Passport

Fear of a German Europe

British MEP Nigel Farage, of the U.K. Independence Party, got up in Herman Van Rompuy’s face last week with an epic rant on the floor of the European Parliament that was also something of a victory lap for the longtime euroskeptic:  While Farage’s speech probably provides some catharsis for fed-up Europeans, the non-subtlety of his ...

British MEP Nigel Farage, of the U.K. Independence Party, got up in Herman Van Rompuy’s face last week with an epic rant on the floor of the European Parliament that was also something of a victory lap for the longtime euroskeptic: 

While Farage’s speech probably provides some catharsis for fed-up Europeans, the non-subtlety of his anti-German remarks was striking:

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We are now living in a German-dominated Europe. Something that the European project was supposed to stop. Something that those who went before us actually paid a heavy price in blood to prevent.  I don’t want to live in a German-dominated Europe and nor do the citizens or Europe.

Farage’s comments are the latest manifestation of the recent bout of Germanophobia that’s been provoked by Angel Merkel’s government’s new status as Europe’s lender of last resort. It’s a sentiment that hasn’t really been seen in Europe since the reunification of Germany, which Margaret Thatcher feared "would undermine the whole international situation and could endanger our security." 

Farage may be something of an extremist, but Thatcher’s Tory successors have been getting in on the latest handwringing as well. Here’s  London mayor and Conservative heavyweight Boris Johnson in a recent interview with the Telegraph

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“What I don’t think you can do, is just pretend that you can create an economic government of Europe, effectively run by Germany. That’s no… that’s not meant to be provocative towards Germany. Germany’s just thrust into that position, by sheer economic weight and political necessity. I’m not saying the Germans are being hegemonic in this. But I don’t think it’s right for us; it’s not right for Europe.”

Simon Heffer of the Daily Telegraph was not so polite, in a column accusing Germany of "using the financial crisis to reconquer Europe":

[Financial markets] may hope their salvation, apart from pulling out of the single currency and devaluing, would be to accept Germany properly bolstering the euro and effectively colonising the Eurozone.

This would entail a loss of sovereignty not seen in those countries since many were under the jackboot of the Third Reich 70 years ago.[…]

Every spending department in every government in the Eurozone would have its policy made in the old capital of Prussia.

And if the people did not like their governments being left with fewer powers than a county council, that would be tough. The alternative is ruin.

Where Hitler failed by military means to conquer Europe, modern Germans are succeeding through trade and financial discipline. Welcome  to the Fourth Reich.

There’s been some pushback against the notion. For instance the left-leaning New Statesman ran a piece this week dismissing fears of a"Fourth Reich" and arguing for the necessity of Germany’s role in responding to the crisis. But it’s a general rule that when magazines have to run stories denying that German economic policy is driven by a hidden Nazi agenda and do it with a great big swastika on the cover, it’s not so good for Germany.

This isn’t just limited to Britain. In once Nazi-occupied Greece, the media has targeted the unfortunately named European Task Force, Horst Reichenbach, with tabloids dubbing him the "Third Reichenbach" and running photos of his office with the tagline, "The New Gestapo Headquarters." Protesters routinely don Nazi uniforms to protest what is seen as a new German imposition on Greek sovereignty.  

This is something of a can’t-win situation for Germany. When it approves loans to struggling Southern European countries and imposes conditions on debtor governments, it’s accused of trying to redominate Europe. When it’s reluctant to give those loans, Greek lawmakers demand the money as reperations for wartime atrocities and commentators suggest that the Germans are being stingy because they’re sick of atoning for its past and "are convinced that their country’s foreign policy has been driven by servile submission for too long." Other outside commentators argue that the German government’s antipathy toward deficit spending is a result of the "1920s hyperinflation seared into German psyche."

Unfair as these attacks may be, it’s understandable that Europeans are resentful and confused about what seems like a rapid loss of national sovereignty. Plus there’s a certain element of Godwin’s Law at work. If America’s most popular radio host can compare the policies of an African-American president to Nazism, it’s not the surprising that actual former victims of Nazism would reach for the same analogy. 

British MEP Nigel Farage, of the U.K. Independence Party, got up in Herman Van Rompuy’s face last week with an epic rant on the floor of the European Parliament that was also something of a victory lap for the longtime euroskeptic: 

While Farage’s speech probably provides some catharsis for fed-up Europeans, the non-subtlety of his anti-German remarks was striking:

We are now living in a German-dominated Europe. Something that the European project was supposed to stop. Something that those who went before us actually paid a heavy price in blood to prevent.  I don’t want to live in a German-dominated Europe and nor do the citizens or Europe.

Farage’s comments are the latest manifestation of the recent bout of Germanophobia that’s been provoked by Angel Merkel’s government’s new status as Europe’s lender of last resort. It’s a sentiment that hasn’t really been seen in Europe since the reunification of Germany, which Margaret Thatcher feared "would undermine the whole international situation and could endanger our security." 

Farage may be something of an extremist, but Thatcher’s Tory successors have been getting in on the latest handwringing as well. Here’s  London mayor and Conservative heavyweight Boris Johnson in a recent interview with the Telegraph

“What I don’t think you can do, is just pretend that you can create an economic government of Europe, effectively run by Germany. That’s no… that’s not meant to be provocative towards Germany. Germany’s just thrust into that position, by sheer economic weight and political necessity. I’m not saying the Germans are being hegemonic in this. But I don’t think it’s right for us; it’s not right for Europe.”

Simon Heffer of the Daily Telegraph was not so polite, in a column accusing Germany of "using the financial crisis to reconquer Europe":

[Financial markets] may hope their salvation, apart from pulling out of the single currency and devaluing, would be to accept Germany properly bolstering the euro and effectively colonising the Eurozone.

This would entail a loss of sovereignty not seen in those countries since many were under the jackboot of the Third Reich 70 years ago.[…]

Every spending department in every government in the Eurozone would have its policy made in the old capital of Prussia.

And if the people did not like their governments being left with fewer powers than a county council, that would be tough. The alternative is ruin.

Where Hitler failed by military means to conquer Europe, modern Germans are succeeding through trade and financial discipline. Welcome  to the Fourth Reich.

There’s been some pushback against the notion. For instance the left-leaning New Statesman ran a piece this week dismissing fears of a"Fourth Reich" and arguing for the necessity of Germany’s role in responding to the crisis. But it’s a general rule that when magazines have to run stories denying that German economic policy is driven by a hidden Nazi agenda and do it with a great big swastika on the cover, it’s not so good for Germany.

This isn’t just limited to Britain. In once Nazi-occupied Greece, the media has targeted the unfortunately named European Task Force, Horst Reichenbach, with tabloids dubbing him the "Third Reichenbach" and running photos of his office with the tagline, "The New Gestapo Headquarters." Protesters routinely don Nazi uniforms to protest what is seen as a new German imposition on Greek sovereignty.  

This is something of a can’t-win situation for Germany. When it approves loans to struggling Southern European countries and imposes conditions on debtor governments, it’s accused of trying to redominate Europe. When it’s reluctant to give those loans, Greek lawmakers demand the money as reperations for wartime atrocities and commentators suggest that the Germans are being stingy because they’re sick of atoning for its past and "are convinced that their country’s foreign policy has been driven by servile submission for too long." Other outside commentators argue that the German government’s antipathy toward deficit spending is a result of the "1920s hyperinflation seared into German psyche."

Unfair as these attacks may be, it’s understandable that Europeans are resentful and confused about what seems like a rapid loss of national sovereignty. Plus there’s a certain element of Godwin’s Law at work. If America’s most popular radio host can compare the policies of an African-American president to Nazism, it’s not the surprising that actual former victims of Nazism would reach for the same analogy. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tags: EU, Europe