Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Laurence Hodge: Make your mind up Mrs Merkel


The title may sound like a comic song from the age of the Music Hall but distinctly unfriendly noises are reaching David Cameron’s ears from the Federal Chancellery in Berlin.

The runes are not hard to read: Angela Merkel is on a humanitarian mission and where Angela leads, other EU member states should jolly well follow.  Britain’s reluctance to comply has earned it an unambiguous signal that German support for a renegotiated EU deal that Mr Cameron can offer his electorate is contingent on Britain’s taking “its fair share” of migrants and asylum seekers.

Germany, of course, whose foreign policy once led among other things to mass migration within Europe, has six million reasons for being strong on compassion.  However, Paul Collier explains in an excellent piece in The Spectator why a policy of taking in the physically fittest, most enterprising and least risk-averse fraction of the displaced millions in the world is immoral because harmful to the future prosperity of their countries of origin when peace returns.  And while Germans may officially still feel a need to do penance for their past and so accept a proliferation of minarets and muezzins in their midst, official attitudes can sometimes only suppress genuine popular sentiment as demonstrated by the resurgence of Nazi groups in the former East Germany immediately post reunification.

In trying to boss other EU heads of government around, Mrs Merkel torpedoes the idea that the EU is a club with binding rules.  Membership of the Euro imposed disciplines on economic management within the eurozone and as early as 2003 both Germany and France were the first euro states to break those rules by running budget deficits in excess of 3 per cent.  Today, Germany is rather less forgiving towards Greece than Greece and the southern member states were towards Germany for its earlier transgressions.

But what’s this? Hungary is rather admirably standing up to Mrs Merkel’s bullying.  Viktor Orban’s government points to the rules that stipulate that asylum seekers should ask for asylum at their first EU landfall and since land-locked Hungary is no more than a staging-post in the migrants’ march north, it is commendable that this relatively young EU member should be teaching the rest of the bloc a lesson, namely that rules are not there to be swept aside on Mrs Merkel’s say-so.

Rather than wave the migrants through to Austria (where we learn that all is not strudel and whipped cream) and on to the Promised Länder, Mr Orban is taking a Teutonic tongue lashing.  Indeed, it looked on Thursday morning as though he was bowing to pressure from Berlin when the first train left from Budapest’s main train station.  But it transpired that this service got no further than a reception centre which, when all is said and done, is going to be a whole lot nicer than the ones in use when Germans were running the train network out of Budapest.

Mrs Merkel having ignored the Growth & Stability Pact rules to Germany’s advantage over the euro, is now subverting the EU’s rules on asylum, so it’s reasonable to ask what on earth is the point of rules at all?  Worse still, she is inveigling the rest of the EU to bend to her will which, to the extent that she is successful, makes those member states complicit in rule-breaking at which point there cease to be any rules and the EU becomes a banana republic only without the bananas.

If Germany genuinely wants the UK to remain within the EU, now would seem to be a poor time to threaten Mr Cameron, who is drifting comfortably and effortlessly into his second term.  The wretched referendum apart, the barometer is set fair, the sun is in its heaven and the prospect of a Corbyn-led opposition means that Britain’s ergophobic prime minister can sail on largely untroubled until he passes the baton to the man in Number 11. (Editor’s note: ergophobia is an abnormal fear of work!)

But just recently things have started looking a bit ropey as far as that referendum goes.  First, the Electoral Commission has approved a new wording which is less biased towards the europhile camp and some Tory parliamentarians are insisting that government messages in the run-up to the referendum are not manipulated to influence voters in the same direction.  It is increasingly clear that Cameron’s negotiations are leading nowhere and if Angela Merkel is now threatening to take the pinking shears to David Cameron’s fig-leaf, then there is every reason to think the referendum might swing against continued British membership.

If, in the weeks and months ahead, a natural alliance coalesces between states like the UK and Hungary and others who reject Germany’s undeclared hegemony over the Union and the single currency, then Angela Merkel might achieve the unthinkable and consign the whole ghastly project to ashes.  The future of the EU and of Britain’s continued membership or withdrawal is almost entirely within Mrs Merkel’s gift and she needs to do us a favour and make up her mind.  Of course, a braver prime minister than David Cameron would welcome calling Angela Merkel out but Britain is saddled with the present incumbent who will continue the time-hallowed British tradition of Brussels horse-trading whereby this country hands over a percheron, a clydesdale and a suffolk punch in exchange for the promise of a laminitic shetland “when the time is right”.

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Laurence Hodge
Laurence Hodge
Laurence Hodge is a regular contributor to The Conservative Woman

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