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18 October 2012

Britain’s membership of the European Union – is it time to quit the Muppet Show?

Who said the Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

Here, for instance, is an in-depth report from Spiegel Online on the prospect of a British exit from the EU, which contains one entire joke:

  • “When then-President Charles de Gaulle blocked England's accession to the European Economic Community, one of the precursors to the EU, in 1963, he said: ‘England's simple participation in the community would considerably change its nature and its volume.’ The same now applies, only the other way around, for a Europe in which the British are at best spectators in the gallery, like Statler and Waldorf, the two old men on ‘The Muppet Show.’”

Comedy gold.

But the article does makes a number of serious observations:

  • “From the German perspective, the British always provided a counterweight to the French penchant for government control over the economy and trade barriers. For Berlin, they guaranteed that the EU did not compete with the United States on the global political stage. That was why Merkel long opposed any development that would permanently leave Great Britain behind.”

In German eyes, it seems that Britain’s purpose within the EU is to serve as a human shield, absorbing all manner of blows to its national sovereignty, but impeding French ambitions in the process.

However, there is a problem – and his name is David Cameron:

  • “...the Cameron administration's unwillingness to compromise leaves the German government with no choice. Berlin's official position continues to be that all integration steps must be fundamentally available to all EU members. But in reality the chancellor has long since come to terms with the fact that there will no longer be a path back to the center of the union for the British.”

Hardline sceptics in this country may see Cameron as a tool of the European Union, but from a German perspective he’s a spanner in the works:

  • “...no one with any political responsibility has any illusions about London's European policy... ‘We find it regrettable that England is taking certain steps without us,’ says Rainer Brüderle, the parliamentary leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP). But he also knows where Germany's policy priorities lie. ‘We must eliminate the birth defect of the euro, and we need a stronger political union.’ And that, apparently, will only be achievable without Great Britain.”

Though it’s probably best that German politicians don’t allude, even metaphorically, to the elimination of birth defects – Herr Brüderle does have a point. The EU’s all-consuming priority is sort out the single currency, a mess that is not of Britain’s making. However, in order to do so, France and Germany, together with their various satellites and dependencies, are committed to a course of action that is incompatible with British sovereignty. Neither side is in a position to compromise, so, in the medium to long-term, an obvious solution presents itself:

We must leave the muppets to get on with the show.


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