A United Europe

Thank you, Your Majesty!

Queen und Gauck Laif_distort
Happy to have the Queen in Germany: President Gauck.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Germany came as Britain is considering an exit from the European Union and Greece is just a few steps away from leaving the 28-country union.

  • Facts


    • British Prime Minister David Cameron accompanied the queen during meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German dignitaries.
    • The queen was met with flag-waving crowds at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on the last day of her visit.
    • Later Friday, she visited  the former Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen where teenage diarist Anne Frank died in 1945.
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Colorful hats, formal clothing ― the royal fan loves such spectacles. But the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in Berlin and Frankfurt is more than a succession of pretty pictures of the English monarch posing with Germany’s chancellor or president. The queen’s clear advocacy of  European unity was a strong signal in times of uncertainty.

The heads of state and government in the European Union are negotiating in Brussels about a “Grexit.” On the island across the channel, calls are growing ever louder for a “Brexit.”

And the queen? She isn’t actually allowed to express her opinion regarding political matters. But with her experience of government and life itself, the 89-year-old warned about a dangerous division in Europe that demands attention from those in both the east and west of the continent.

Thank you, Your Majesty! That’s what all those who believe in the European project will have thought in this moment. This one statement, made while her prime minister, David Cameron was sitting alongside her, is the one that will be remembered.

But  I wish we could also have a debate about what your prime minister is asking of Europe. It seems, in a nutshell, that the British want to pay less money and receive more privileges than they do now.

With regard to money, the first thought is that all other Europeans, especially Germans, will have to make up the difference. But maybe we can also have a long-overdue discussion about the Brussels subsidy machine . The European Commission can dress up the figures however it wants, but it is a scandal that so much money is spent on agricultural subsidies while Europe desperately needs money for investments.

It is important for Germany that another large country in the European Union stands in favor of the free market economy and free trade.

From a German point of view, it is advantageous that Britain has repeatedly voiced stubborn opposition in money matters. Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, long ago insisted on a limit being put on the insatiable appetite of Brussels. That was good for Germany, which was happy to hide behind the British and, despite all its economic advantages, not be compelled to become an even bigger paymaster.

During the queen’s visit, much could be read into the fact that her Bentley is produced by Volkswagen. This seemingly trivial item shows how economically dependent both sides are on each other. Germany and Europe need Britain, just as the reverse is true.

It is important for Germany that another large country in the European Union stands in favor of the free market economy and free trade. Britain’s history is marked by worldwide trade and a deeply rooted Anglo-Saxon tradition. London operates on the principle of more market and less state. Like no other people in Europe, the English stand for open markets and far-reaching free-trade agreements. London, so wary of state intervention, is an ideal counterweight to the French who, with their enthusiasm for state control, would best like to be bound head and foot to Brussels. French socialism and English capitalism. Europe needs both, but there needs to be an equilibrium. Standing in the middle is Germany with its social market economy. The European Union needs all these. If one part were to break away, the whole union would become weaker.

Remember too that the British also want a smaller administration in Brussels. It is the perfect ally for Germany, which has railed against Brussels’ tendency to centralize.

And why should Britain to remain a member of the European Union? Because the era of the Empire is over. The City of London is eloquent on this. The financial center needs to be connected to the entire economy of the European Union. The E.U. meanwhile is a barrier-free trade zone for its 28 countries. This cannot change. Policies regarding the economy and competition must be interlocked.

But the Ukraine crisis has made it clear that Europe needs  cohesive foreign and security policies. The continent needs to act together. And it needs Britain. 


To contact the author: sigmund@handelsblatt.com

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