The article «Germany Home Alone» in the conservative weekly Junge Freiheit includes the gloomy observation that «England is out, and in France the influence of the National Front is growing… 59 years after signing the Treaty of Rome, skepticism is spreading in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy. There’s no one home but Germany. Rich, yet helpless». But it’s hard to believe that this dejection is sincere. The problem was simply that initially the German press still didn’t understand what aspects of this astonishing move by the British were appropriate for comment and what observations should best be muzzled. Yes, sometimes it’s best to remain silent, delicately refraining from pointing out one possibility that no circumspect German would ever utter aloud – that this is the chance for Europe to become German!
But not much time had passed before the German media quickly swallowed their bitterness over the Brits’ departure and changed their tone, now calling the Brexit «a huge opportunity for Europe». At any rate, once the results of the referendum were announced, it was Berlin that took the initiative to schedule an emergency meeting, inviting its partners from among the EU’s founding members. After the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave several interviews. He believes that it will not be easy for the EU to extricate itself from the crisis, but along with his EU colleagues, he is fully committed to making the European Union strong again. And France and Germany must accept their special responsibility in this matter.
Of course it is very diplomatic and even gallant to name France first, but still! Everyone today understands Barack Obama’s statement that henceforth he will negotiate with Germany over European affairs.
It is worth taking a close look at the details. For example, Germany has already proposed the idea of promoting the position of the German language in the official documentation of the European Union. After Great Britain pulls out, only five million EU citizens will be native English speakers (the citizens of Ireland and Malta), whereas German is the first language of 90 million Europeans.
Some European institutions could also be moved to Germany. For example, Barbara Steffens, the health minister for the Germany state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has supported the proposal made by German pharmaceutical companies that the office of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) be moved from London to Bonn.
All the talk about how «it will be very bad if the British vote against EU membership» was exaggerated from the start. Nobody is asking how the European Union managed to survive prior to 1973. Or why Charles de Gaulle twice blocked Great Britain’s attempts to join the European Union (a fact that for some reason politicians on both sides of the channel seem to have now forgotten)? Or why the UK, which never joined either the eurozone or the Schengen Area and which holds its own (Anglo-Saxon) opinion on most pan-European issues, is so important for the future of a united Europe?
It should be remembered that after the war, a united Europe was created with the expectation that its economy would be stronger thanks to a united market. In fact, the European Union was then known as the Common Market. Naturally that economic union had to hold its ground against the socialist camp in the East, but there was more to it than that. There were assumptions that it would also compete with the United States and become an independent seat of power. In reality however, for Europeans, European unity ended up meaning submission to US interests and US capital. That’s just how things work: when a tool is misused – it breaks.
What does a «united Europe» mean? Are today’s European elite capable of grasping what Europeans want, without looking to America or waiting on instructions from Washington? Frankly, it is not clear that the current German government is up for this.
Yes, there are those in Germany who want to raise the status of the German language in European politics. However, there are also proposals to introduce English as Germany’s second official language. That is the recommendation of the liberal Free Democratic Party. Their new party slogan, adopted at their annual congress in May of last year, is «German Mut» (German courage). This proposal has already been accepted in Düsseldorf and was also welcomed by the mayor of Dresden, Dirk Hilbert. Most university classes are taught in English and some German research institutes publish their papers in English only. This fact is not as insignificant as it might seem at first.
Finally, the reaction of the British elite offers some food for thought. There is a good reason David Cameron announced that he would not resign for another three months: clearly he expects something to happen during that time … And what do you know? On the British parliament website, the list of electronic signatures demanding a second referendum is growing. Only 100,000 signatures are required for a petition to be reviewed by parliament, so the gathering of names could have been suspended after just a few hours. But they’re letting it continue. Why? Perhaps because there are plans to play the same kind of game that we saw in Austria, where only a count of the mail-in ballots kept a Eurosceptic out of the president’s office. But in Austria – in contrast to the UK – no one is planning to schedule a second vote.
So meanwhile the prospect of a German Europe remains uncertain. It exists, but only as one of several possibilities. And one shouldn’t expect the current German government to reject Washington’s suggestion that Berlin replace the UK as the leading proxy for US interests in the European Union. However… this game’s not over yet.