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German endgame for EMU draws ever nearer

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by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Telegraph International Business Editor
Posted September 4, 2011

For fifty years Germany has invariably stumped up the money required to keep Europe’s Project on track, responding to unreasonable demands with grace and generosity. We will find out to what extent Germany’s constitutional court (pictured) shares these views when it rules this Wednesday on the legality of the EU rescue machinery. Photo: AP


It bankrolled French farmers through the Common Agricultural Policy, that disguised tithe for war reparations. It then bankrolled Spanish farmers as well. It funded each new wave of EU expansion, though reeling itself from the €60bn annual cost of its own reunification. It gave up the cherished D-Mark, the anchor of German economic stability.

We are so used to German self-abnegation for the sake of Europe that we can hardly imagine any other state of affairs. But the escalating protest against EMU bail-outs by Germany’s key insistutions go beyond the banalities of money. The fight is over German democracy itself.

Those who talk of a Fourth Reich or believe that EMU is a “German racket to take over the whole of Europe” – as Nicholas Ridley famously put it – have the matter backwards.

Germans allowed their country to be tied down with “silken cords”. They are the most reliable defenders of freedom and parliamentary prerogative in Europe, precisely because they know their history. Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble could hardly have chosen a more toxic term than “Bevollmächtigung” or general enabling power when he requested blanket authority from the Bundestag for EU rescues, as if Weimar were so soon forgotten. He was roundly rebuffed.

You can feel the storm brewing in Germany. Within days of each other, President Christian Wulff accused the European Central Bank of going “far beyond” its mandate and subverting Article 123 of the Lisbon Treaty by shoring up insolvent states, and Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann said bail-out policies had “completely gutted” the EU law.

Both believe the EU Project has taken a dangerous turn. Fiscal powers are slipping away to a supra-national body beyond sovereign control. “This strikes at the very core of our democracies. Decisions have to be made in parliament in a liberal democracy. That is where legitimacy lies,” said Mr Wulff.

Otmar Issing, the ECB’s founding guru, fears that the current course must ultimately provoke the “resistance of the people”. Instead of evolving into an authentic union with a “European government controlled by a European Parliament” on democratic principles, it has become deformed halfway house.

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