A thought for Remembrance Sunday – a letter from our Chairman

This letter was sent to a number of local newspapers in the Midlands area.

Sir,

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, perhaps we should consider the words of the German Chancellor concerning the European project –

“ We must create a…European Economic Association to include France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria, Hungary …Italy, Sweden and Norway….All members will be formally equal but in practice under German leadership and must stabilise Germany’s dominance over central Europe”. (Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, Imperial Chancellor, 9 September 1914).

The European Union is well-suited to these long-nurtured ambitions. It is noteworthy that the states of Central Europe are today becoming increasingly restive under their predetermined subject role in this geopolitical construct. For home consumption, today’s German politicians occasionally refer to their “benevolent hegemony” over the area. Few would deny that it is exercised in a more enlightened way than earlier attempts – but hegemony means hegemony, just as Brexit means Brexit.

This geopolitical Weltanschauung predates the political unification of Germany and remains influential in academic and political circles. One eminent German businessman broke free from the mental shackles of the past in a rousing speech in the House of Lords on 24 October by  invitation of Lord Fairfax at a meeting arranged by Global Britain. He was Dr. Markus Krall, Managing Director of Goetz Partners in Frankfurt.

He contrasted the top-down, authoritarian rigidity of the EU project with the long-standing tradition of liberty typified by the Britain’s parliament. He said “ Germany is probably the one country in Europe that was emotionally and intellectually least prepared for the news that a majority in the United Kingdom had decided to call it quits with the European Bureaucratic Union…. We Germans – regrettably- have a tradition of belief in the infallibility of government. While the liberal school of Anglo-Saxon origin views the state and its bureaucracy with a healthy dose of scepticism, this is not so between the rivers Rhine and Oder”.

Let us hope that Dr. Krall’s refreshing wind of change will blow through the corridors of power in Germany and Europe. We can then look forward to honouring the sacrifice of our war dead in the reasonable expectation of a happy “Concert of Europe” – something like the “Europe des Patries”, envisaged by General De Gaulle and the association of countries advocated by Winston Churchill.

Yours faithfully

 

 

Edward Spalton

 

 

The Brexit negotiations – a German perspective

This speech By Dr. Markus Krall was delivered at the House of Lords on the  invitation by Lord Nicholas Fairfax on October 24th, 2017 Although rather long, we feel it is well worth reading right through as it is a most helpful explanation of the predominant German mindset. The original was first published by Global Britain and is used with full permission.

Honorable members of the House of Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I Introduction and Summary

Before sharing my perspective on the negotiations of the terms of separation of Britain from the EU, or Brexit, allow me to express my gratitude for the invitation and the opportunity to speak to you at the House of Lords. I feel honoured and privileged to have been invited by Lord Fairfax.

This parliament stands as a beacon of liberty and free speech going back to times when the continent was still subject to the power of absolutist, non-constitutional monarchs. This long standing tradition of liberty lies in my humble opinion at the heart of the decision that

the majority of the British people has made with regards to its future role in Europe and the world. I would like to put my deliberations into perspective:  A German perspective I will deliver to you today,

is not one shared by the German government or mainstream media. It is rather my personal one which is based on a number of discussions with political staff in Berlin, including government officials, members of parliament, and lobby groups.

Based on this I will try to provide you with a brief picture of the German and the Brussels mindset and their interaction regarding Brexit before spending a few remarks on the misguided game theory approach resulting from the underlying ideological edifice. This will lead us directly to what I think to be the German governments, specifically Mrs. Merkel’s, approach and how the gaps in its consistency can provide opportunities for the UK negotiation strategy. Finally I will take the liberty for a very short statement why I am taking an EU-critical position in a debate that is well known to my valued audience.

II  The German State of Mind

Now, allow me to start with some observations about what I would like to call “the German state of mind”. I once stumbled upon a little article in the Economist recounting an anecdote from 19th century France: Emanuel Litrè, the leading French linguist of his time once

Fell prey to an error of judgment and as a consequence was caught by his wife with their housemaid in the conjugal bedroom in flagranti. As his wife entered the room she exclaimed “Dear, I am surprised!” And what did the erring Frenchman reply? “No dear, you are astonished, it’s us who are surprised.” The term “astonished” very neatly describes the state of mind regarding Brexit in Germany, especially among its economic and political leadership. Germany is probably the one country in Europe that was emotionally and intellectually least prepared for the news that a majority in the United Kingdom had decided to call it quits with the European Bureaucratic Union. That has several reasons.

One is that we Germans – regrettably – have a tradition of belief in the infallibility of government. While the liberal school of Anglo-Saxon origin views the state and its bureaucracy with a healthy dose of skepticism this is not so to the same degree between the rivers Rhine and Oder. This is also true for the media, which are toeing the “official line” because 80% of journalists identify themselves as left of centre. There is a resulting lack of democratic control and public debate.

Secondly, very much in line with the undemocratic decision-making the EU has adopted, we have seen a systematic erosion of the rule of law in Germany regarding European matters. This included the illegal bail out of broke €urozone members, Greece among others, the thinly-veiled practice of government funding by the ECB through various programs in contradiction of the treaties and the opening of the borders in clear defiance of the Schengen treaty. It is, by the way, a most deplorable observation that you can cajole my fellow countrymen – or at least a sizeable minority of them – in to going along with the erosion of the rule of law if it’s for a presumed greater moral good. The end justifies the means.

The EU is a clear beneficiary of this attitude as Government and Brussels have become interchangeable terms for good reason. So for a majority of Germans as well as of officials in Berlin it was simply an unthinkable heresy when British voters said “we leave”. As it actually happened, they were completely astonished, and intellectually unprepared.

Thirdly, in the past, Germany and Britain have often been aligned in efforts to tame the Brussels bureaucracy, and push the EU towards free trade and open borders. The common market in its original free trade design was largely the result of Margaret Thatcher’s pressure. The Germans, who didn’t have the same political weight as a result of well-known historical developments gratefully took this for granted. The presence of Britain in the EU was in the German view a necessary counterweight to the school of étatisme, the primacy of the state bureaucracy coming from Paris. Now this balance of power in the EU is damaged. To put it bluntly: You guys are leaving us alone with a bunch of socialist Latin-European nut-heads. We are not delighted.

III The Brussels Attitude

The EU bureaucracy immediately adopted a hostile attitude towards your country’s democratic  decision. It was viewed as a dangerous precedent, especially in the light of the frictions caused by the Euro and the widening cultural divide between what Donald Rumsfeld once called the old Europe versus the new Europe.

In the bureaucrats’ view, nobody should be incentivized to leave the club or even to think about it. He must not go unpunished. This attitude makes it impossible, by definition, to tolerate an economically successful United Kingdom outside the Brussels sphere of hegemony. Because if Brexit is a success, economically, politically and socially there is proof to the pudding that prosperity s possible without them. The plethora of Europe’s presidents from Schulz (now ex-President) and Juncker to Draghi and Tusk would be walking naked –  emperors without clothes.

The resulting reaction has several elements:

  • Accusations of the vote being undemocratic because the British voters are not adults, and therefore presumably followed liars
  • Meting out punishment in the form of an extortionate “Brexit Bill”, and
  • Propagating fictional beliefs as facts which don’t stand the test of reality.

The result is what I call a Brexit trap consisting of a prisoner’s dilemma to be solved in a timeframe that is insufficient if one follows the Brussels script.  From all this brouhaha guiding negotiation principles were derived with the aim to let those little warm-beer-drinking and on the wrong side of street of history (let alone real roads) driving inhabitants on a chilly European archipelago understand their political heresy: “Turn back and repent, you English fools!” The indulgence selling priest Johan Tetzel would have loved the drama.

Let us take a closer look at the parts:

  • Liar’s Poker:

The accusation that the voters fell into a trap of lies originated, of all places, in the EU Commission whose bibulous president Juncker once coined the telling bon mot “if things get serious you have to lie!” Well, let me cautiously put it that way: This is difficult to beat in terms of irony, hypocrisy and unintended satirical quality.

  • The 100 BN €uro bill:

The final sip that the subsidy-hungry Brussels bureaucracy and its sycophants would like to take out of the net-contributor bottle that generously used to be provided by the United Kingdom. This is the indulgence receipt for those little black souls on the banks of the River Thames. Just to imagine Britain could ever be willing to continue the huge transfers which were one of the main reasons to leave the club is totally bizarre. However, bizarre and Brussels are compatible. The British tolerate this kind of thing by calling it “eccentric” which means several standard deviations away from the norm of mental sanity.

  • What are those fictions being mixed with facts?

Fiction No 1: “We must not allow cherry picking”

This statement insinuates it is an altruistic act towards others to open your own borders for free trade. The EU which, if the new US President offers himself as a convenient target, presents itself as a champion of free trade and permanently talks of win-win through open borders, yet has no problem whatsoever to ask non-members for entry payments for common market access. That is a kind of protection money in return for not obstructing the free flow of goods and services with tariffs. That doesn’t mean though they will not obstruct it with non-tariff hurdles. They are just giving it a different name. They call it “regulation”, “norms” and “ban” and it’s almost a no-brainer that all the small countries in the Brussels periphery have to swallow these toads and translate everything into their national legislation. Bruxella locuta, causa finite. Trade imperialism at its bes.t

Fiction No 2: “The four freedoms of the common market are indivisible”

This fiction is supposed to give strength to the demand of unlimited immigration and to make it impossible for EU member countries and Great Britain to deflect the storm of badly trained and even worse educated immigrants into their social systems. The claim of indivisibility is pure nonsense of course. No free trade agreement the EU has negotiated with third countries under the flag of TTIP, CETA or any other acronym makes this assumption. The reason is quite simple: Other large countries would tell the EU in unflattering words what they think of this if the demand would ever be brought up.

Fiction No 3: The United Kingdom needs the EU more so than vice versa

Yes, the market for goods and services is larger in continental Europe. So what? If you are running a trade surplus of 120 billion Euros annually, you don’t want to put that at risk, do you?

That though is the EU surplus with the UK. A continent that by design and ignorance, has neglected its infrastructure for security and defence over decades might have an incentive to be friends with a country which didn’t commit that folly. Again Brussels has to look over the Channel. The party that has – with over 3 million – three times as many people working in Brexit country compared to just one million British working on the continent should be interested in not failing on a deal to protect all of them, does it? Who needs whom in this situation? Is that really so clear? I beg to differ.

Fiction No 4: 30.000 regulations need to be renegotiated

Smugly the members of the platitude party point out to us that 30,000 EU regulations and laws supposedly need to be renegotiated between Great Britain and the EU27 and that it would be impossible technically to achieve this. In this we can find a misunderstanding and an involuntary confession: The misunderstanding is that Britain and the EU have to agree on all paragraphs of this deluge of laws. Is it not rather a sovereign decision of the United Kingdom to adopt these regulations partly, in full or not at all? If the EU views some of them as conditional for a free trade agreement they should draw up a list and use CETA and TTIP as benchmarks. Then one can discuss if the UK can accept that list or not.

Now to the involuntary confession: We are flooding the continent with so many regulations, laws, executive orders and decrees that it becomes impossible with normal human capacity to comply with the law. Winston Churchill had a comment on this: “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law”. Exactly! Juncker’s minions have over delivered on this by a factor of three.

IV The EU Chicken Game Theory Negotiation Guide

The political intention behind the use of these fog grenades is easy to discern and one could even have a certain tolerance for it, if it was just about the creation of a rational negotiation strategy. The problem is: Europe’s politicians have told this to each other so often in their echo chamber that by now they really believe it! They have fallen prey to their own propaganda.

The result of this giant echo chamber of mutual self-assurance and stew of self-righteousness is the conviction that the Brexit negotiations are inherently a game of chicken. The one who first

blinks will lose. The concept is completely insufficient to capture the inherent complications of the problem, but also pretty obviously overtaxing the intellectual capabilities of its proponents. The enemies in this game of chicken are not just the insubordinate secessionist rebels in London, but all countries and political forces toying with the thought of following their example; or those just daring to remind the Bureaucratic Party of the principle of subsidiarity in an “ever closer union”. They shall get a preemptive lesson that it will be painful to spurn the intrusive love of those who define their political raison d’être in attaching their tentacles to other people’s fridges.

This game theoretical toxic waste is even articulated by some professors who belong to the close circle of advisors of the German government. It is though pretty obvious that the question as to what game we are playing is far from resolved. This game is not one of chicken. It is not an “I win you lose” game. That is only the case in the thin intellectual reasoning of people who would do well to learn about the assumptions and limitations of game theory before they employ it and turn it into a guide for their political war cry.

Looking at the economic and technological realities mentioned above makes it clear this game rather is a prisoner’s dilemma. Incentives for cooperation will be switched of on both sides as a result of the erosion of trust. This is a sorrow state of affairs that will produce losers only. The ability for critical reflection has been degraded and degenerated by this exercise in such a way that old and proven principles of behaviour and respect in the mutual dealing between sovereign nations have gone overboard.

This is specifically true regarding the respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the United Kingdom. Quotes bubble up from Europe’s capitals about the desire for secession of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, even of London! The NATO ally Spain is encouraged to abuse the opportunity for a Gibraltar debate by giving Madrid a veto over a matter they had not even asked for.

Instead of minding their own business they are minding the business of a sovereign nation in a completely outrageous way. Why? Because they do not view members of the EU as sovereign states with sovereignty embodied in the will of their people. This is the Juncker version of the Brezhnev doctrine. EU member states are viewed as provinces which have to be administered for the advantage of the administrators and whose population (note: not People!) is granted the privilege to occasionally applaud in an acclamatory fashion in order to demonstrate their gratefulness.

In clear denial of the facts it is being claimed that for Scotland there is indeed a new situation after Brexit justifying a new vote on independence. When Scotland voted, the Brexit vote had already been scheduled. Everybody knew it could go either way. So Scotland voted, in the full knowledge of the possibility of Brexit, for the continued Union with England. What then is the new fact on the ground? Would another outcome of the vote also have constituted a reason to vote again? Do we want to turn every democratic decision of political significance in the future into a reason to split up nations after centuries of common history due to regional differences in the voting result?

The whole debate is testament to the abysmal disdain of the Brussels bureaucrats and their satraps for the voter’s will and the expressions of this will by the people. Polls are accepted only if they fit their purpose. Especially with regards to European matters we have seen it more than once that people were called to the polls until the result was compliant. In this sense Ms. Sturgeon is a docile padavan to her Brussels masters: Repeat the vote until you get what you want and then lock that in. This lack of democratic credibility is a central Leitmotiv of the EU`s governance, where the composition of every decision making body is s the result of horse trading instead of universal suffrage.

There is a reason why the term “one man – one vote” originated in the English language. We even use the English term in Germany quite frequently. This reason is the historically developed democratic tradition on the island. And this is the very same reason, why the British have a deep rooted aversion against undemocratic bureaucratic elites. And it will be damned difficult to exorcise it out of them.

V The German Government’s Situation and Position

Let me briefly talk about the German governments political motivations. The first element driving the German government into the arms of Mr. Barnier ́s confrontational approach is the budgetary aspect. The UK is, together with Germany, the only other net contributor of significance to the EU-Budget. The expectation that the sycophants in the Berlaymont will not reduce their subsidization and redistribution schemes because of Britain ́s departure can be taken for granted. Getting a budget under control, let alone reducing one is totally anathema for this “class distributif”.

Germany alone has not nearly enough votes in the EU Commission, the council, or any other common institution to organize cuts in line with the smaller size of the budget available. In every European council exercising power, from the commission to the ECB, the rule of one ountry – one vote leads to the absurd result that the weight of a voter is inversely proportional to the size of his country’s population. In the doubtlessly most influential body on the continent, the ECB council, a Maltese voter has the weight of 204 German voters. That probably reflects the fact that a Maltese understands monetary theory and policy 204 times as well as a German citizen. I dare to call this sorry state of affairs a special form of apartheid. It contradicts democratic principles and traditions and an institution with the ambition to replace democratic nation states cannot claim any legitimacy on such a basis.

And even though Germany does have some leverage, albeit not de jure but de facto, Merkel does not want to use it as a matter of principle – unless forced by circumstances. If the outcome of the recent elections can contribute to this remains to be seen. I would so far say it didn’t. So, not willing to pick a fight over budget reductions and savings in the corridors of the Berlaymont, chancellor Merkel has decided that the Brexit bill is of utmost importance to limit the additional demands directed at Germany. To blow it up to €100BN would imply that Britain’s net contributor position is preserved for a decade or so at current levels. Needless to say, the coalition formed by these interests will not want to give anything back in return to the UK taxpayer.

Deflecting these demands from Britain can only be managed by disputing the components of the bill line by line, demanding value added in return, a quid pro quo, because that was also part of the deal in the past. And free trade is certainly not a quid pro quo in this sense, because both sides profit from it from the start, the EU even more so than the UK.

There is a second element which I believe has a large influence on a number of key decision makers in Berlin, especially on our very powerful finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. He is part of a generation of politicians with a genuine “faith” in the EU as the central “project of peace” on the continent. This group does not believe that they can succeed in building a new version of the Europe des Patries that the founding fathers dreamed of if the existing institutions are demolished and hence support the misguided idea of an “ever closer union”. For that reason they don’t see the original vision as an option any more. What they see being endangered is no less than their lifetime achievement. This is no weak force for inhibiting sound judgment.

The problem they face is the timely coincidence of Brexit with the €uro-crisis. They know that it is impossible to push the southern European countries towards the market reforms necessary to enable their economic survival inside the €urozone. They have tried and failed repeatedly. However the €uro is of such centrality in the ideological edifice they have erected that it is being defended come hell and high water even in the face of complete absurdity, unsustainable cost and life threatening risks.

The €uro, however, is the time bomb that will likely blow up the European institutions in a single cataclysmic event. I am convinced it will do so during the next German government’s term in office. The reason is simple. The Euro has created huge trade imbalances inside the Eurozone. Goods and capital have been flowing from a super competitive Germany (for which the €uro is undervalued) to a decrepit “Club Med” (for which the €uro is overvalued). As a consequence, unsustainable levels of debt held by Germany through a variety of vehicles have been accumulated. At risk are bonds bought by German institutional investors (€1.8 TRN), the ESM commitments as part of the “Euro-rescue” efforts (€200 BN), and the Target-2 exposure.

Target-2 is an overdraft loan the Bundesbank has handed out at zero interest, unlimited, unsecured, for indefinite time and without any control or discretion to the other central banks of the €uro system. As of September 2017 it added up to €850 BN. I call this combined approximately €2.8TRN exposure my country is running “the biggest hedge fund on the planet with one single bet, namely that the €uro will be saved”. The problem with this sort of policy is that it creates imbalances in the real economy which cannot be kept under the rug forever. Specifically the flat yield curve at zero level erodes the earnings power of commercial banks. Our calculations show that most German and indeed EU commercial banks will start suffering substantial operational losses from 2019/20 onward.

This translates into shrinking risk taking capacity of the banks which in turn leads to shrinking credit volumes, shrinking bank money creation and deflationary pressure. Paradoxically the desperate push for more inflation thus will create deflation.

Furthermore, the zero interest rate environment has kept hundreds of thousands of companies in business that would have gone bust under normal cost of capital conditions since 2007. Thus, it created what I call an army of corporate zombies which infect the banks credit books with junk quality loan exposures. These companies will fail in the event of rising interest rates or a downturn in the business cycle. Their breaking wave of defaults will likely lead to losses north of €1,500BN for the €urozone banking system taking down more banks than the US mortgage crisis did.

While refusing to acknowledge this publicly, the German government has been made acutely aware of these imbalances as the OECD, IMF, BIZ and a number of private institutions have all confirmed the estimate that so called zombie firms are by now making up 9-10% of Europe’s total number of firms. It reinforces the stance of Juncker, Barnier, Merkel and Schäuble that they must avoid cracks appearing on the facade of the remaining EU-27. Politically they cannot afford to lose a single additional country. Not from the EU, and not from the €urozone, as leaving it automatically involves a trigger to leave the EU.

VI The Leverage the UK can apply

Now, how does this play into the Brexit negotiations? Paradoxically, this situation could be leveraged by the UK to the advantage of a constructive negotiation strategy. It might be a winning strategy to put some focus on Berlin in the coming months. This has several reasons:-

It is of utmost interest for Germany to avoid being pushed into an even higher net contribution after Brexit. This can either be achieved by an outrageous Brexit bill for the UK or by savings in Brussels. The UK needs a clear communication strategy to the German public and political decision makers that spending in Brussels necessitates big cuts. A targeted PR strategy  focusing on Germany might be worthwhile to be considered. The EU-27 have a 120 BN €uro trade surplus with Great Britain, much of it coming from the bilateral trade between Germany and the UK, much of it easily substituted from other sources. When I attended a presentation of a Ministry of Finance official to the commission of the Economic council for the Financial Industry a few months ago this matter was brought up in the subsequent discussion. It very quickly resonated with the representatives of companies and banks that were present. However, before the number was thrown into the debate, 95% of the participants were unaware of it.

The resulting question for the UK negotiators is: How can public awareness be built with the effect to create political awareness? The security debate in Germany is heating up. The influx of 1.5 Million refugees from Syria and North Africa, 85% of them young men, into Germany has created a severe public security problem. Germany has dropped to rank 51 in the global travel security index and now trails behind Rwanda, Morocco, Korea, Albania, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan. Cooperation with the one country in Europe that is leading in electronic intelligence is therefore imperative for our security. That fact alone creates a certain level of leverage through mutual interest and it would not hurt reminding Berlin of this.

We are also witnessing an increasing tendency for the Russian bear to flex his muscles. At the same time our American friends are dealing with an internal constitutional crisis. It is clearly of the utmost importance for the European members of NATO to step up their own defence spending and reinforce their mutual defense commitments. Here, realistically there are three, possibly four relevant countries: UK, France, Germany and Poland. The survival of the EU is conditional on the continued willingness of the militarily significant European members of NATO to work together for mutual defense. The critical decisions will be taken in Berlin, Paris, London and Warsaw – not Brussels. Again, it is clear that the UK would not use this as a point of leverage, but Berlin can be obtuse when it comes to issues of defence and it would not hurt to remind the Chancellor of these matters.

Why do I believe this collection of German interests is relevant for the UK? Because while we have seen above what the current drivers of the Merkel administrations behaviour are, it is also clear that she does have a huge leverage over the other key players, namely Macron, Juncker, Barnier and the governments of the southern periphery which she is reluctant to use:- The monetary policy of the ECB which currently accommodates the unwillingness to reform Italy, Greece, Portugal and others could not be conducted without Merkel ́s tacit approval. Draghi wants to continue this as long as he presides over the ECB-council in 2019.

France ́s president Macron has aimed for a mix of timid reforms and more intra-European redistribution. Transfers and socialization of risks through schemes like Eurobonds, etc. are his goals. There will be some sort of deal of money for reforms and although I don’t think it will work, he is looking to Berlin for help. President Macron’s  biggest worry currently is that the liberal FDP opposed to this gains too much strength in a future German government.

Italy needs, apart from the continuation of the ultra-loose monetary policy Berlin’s tacit approval to rescue more of its banks with tax payers’ money in violation of the new treaty regulating failed banks resolution, a move that will create more debt and more target-2 transfers from the Bundesbank to the Banca d`Italia.

To summarize it: Germany is the one country in Europe that can least afford to let the Brexit negotiations fail. And it is the one country with the largest leverage over the negotiations while at the same time refusing to use it. This may have some implications for the UK`s negotiation strategy. I also think any discussions need to take place at the very highest level, power is concentrated in my country and it would take a rare courageous minister to buck the line coming from the Kanzleramt.

However, make no mistake with regards to Chancellor Merkel’s attitudes. She will not be helpful to the UK without the application of what I would call “constructive pressure” changing her European equations in favor of a balanced result of the negotiations!

VII Concluding Remarks

Honorable members of the House of Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during its finest hour, Sir Winston Churchill, whom I regard as the greatest statesman of the 20th century, and whom I hold in the highest esteem for liberating Europe and my home country, once coined the immortal phrase: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

For me in this matter there is one simple truth: The British people have made a democratic decision in line with your best traditions, values and a vision of Britain that recaptures and preserves its state of liberty, freedom and democratic patriotism, a role model for a free and prosperous Europe. They have done this because they observed that those values collide with the direction the EU has taken. This decision is to be respected and this is a truth that is currently attacked by malice, derided by ignorance, but in the end, there it is.

I thank you very much for your kind and patient attention

 

The miller’s tale – a series of reminiscences

EPISODE 1 – Early intimations.

“Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing boy” – Ode on intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood by William Wordsworth.

We moved into the countryside from the house next to the mill in 1950 and our old home became offices and a laboratory for our family business.. Going into the business made my later close acquaintance with the European project inevitable.

That was all in the far, unsuspected future when I went on a school visit to Germany in 1958. The German boy I stayed with asked me “Have you heard about our Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft? It will guarantee our living standard”. Neither his English nor my German was up to translating the word. So an answer had to wait until we got home. As soon as I asked our teacher, several other boys said

“My chap said exactly the same thing”. So it was obviously something they had been taught in school.

Our teacher, Mr Rhodes, explained that the word meant “Economic Community” and it had been started by a new treaty the previous year between France, Italy, Germany and the Benelux countries.

We discussed it for a while and thought it was a very good idea that these continental countries were co-operating with each other. “But remember,” said Mr. Rhodes, “This shows a difference in tradition between our countries. You would not be taught a political opinion like that as a fact in a British school.” How times have changed since!

This was the first time I remember people talking about what was called “The Common Market” and, whilst we wished the neighbouring countries well, I don’t recall many people being keen on the idea of our joining it ourselves. Matron was an exception but she was a Liberal – then a very small parliamentary party. One prominent member was a Lady Violet Bonham Carter who was so extremely enthusiastic that a radio comedian dubbed her “Lady Violent Common Barter” !

Interest moved up a notch around 1960. By then I was a pupil in a firm of corn merchants at Banbury, called Lamprey & Son Ltd. Their office was next to the town hall and had a high sloping desk with stools – no lounging in executive chairs! The accounts were still kept in hand-written ledgers upstairs. On my arrival, the manager, an austere man, passed me a weighbridge ticket – 5 tons 2 hundredweights three quarters and one stone. “There you are boy. Twenty five pounds twelve shillings and six pence per ton. What does it come to?” When I asked for a piece of paper to do the calculation “Lord love you, lad. What have they been teaching you all these years?”

Farmers came into the office on market days to order what they needed, to pay their bills and to be paid for grain which we had bought from them. It was a busy cheerful place and I clearly remember one nice old boy, a smallholder who had lost a leg in the First World War, asking the manager. “Well, Mr Humphries, be you goin’ to join this ‘ere common market?”. It didn’t rank very high in our concerns amongst the general bustle of a busy office. I did many jobs in that firm from bagging coal to really responsible tasks. Our boss, Roger Bradshaw, was only about ten years older than I. His father had died quite recently. So it was very different from working for my father. He would give a task, such as taking over the running of the retail shop without any detailed instructions and his favourite exhortation was “It won’t take you five minutes to get hold of it”.

Sometimes it took me much longer but I was allowed to make mistakes as long as I owned up. His son phoned me a few days ago to say he had been asking after me and this put me in mind to write these reminiscences.

After two happy years I went back home. Our most profitable product was a milk powder food for baby calves which my father had developed. He knew that technical advances were taking place in Holland and we eventually came to an arrangement with a large Dutch firm to use their formulations and made several visits to their mill to effect the technology transfer.

It was on one of these visits in 1962 or 1963 that I first came across the European Common Agricultural Policy. I was watching wheat come down a conveyor and suddenly saw purple grains. Now the only reason I knew for purple grains was ergot – a very nasty fungus which causes abortion in cattle amongst other things and there seemed to be an awful lot of it. The director who was looking after me said he would explain it all that evening. I learned that the grain had been dyed because it had been subsidised for use in animal feed. The dye ensured that the wheat could not be diverted back into human food. He explained the whole complicated system which also subsidised the use of milk powder in calf food.

I had never come across anything quite so odd in my life. We then had free trade in food and feed at home. How on earth could a common sense people like the Dutch have come to use such a complicated (and frankly barmy) system? “Little Holland is neighbour of big Germany,” my host said “and the Germans wanted it”. It was then that I remembered that he was very senior and I was very junior and a guest in his house. So I thought I had probably spoken out of turn.. His speech was quite matter-of-fact, as if describing the weather. I also knew that he had flown with the RAF during the war. So I shut up but remembered.

It would be ten years before we entered this system. In the meantime, many people were quite well-disposed to the idea of joining the “Common Market”. Mainland Europe was doing much better than us economically. We always seemed to be strikebound in major industries and things were rather shabby here in comparison to their rapid progress. There were also people I respected greatly, who had done great things in the war. “This will be marvellous for you and your generation Edward. It means you will never have to suffer the sort of things we did.” You had to take notice of people like that. But nobody could explain to me why they had such a crazy agricultural policy.

Germany will never, ever pay more than now for NATO

This post originally appeared in the Raedwald blog. The author lives in Austria but originally hails from Norfolk.

Many of us will have grown up with the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) – either as serving soldiers or like myself as army brats. There was a time when Gütersloh, Fallingbostel or Sennelager were more familiar to us than Slough, Reading or Peterborough. The BBC even had a forces radio programme, and knowing at least half a dozen BFPO numbers was par for the course. Well, BAOR disappeared without notice in 1994. The 25,000 remaining troops in Germany became BFG, now down to about 4,000 and scheduled to pull out completely by 2020, almost exactly in line with Brexit.

The change came with the fall of the wall in 1989. Before then, our lads were to play a vital role in forming a heroic but utterly pointless sacrifice in holding up the Soviet advance through Germany to France for about 72 hours. Then we all thought it an essential sacrifice. Now we wonder, why bother? Perhaps France and Germany would be better off under Russian rule. Why shed British blood in their defence?

When Trump abstained from the traditional annual G7 offering of American blood in Germany’s defence last week he too must have felt the same. Germany has been financially raping Europe for thirty years, sitting on a vast pile of gold as she threatens, bullies and manoeuvres others to pay for everything, like some nightmare dining partner endlessly disputing the division of the restaurant bill.

Turkey is now a Salafist terrorist nation and belongs nowhere near NATO. In bullying the Netherlands into ignoring the veto of the Dutch people and extending full EU privileges to Ukraine, the EU has just given Putin another poke with a sharp stick. The UK will find it hard to mobilise even 6,500 troops – we need a standing army of 100,000 to put an adequate force in the field. Germany’s armed forces are to all purposes entirely useless. Amidst the ruins of NATO (and oh yes it’s now finished in all but name*) there’s only France to defend the EU.

Merkel may gamble that she’ll get away with it, and perhaps she will. But without British and American wealth and blood to pay for it. We’re done.

*Also proving the rule that corporations are most likely to fail at the point at which they open a spanking glossy new multi-billion dollar HQ

Macron’s victory may create more problems than it solves

Emmanuel Macron campaigned for – and indeed, won – the French Presidential election on an unashamedly pro-EU platform. His victory was greeted with huge sighs of relief across the Continent. Rather ironically, however, his enthusiasm for the Single Currency and indeed the European project as a whole may have the opposite effect, as John Stepek pointed out in a recent edition of Moneyweek magazine.

At the heart of the problem is that when it comes to further integration within the EU and in particular, the single currency area, it is far easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.

A broad range of economists acknowledge that so many economically divergent nations pushing ahead with a single currency in the 1990s was far from ideal. If a monetary union is to work, fiscal and political union, while not prerequisites, certainly reduce the risk of a catastrophic failure. As it currently stands, the Eurozone is far from being an optimal currency area.

This is exactly the line Macron has been taking. In other words, as Stepek puts it, “He’s one of the rare pro-eurozone politicians who’s actually quite honest about the euro and the eurozone. He is calling openly for a much closer Europe. He reckons that Europe needs a common budget, a common banking system – effectively, a full-blown United States of Europe.”

Any French politician who has made such a proposal in the past has been fobbed off by Berlin with the curt instructions to put their own house in order first. Reforms to France’s generous pension arrangements, bloated public sector and short working week have been often proposed by a number of newly-elected Presidents only to be scuppered by tyre-burning, stone-throwing protesters backed by France’s powerful trade unions.

But just suppose Macron succeeds where his predecessors have come to grief. Even a streamlined French economy will take years to converge with Germany’s and then, what about Italy or Greece? Following Macron’s victory, the headline in the Bild newspaper, which Stepek describes as the rough German equivalent of the Sun, was “How expensive will Macron be for us?”

This is not just the heart of the Eurozone’s problem – it highlights a major stumbling block with the whole European project. Germany has been happy to be a net contributor to the EU’s funds via the EU budget. In some ways, it would be very churlish of the Germans to moan about this. Labour market reforms in the first decade of the 21st Century made German businesses more competitive and the single currency also made German goods relatively cheap in other Eurozone countries. Italy and Spain, habitual devaluers before adopting the Euro, have lost this option. Unable to weaken their currency and thus boost their export markets, businesses in these countries have failed to compete with the Germans.

The unemployment figures bear this out. Only 3.9% of working age Germans are out of work and youth unemployment was a mere 6.7% in March. The corresponding figures for Italy are 11.7% and 34.1%. Spain and Greece are even worse, with overall unemployment at 18.8% and 23.2% respectively and more than two out of every five young people out of work in both countries.

Closer fiscal union means that not only would German taxpayers be paying into the EU budget to rebuild the infrastructure of the former Soviet bloc countries, but they would be liable for the social security and pension benefits of unemployed and retired Greeks, Italians and Spaniards. At the same time, a banking union would increase German liabilities if an Italian bank went bust. In short, it would be all pain for the average German (who is doing very nicely out of the Euro) with very little gain.

But surely the gain would be the big step towards full political integration which has always been the goal of the EU project? We are now getting to the heart of a fundamental flaw in the whole federalist vision. The idea of an United States of Europe may have been appealing in the late 1940s when everyone was keen to find a format which would prevent another world war. The problem is that while certain intellectuals, particularly on the political left, have long had an internationalist outlook, ordinary men and women are far more attached to the concept of nationhood and ethnicity, even though they may not even be aware of how deep that attachment runs.

But the subject of fiscal transfers, along with the related issues of benefits and welfare, can be guaranteed to bring such sentiments out into the open. Even in the United States of America, there is considerable resistance in some states to a European-style welfare state – and significantly, the states in question are the most ethnically diverse. It seems to be hard-wired into our nature that we are more willing to make sacrifices for people who are “one of us” than for people we perceive to be different.

A German, whose public sector employees have to work well into their 60s, is therefore unlikely to take kindly to subsidising the pensions of Greek public sector workers, many of whom used to retire in their 50s. But Greek austerity is biting impossibly hard. At our Annual CIB rally, Ambassador Chrysanthopoulos told us that his own pension had been cut from 3,400 euros per month to 1,200. If the recently announced cut of a further eighteen per cent applies to him, he will be down to under 1,000 euros a month – and he reckons himself lucky! So real hatred for Germany is building up in Greece, as is impatience with Greece in Germany. The German people may yet find the price of European empire too high while poorer Greek households on the most basic social security are currently receiving around 8 euros per household (not per person) per day. So starvation stalks the land – all in the name of building a European superstate.

An extreme example? Perhaps, but it illustrates graphically the challenges which Macron’s election has brought to the surface. How deeply does the average German, Greek, Frenchman, Swede, Pole, etc  – as opposed to an intellectual or a politician – really love the EU? If the depth of love of the rank and file isn’t strong enough to transcend ethnic and cultural divisions or to be willing to endure financial deprivation and extreme hunger, the only question which Macron, Merkel or their successors will need to consider is how the whole EU project can be put peacefully to sleep without a total political and economic catastrophe.

Photo by Lorie Shaull

Customs Union: from Zollverein to irrelevance

By Ian Milne

Preamble

Orwell’s Nineteen Eight Four came out in 1948, less than a decade before the official birth of the European Community.  In Orwell’s vision, three totalitarian super-states, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, were perpetually at war.

The European Community was – is – merely the latest version of the chimera of a single European state that had been pursued in the nineteenth century by writers such as Victor Hugo, by Continental tyrants such as Napoleon, and, in the twentieth century, by German governments led in 1914 by Bethmann-Hollweg  and from 1933 to 1945 by Hitler.

Consciously or not, the European Union was built on similar assumptions: that the post-war world would consist of huge “blocs”, competing for resources & markets, and that European states were destined to amalgamate into a single state. In the Eurocrats’ weltanschauung – world-view – North America constituted one bloc, Europe another, while to the East, (the Soviet Union, its first candidate, having failed) China would exercise hegemony over the Asian land-mass.

The EU Customs Union

Since its accession to the “Common Market”,  “British Trade Policy is not to have a British Trade Policy”. The UK hasn’t been in control of its own trade policy since 1973. What the UK has had since 1973 is being trapped – for the first time in its history – inside a customs union – the EU Customs Union.

The EU Customs Union, the only one in the developed world,  is a relic from the “Fifties” –  the 1850s. This is how it came about.

In  German & French “received wisdom”, customs unions are (still !) a peculiar obsession. The 19th century German customs union – “Zollverein” –  was the mechanism associated in the German collective consciousness with the Bismarckian creation of Prussia & then the German Empire.

On 4th September 1914, a few weeks after the  outbreak of the First World War,  Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg issued his letter setting out German war aims. War aim number four1 was to “create a central European economic association through common customs treaties…….”. (A Figaro journalist, Eric Zemmour, describes this as a plan for the “vassalisation économique” of France through the mechanism of a customs union2.)

Two years later, in 1916, when the war wasn’t going too well for Germany, Berlin offered a separate peace to the Belgian Government (then in exile in Le Havre3), involving the evacuation of German occupying forces from Belgium & the signing of a bi-lateral Belgian-German customs union4.   This was turned down by the Allies.

In early 1917, when a compromise peace with Britain, France and Russia might just have been possible, German aims were for a “German peace” with a customs union led by Germany and with the involvement of Austro-Hungary and Romania, thereby solidifying Germany’s hold over its supposed allies and converting them to a de facto part of the peacetime German economy, no different from Alsace-Lorraine and a large slice of Belgium which Germany also proposed to retain.

In the next war, in 1942, when Germany still believed it would win, the Reichsbank organised a conference5 in Berlin to plan how Germany would run the European economy afterwards.  This involved a European Customs Union – Zollverein – very similar to the one we have today.  (It also involved a single currency with – believe it or not – an opt-out for the UK).

 Almost two centuries on, in 2016, with average customs duties worldwide (including in the UK) down to a little over one per cent6, customs unions have lost whatever economic raison d’etre they ever had.

The EU is likely to experience a significant decline as an important trading partner in the future due to demographic issues. These two Global Britain briefing notes (here and here) list the projections for population growth and decline within and outside the EU. It is particularly interesting to see the very different projections for France and Germany.

Ian Milne

1          The full text (translated) is: “We must create a central European economic association through common customs treaties, to include France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, Poland “sic”, and perhaps Italy, Sweden, and Norway.”
2          Eric Zemmour, Figaro, 29.9.16 
3          The building which housed the Belgian government in exile between 1914 & 1918 survived the 1944 bombing & still stands in Saint-Adresse, a suburb of Le Havre.
4          Georges-Henri Soutou, La Grande Illusion, 1914-1920, pp 75.
5         The title of the 1942 conference was “Europäische Wirtshaftsgemeinschaft”
6          In 2013, 82 % by value of all UK imports of goods from outside the EU bore zero customs duties. The remaining 18% of such imports bore an average rate of EU-mandated customs duties of 8%. That 8% average is likely to be lower now.

 

Photo by Polybert49