What do the Germans want from Europe? As the European Union prepares for the intergovernmental conference in Turin, the German government is pressing for one more stride towards integration. Michael Maclay describes the group of true believers behind Germany's European policyby Michael Maclay / March 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Last May, the people of the Schwarzwald village of Oberkirch commemorated VE Day. More than that, they celebrated it with enthusiasm, sensitivity and panache. The mayor, Willi St?chele, hailed the birth of peace and freedom. Visitors from Oberkirch’s twin towns in France, Belgium, Britain and the eastern part of Germany were entertained at a round of concerts, exhibitions and parties. The hosts struck an appropriate balance between solemn remembrance and hope for the future. The high school orchestra put on an ambitious programme including Gorecki and Britten. On a painfully beautiful spring day, amid the birch and the pines, there could be no better image of the new Europe and Germany’s civilised and central role within it.
Oberkirch is barely ten kilometres from the French border, and its people have compelling practical reasons for being good Europeans. Their economy is enmeshed with that of France. They identify their prosperity and their security with European integration. The Kapellmeister was adamant that he saw no threat to German identity from Brussels. There was unhesitating support for the European Union and explicitly for the Maastricht treaty.
Yet when I quizzed people over their wine glasses on whether they were ready to embrace a single European currency, it was a different story. Either they were uncomfortable with the idea, or they doubted that it would ever really happen. There was no equivocation from the politicians, such as the eloquent Mayor St?chele. But as yet they have not brought voters with them. Polls continue to show that Germans are overwhelmingly opposed to a single currency; that they dislike the idea of enlarging the EU to the east; and are doubtful about paying the higher budget contributions this will require.
The political class is not-yet-disheartened. Witness Chancellor Helmut Kohl restating the fundamentalist case for European integration-to prevent another European war-in his Louvain University speech in February. Or his deputy, Wolfgang Sch?uble, who told Prospect last year that the politicians must lead, not follow, public opinion. With few exceptions, the German political elite wants another substantial step towards European integration. Squeezed between the doubts of their own citizens and the scepticism of other member states, it is not clear that they will get it-at least not soon. Yet Germany’s “European ideology” remains the most powerful magnetic pole in the continent’s debate with itself.
Helmut Kohl’s good Europeanism is instinctive, broad brush and idealistic. To opponents it…