All or Nothing

BERLIN/LONDON/PARIS/ROME (Own report) - London's government crisis escalated yesterday under the pressure of Berlin and the EU’s unaccomplishable Brexit requirements. Prime Minster Theresa May has barely survived a vote of confidence, which was ultimately triggered by the so-called backstop. Brussels insists on a regulation, which could indefinitely subjugate Great Britain to a customs union, without an option for a unilateral withdrawal and erect a trade border between two areas of the United Kingdom. These provisions are in Germany's interests, but they will plunge Great Britain into chaos. The current government crisis in France is largely due to the austerity programs imposed by Berlin on Paris - while refusing to make any concessions at the EU level. In France and Great Britain, the extreme right is profiting, like in Italy, where Berlin’s drastic austerity dictates, have already crushed the traditional political establishment.

EU Prison of Nations

Berlin and Brussels’ refusal to grant even the slightest concessions concerning the so-called backstop was the ultimate trigger for escalating Great Britain's government crisis. The backstop stipulates how to proceed, if London and Brussels cannot agree on consensual arrangements for their future relations: The UK would stay in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland would also stay in the single market. Remaining in the customs union is unacceptable for Brexit proponents, because it deprives London of the strategically important option of concluding its own free trade agreements. On the other hand, Northern Ireland’s special treatment arouses indignation even among numerous proponents for remaining within the EU: It would lead to permanent trade controls between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and to a division of the country. This would be tantamount to - using a German example - establishing permanent customs controls between Bavaria and Baden Wurttemberg. Even if a majority in the British establishment may have tolerated these two annoyances for a limited period, that also has been undermined by the EU. It insists on the backstop being permanent - and that London may only evade it with EU consent. This would possibly lock the United Kingdom into the customs union and a divided national situation - from now on.

Threatened with a Loss of Control

Even though the backstop is in full compliance with German-EU interests, Berlin and Brussels are now also aiming - with Great Britain being muzzled - at possibly forcing a reversal of the democratic decision to withdraw from the Union. After having achieved a Brexit agreement that is intolerable for the United Kingdom, London will be left with no other option than to repeat the referendum, it is said. Tuesday, the Chair of Germany's SPD, Andrea Nahles, stated that Great Britain should "reconsider" the Brexit, thereby explicitly confirming this option.[1] Within the British establishment, on the other hand, there is a majority that does not - yet - dare to take that step backwards. It is feared that, should a second referendum come out in favor of remaining in the EU, this would lead to a long-term division of the country and a massive loss of the London elite's control. Many are warning that a large portion of the 17.4 million, favoring Brexit on June 23, 2016, would feel cheated out of their referendum victory and betrayed by the establishment. Even though its party structure has been seriously weakened by leadership conflicts and hefty factional infighting, and in spite of its popular former leader Nigel Farage having quit the party, UKIP is already beginning to regain some of its former strength. Following the referendum victory, it sank into insignificance, hoping, at best, for two percent. However, today it can hope for eight percent at the polls.

"Merci, Monsieur Macron!"

The current situation in France, where a loss of control has recently taken place, is a cautionary example for the establishment in Great Britain. Immediately following his May 14, 2017 inauguration, President Emmanuel Macron began to apply austerity measures modeled on those in Germany. The German government had been demanding this for years. He had hoped that Berlin, in return, would concede to some of his demands at the EU level. The French population will "only accept more reforms" if it "is convinced" that these are "good for France's future," warned an expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in April.[2] Therefore, after his concessions to austerity, Macron is dependent on Berlin conceding to some of his demands - for example a monetary union reform that includes the creation of a eurozone budget, permitting a modicum of redistribution - also to France's benefit. The German government has categorically rejected this. ( reported.[3]) On the contrary, after the current wave of protests started, Berlin reiterated its demand that France cede to Germany more of France's means of influence. During a speech in November in Berlin, Germany's Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz called on Paris to transform its permanent UN Security Council seat into an "EU seat,"[4] which, given the situation, would be mainly under German control. In addition, Scholz has refused all support for Macron's efforts to impose a future EU digital tax on major US internet companies, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, which should have at least helped to somewhat improve France's budgetary situation. The fact that during his speech, Scholz expressed his gratitude to Macron ("Merci, Monsieur Macron! Merci, Emmanuel!"), while refusing every practical support, was seen in Paris as utter mockery.[5]

No Longer a "Budgetary Model"

It was not merely the French president's autocratic style of governing that laid the groundwork for the wave of protests that are now rocking France, but more than anything else, the German government's adamant imposition of German interests, with no consideration for those of Germany's alleged closest ally. Having been deceived by the German government, Macron - under pressure of the mass revolt - has now begun to backtrack on his German-inspired austerity measures, purely for political survival. Thus, he "terminates" his "European strategy," for becoming a "budgetary model, to garner German approval for his European proposals," according to the succinct narrative of a leading German daily,[6] which now accuses him of having made concessions to quiet the protests, paid for with new national debts - to Berlin's disapproval. "His reputation as a reformer is over."[7] Alongside the escalating government crisis, the far-right in France threatens to gain popularity. Whereas, only one-fourth of the population continues to approve of Macron's performance, 33 percent feel that Marine Le Pen's Rassemlement National party (RN, formerly Front National, FN) would best represent the opposition. Ahead of the RN, however, with 34 percent of the population, Jean-Luc Mélenchon's left-wing La France insoumise is thought to be the best incarnation of the opposition.[8]

Confrontational Opposition from the Right

The French development shows clear parallels to the development in Italy, where establishment forces, closely oriented on the German austerity demands, were replaced already in the last elections by a government coalition comprised of the extreme right (the League) and populists (Five Star Movement). Aside from its racist ventures, the new coalition is better known for its confrontational opposition to Germany's austerity policy, which has plunged the country even deeper into economic difficulties and poverty than in France. Berlin's successful bid to prevent Paolo Savona, a prominent critic of German dominance over the EU, from being named the new government's finance minister, ( reported.[9]) has further reinforced popular government support. According to the polls, three-fifths of the Italians are in favor of the government's draft budget, which is a direct challenge to the German austerity dictate.[10] This conflict is not only unresolved, it has the potential of plunging the eurozone into a new massive crisis.

Characteristic Feature of German Politics

The German policy in relation to the EU's 3 politically and economically strongest countries - after Germany - has not only the common feature that Germany pursues its own interests, no matter what, regardless of those of its allies, risking enormous government crises in London, Paris, and Rome. In each case, there are also strong German economic interests hanging in the balance. In the case of the "hard" Brexit, German industry stands to suffer losses in the double-digit billions. ( reported.[11]) Further escalation of the crisis in France also threatens German economic interests. If Italian banks collapse, this could even lead to the collapse of the euro - with unpredictable consequences. The German government banks on an "all or nothing" policy - a maxim that has remained a characteristic feature of Berlin's foreign policy for nearly 150 years, which has twice plunged Germany into collapse, not to mention the damage caused to neighboring countries.


[1] Johannes Leithäuser, Michael Stabenow, Jochen Buchsteiner: Odyssee durch Europa. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.12.2018. See also An die EU gefesselt.

[2] Claire Demesmay, Julie Hamann: Der gebremste Präsident. DGAPstandpunkt Nr. 11, April 2018. See also Hegemonie nach deutscher Art.

[3] See also The Euro Zone Budget.

[4] Scholz: Die EU muss stärker und souveräner werden. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 29.11.2018.

[5] Scholz' Rede irritiert Paris. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 30.11.2018.

[6] Michaela Wiegel: Nur Almosen oder ein Sieg für die Mittelschicht? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.12.2018.

[7] Christian Schubert: Frankreichs Gulliver. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.12.2018.

[8] Bruno Jeudy: Sondage Ifop : Marine Le Pen profite des gilets jaunes. 04.12.2018.

[9] See also Eurocracy.

[10] Matthias Rüb: Salvini beherrscht den Spagat besser als Macron. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.12.2018.

[11] See also The EU's Game of Chicken.