Alphen, the Netherlands. 18 January. Regular followers of my musings will recall that in my blog of last week from the no Snow Meeting in Lithuania I came over all Churchillian and suggested that Britain would never accept German leadership even though Germany will emerge from the European crisis as Europe’s leading power. I stand by that assertion – Britain will never accept German leadership. History is still far too close for that ever to happen. Some of you rightly gave me flak (excuse the pun) over that statement because in isolation it came across as German-bashing. So let me expand on my analysis but put it in a more positive context and explain why a new political partnership between Britain and Germany is vital for both Germany and Europe. Indeed, with another Eurozone kerfuffle about to happen it is important that Berlin accepts and understands that any attempt to shackle Britain will fail. There are three essential factors; economic, political and military.
Economic: Britain is too powerful and too different a European economic actor to accept sole German charge of Europe’s economic future. A range of respected economic commentators, including Goldman Sachs and the Paris School of Economics, suggest that by 2025 the British economy will be significantly bigger than that of France and not much smaller than that of Germany.
Political: Germany, ever haunted by its Nazi past will rightly seek to exercise leadership via the European Union. In such circumstances the European Commission would become a kind of civil service with the European Council reduced to a weak version of the US Senate or House of Lords. So many countries will be indebted to Berlin that German leadership will reach into the national political and economic life of other European countries far more extensively than, say, the Americans during the Cold War. Indeed, the EU’s writ runs far wider than NATO. There must be a loyal opposition to Germany and that can only be Britain.
Military: As Germany becomes more powerful it will become less military – history again. The security and defence of Europe could well be put at risk. This is not least because the US is signalling the beginning of a partial withdrawal from Europe. Thus, the defence of Europe is dangerously weak even as dangerous change takes place around Europe’s borders. As they look beyond Afghanistan both the US and UK will shift away from a continental strategy focussed on Europe towards a maritime strategy that goes beyond Europe. The British for a whole host of military-strategic, intelligence and cultural reasons will follow the Americans whatever happens in Europe. At least this will also mean that at least one European country retaining a commitment to big defence, whatever the short-term cuts to the British defence budget.
Germany will champion a new continental strategy, probably in the guise of a new European strategic culture that will be military-lite in the extreme. The fact and nature of German power will thus cede the defence leadership of Europe to the British. And, indeed the French, if London and Paris can learn to stop scoring ridiculously cheap political points off each other. Germany will thus need Britain to lead the serious defence of Europe.
Therefore, Germany needs London to have the political vision and ambition to forge a political partnership with Germany that would itself legitimise German leadership across much of Europe. That is indeed the private message I am getting from all my trips of late across Europe and why the prospect of Britain disengaging from the EU causes so much concern. Thankfully, there is quite a lot happening behind the scenes that may lead to such a political accommodation.
If not, a decisive shift in the European political balance of power towards Berlin would inevitably push Britain towards the EU exit. Indeed, by accepting German leadership Britain would be tacitly accepting a European Imperium. Britain would over time be reduced to super-Belgium; forced to render unto Caesar what Caesar wanted, not what Caesar deserved nor indeed needed. By Britain standing firm Germany is and must be forced to deal with London as a Great Power, not another European satellite, however irritating that may appear to some in Berlin.
However, to realise such a political partnership London must re-discover grand strategy. In effect, Britain must become to Germany what France has been for many years to the US - difficult but necessary. Whitehall’s acquiescence to Washington might have bought Britain important access to key American defence assets, but it has too often come at the price of strategic subservience and an appallingly risk-averse, astrategic political culture. That must end.
Just for the record some of my best friends are German…really!