Every now and then you hear the fairly accurate accusation that there is one rule for big EU countries like Germany, and another rule for smaller EU countries. It’s true in many instances, but what is striking about the remark is that people feel that they need to say it, as if it is a new piece of information. Is there anyone who believes that some wag in Prague in the 1930s, or Belgium or Serbia in 1914 said it and other people around him said “You know, you’re damn right! I’ve never thought of it like that before!”
There’s nothing new about big countries having more power than small countries. Yet we say it like it’s a new occurrence in the EU, and that’s because historically the EU has been an incredibly effective means of magnifying small nation power whilst restraining big ones. Now, let’s be honest: the EU and its predecessors have always been more influenced by the larger countries, but also funded more by them. That was the deal. But as an arrangement it has been a success to varying degrees for all its participants.
The system hinges on big countries restraining themselves, and that may be about to change. Angela Merkel is in big political trouble in Germany, possibly the first democratic leader to be removed from office for showing too much kindness. She may well be ousted from office, and there’ll be many both in and outside Germany who will be delighted at her removal.
But you know what? We’ll live to regret it, because Merkel is a European German, and possibly the last German chancellor who thinks of German and European interests as being intertwined. Her successor, whomever that will be, could well not be of the post World War II guilt complex generation.
He or she will regard putting Germany first as being as perfectly normal as the Taoiseach regards putting Ireland first, or the French President putting France first. The difference being that Germany is the most powerful nation in Europe, and a Germany that feels no obligation towards other European countries is a very different Germany from the one we have now.
There are plenty of people who disagree with that. Some of them talk about the Fourth Reich and all the rest, but you know what? They’re fucking morons.
In the words of the historian Timothy Garton Ash this is the best Germany we’ve ever had. Generous, cooperative, part of a European family.
The Germany of Kohl and, yes, Merkel. Only when we have lost it, like so many things, will we realise how valuable it was.