens, the new members of the mainstream club? Their “small is beautiful” faith should lead them to oppose new leviathans such as the European central bank in capitalist Frankfurt; but, alas, most of them have come to believe that Europe stands for a “post-national” open-mindedness.
Most German Social Democrats (SPD) are true believers, too. They are certainly not natural born killers of Emu. Some SPD leaders thought it might be a good idea to woo voters who want to hang on to the Deutschmark. Let’s bash Emu and win in 1998. This strategy has just been tested in the Baden-W?rttemberg state election. “Kohl stands alone as Germans shun Emu. Chancellor’s party loses nerve on monetary union,” a British newspaper told its readers, with obvious relish. It continued: “Baden-W?rttemberg, Germany’s richest state, is special because the SPD opposition has decided to turn Emu into an election issue. Dieter Sp?ri, the SPD’s candidate for state premier, warns audiences that he will not let the Deutschmark be sacrificed on the altar of European unity. Kohl has always known that the longer the battle for hearts and minds, the slimmer his chances of winning them.”
The more wishful the thinking, the higher the risk of missing the point. The CDU and FDP won in Baden-W?rttemberg, while the SPD suffered a shattering defeat. True, Emu was not the only issue, and the government must continue to handle it carefully. But the Huns’ collective psyche is more complex than the Sunday Telegraph assumed.
What, then, do Germans really feel and think about monetary union? Public opinion polls show that they are lukewarm about Emu. According to the Institut f?r Demoskopie Allensbach, a leading research institute, more than one third were “strongly” or “moderately” opposed to Emu in early 1996. Slightly more than one fifth were in favour. Not surprisingly, the largest group (nearly two fifths) said they were undecided. In contrast, a growing majority of business people on the boards of large companies support monetary union wholeheartedly. Their opinion may carry more weight in the “battle for hearts and minds” than that of the fingernail-biting politicians.
Election campaigns are competitions for confidence, and confidence is usually based on the competence a person or party is credited with. So who has a better hand in the Emu issue? A growing number of people-pollsters say over 60 per cent-are firmly convinced that Emu will happen, whether they like it or not; among the economic elite the figure is 70 per cent. When asked which party would be best qualified to make a single currency work, 42 per cent say the CDU. The SPD is preferred by only 13 per cent. This probably explains why 56 per cent of the economic elite believe that the Emu issue will “rather benefit” Chancellor Kohl (26 per cent say it will be “rather harmful”; 18 per cent are “undecided”).
As a rule, the CDU’s gains used to be the SPD’s losses-and vice versa. But future competition for confidence could become a less-than-zero-sum game for the SPD if it bases its election hopes on an anti-Emu strategy. The Baden-W?rttemberg experience shows that an anti-Emu campaign could drive the true European believers among SPD supporters into the arms of the CDU, the FDP, or the Greens. Even worse, by boosting anti-European feeling, the SPD could strengthen, at its own cost, extremist political parties such as the far right Republikaner or the ex-communist PDS in eastern Germany.
Opponents of Emu, whether in Britain or elsewhere, would be wise not to rely on the German electorate. Don’t forget: in 1983, public support in Germany for the deployment of Pershing missiles was about the same as it is for Emu today, but Kohl’s CDU still won the parliamentary elections hands down. Let no one underestimate the motivating power, the mountain-moving force of true belief.