There is an insightful article by William Cook in The Spectator headlined “How Brexit will change Germany.” Mr Cook begins by reminding us of “the summer of 1990, the editor of The Spectator, Dominic Lawson, went to interview Nicholas Ridley, Margaret Thatcher’s Secretary of State for Industry, and asked him about the drive towards European Monetary Union. ‘This is all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe,’ said Ridley. ‘I’m not against giving up sovereignty in principle, but not to this lot. You might as well give it up to Adolf Hitler, frankly.’” That less than diplomatic outburst cost Mr Ridley his seat in the cabinet and ” for a quarter of a century thereafter successive Prime Ministers did their utmost to distance themselves from Ridley’s remarks. Lots of Britons shared his worries about German domination of the Euro, but comparing Helmut Kohl with Hitler was absurd and tasteless. By voicing legitimate concerns in such inflammatory terms, Ridley helped to marginalise the Eurosceptic cause for 20 years.“
But William Cook suggests, “Anglo-German relations are still tainted by that explosive interview. German diplomats and politicians remain acutely sensitive to the charge that the EU is a Teutonic plot to achieve by stealth what their forefathers failed to achieve in two world wars, and it’s this fear of being cast as Europe’s bully boys which means Germany will play no active role in the Brexit negotiations.” The reason Germany will hide, he says, is that “Ridley was right to say that Britons find it intolerable being bossed about by Germans. What he didn’t mention was that other Europeans feel much the same. Economically the other members of the EU depend on Germany but they don’t like to admit it and so, in some respects, the EU’s richest, most populous nation actually has less diplomatic leverage than its smallest, poorest states. It makes no difference if Germans want to carry on selling tariff-free cars to Britain – to maintain European harmony, especially after Brexit, Germany must avoid the slightest suspicion that it’s bossing its EU partners around.“
“And what about Germany’s role in Europe after Brexit?” he asks. “Ironically,” he says “it seems the main result of Britain’s departure will be to make the Germans more Eurofederalist – not because they want to be, but because Brexit will inevitably propel Germany into a closer relationship with France. Macron wants to drive European integration at a faster pace than Merkel, and while the Germans will resist French attempts to pool French debts with German surpluses, without the British there to apply the brakes the EU juggernaut will now move up a gear. One of the unintended consequences of Brexit is that, far from initiating the break-up of the EU, it will most likely bind its remaining members more tightly together.“
He concludes with a warning for Britain, Europe and the world: “Ridley was right to worry about British sovereignty but he was wrong about German motives – Germany has always been a reluctant leader of the EU. Monetary union wasn’t a German racket to take over Europe – it was actually a French attempt to control a reunited Deutschland. Far from seeking to dominate the EU, Germany would love its EU partners to prosper – it would save the Germans a lot of money, and a rising tide lifts all boats. So long as we remained in the EU, Germany could steer a middle course between France and Britain. Now we’re out, it’s the French who stand to gain. Europhobes are wide of the mark when they call the EU the Fourth Reich. A more accurate caricature might be to call it the Sixth Republic.“
I remain convinced that a closer Franco-German partnership is a marriage made in hell and may well propel the EU into the political divorce courts. There are, in my opinion, three distinct and disparate Europes: a frugal, hard working, honest Germanic league: Germany, of course, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland; a Latin league that is less industrious and, when it comes to playing by the rules that a currency union needs, far less honest, composed of France and including Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain; and the rest, including e.g. Ireland and Poland and Hungary, and, and, and … which are in the middle and drifting towards one or the other of the two “big” leagues. Some of them are large and prosperous, others are smaller and weaker, none like to be bullied by either France or Germany; many counted on the United Kingdom to balance the power and, thereby, gibe them room to manoeuvre. Now they will have to choose between one bloc or the other: the industrious, thrifty Germanics or the spendthrift, perfidious Latins.
I also am persuaded that, if the European Union is to survive, at all, what’s needed is a “Multi-speed Europe” where countries, including e.g. Britain, Norway and Switzerland, can choose to “buy in” to various layers ranging from a large fairly free trade zone all the way up to two or more currency unions, I have in past, likened it to a fancy layer cake: a huge, easy to join layer at the bottom where almost everyone can buy and sell goods and services with minimal restrictions and a tiny layer, maybe only a half dozen of the strongest, most stable (and least corrupt) countries can qualify, where there is a top-level currency union.
France and Germany are not well suited to be partners and i disagree with William Cook that France is the big winner ~ it might appear so, in the immediate term, but, in the mid to long term, France cannot compete with Germany and will, sooner rather than late become subservient.