The Great Debate UK

Germany at the crossroads


By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

Baby-boomers like me, who grew up in the shadow of World War II, have to acknowledge with gratitude that the Germany which again dominates Europe is in most respects a model democracy – multiracial, prosperous and contented. However, there is one worrying aspect of the German mentality which seems to have survived intact from its unhappy history, and it is an aspect which is likely to be tested to the full in the coming weeks and months.

From the moment when the Maastricht Treaty was dreamed up in the early 1990s to the inception of the euro zone in 1998, Germany had any number of opportunities to kill the project off and indeed, time and again, policymakers in Bonn or Berlin or Frankfurt voiced their reservations in public. The Bundesbank, in particular, with its overwhelming prestige, spoke out forcefully against what it saw as the dangers of premature monetary union.

Yet, while Tony Blair, who dared to take Britain to war in Iraq in the face of overwhelming public opposition, nonetheless baulked at taking his country into the euro zone without a referendum, and while France actually had one (which the pro-Maastricht side only won by a whisker), Germany’s leaders felt no such need. On the contrary, Chancellor Kohl famously rejected the idea of consulting his electorate on the grounds that, if the opinion polls were to be believed, he would almost certainly lose.

What is it about the Germans that makes them willing blindly to follow a leader, even though they fear he is taking them over a cliff? Am I alone in finding this a worrying national peculiarity?