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04 December 2015

POLITICO: Achtung, Brexit

The Germans may not be exactly happy to see Britain leave the EU, if it comes to that. But neither do they seem willing to concede much to make it stay.

[...] So it would make sense, surely, for the Germans to be agitated about the loss of a fellow contributor and potential ally in their efforts to reform the EU. Why, then, don’t they seem all that worried? Do the Germans not care about Britain? [...]

So, yes, we care about Britain. But when it comes to European matters, German patience has run a little thin. In or out? The British people will soon vote on a question that isn’t exactly new. The U.K.’s relationship with the EU has been rocky from the very beginning. [...]

No wonder, then, that British and German attitudes to the EU aren’t that far apart. An increasing number of Germans would prefer to see key political issues — like labor laws or regional aid — handled by national institutions rather than by Brussels. And conservative Germans in particular would prefer to rein in EU spending and limit the eurozone to a few North European economies. But unlike the British with their Brexit, the Germans wouldn’t even flirt with the idea of a German exit. [...]

Much thought has been given to the question of what Brexit would mean for the U.K. But what about Germany? Some British Euroskeptics, ever wary of German power, have suggested that the Krauts would rejoice in total EU domination. But that’s unlikely. Germany doesn’t want to dominate. When U.S., French and British armies go to war somewhere, the Germans prefer to sit back and provide moral support and first-aid kits. And with Britain missing in Europe, they might feel even more isolated than before. The cultural rift between Northern and Southern Europe has widened as a result of the euro crisis, and a British departure certainly wouldn’t help in that respect. You can bet it would reduce the EU’s clout on the world stage too, and that’s not in Germany’s interest either. Put simply, we don’t want to be left alone with the PIGS.

On the other hand, the economic impact might not be as catastrophic as doomsayers suggest. What are the Brits going to do, after all? Join NAFTA? Rev the Commonwealth back up? London’s mayor Boris Johnson suggested an economic alliance with Switzerland, to be called Britzerland. Or perhaps they’ll try Great Borway, a union with Norway. More likely though, the Brits will decide against severing economic ties. If the Eurocrats let them, they’ll replace the current set-up with comprehensive bilateral treaties along Swiss lines, and that shouldn’t hurt Europe all that much.

So, yes, a majority of Germans would like the U.K. to remain a member. But in the end, the German commitment to Europe is greater than to a nation of islanders who’ve been indecisive and standoffish from the beginning. We want them to make up their minds, once and for all. And we don’t want the EU to make significant concessions to keep them on board. In or out? The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius has said that there cannot be a Europe “à la carte” and that the British efforts to overhaul relations with the EU was like joining a soccer club and then deciding abruptly “that we’re now going to play rugby.” The Germans — who prefer soccer to rugby — are with the French on this one. When you warn the Krauts of Brexit, you won’t hear them say, “Please don’t go.” Our response is: “Dear Brits, we want you to stay. But go if you must.”

Full article on POLITICO


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