16 MAY 1992, Page 22


Don't let's be beastly to the Germans


British gloating about German industri- al and economic troubles is understandable but it is also ignoble and it does not make much practical sense. A healthy German economy is essential to the future of the European Community, particularly if it is to expand to take in Eastern Europe, which is a prime object of British policy. A strike- torn Germany prone to wage- and price- inflation, and drifting in consequence to political extremism, is about the last thing to suit our interests.

The difficulty for the British is that we have become accustomed to regard Ger- many as an actual or potential or even a natural enemy. But the experience of the 20th century is an aberration in the long course of German history, and in particular in Anglo-German relations which, going right back to the early Dark Ages, show a quite different pattern. We should not for- get that most of the English people have their distant origins in north-west Germany and that both our language and our law have Germanic roots. Our ancestors were conscious of these links at the time. When England was Christianised from Rome, English missionaries were quick to carry the faith to their distant pagan cousins in Germany. That great Englishman St Boni- face may be almost forgotten here but in Bavaria he is honoured as the saint who brought south Germany into the lighted circle of Christendom and his feast-day on 5 June is celebrated with splendid pomp in Regensburg Cathedral, sacred place of the Holy Roman Emperors.

The notion that England always needed an ally to the east of France, to act as a check on that large, numerous and aggres- sive nation, is very ancient, going back at least to the early 12th century, when Henry I married his daughter Matilda to the Ger- man Emperor. We usually had good friends across the Rhine or on this side of it, in the lands of the Duke of Burgundy, then partly German-speaking. Its acquisition by the Habsburgs was the beginning of a long English connection with that family. It was natural for Henry VIII to marry a Habs- burg lady, whose nephew became the great emperor Charles V — he came from Bur- gundy — and it was equally natural for Henry's daughter Mary to marry Charles's son, Philip II of Spain. The strength of the ties between Tudors and Habsburgs explains Elizabeth I's reluctance to go to war with her brother-in-law, whom she referred to in her proclamations as 'my ally' ahr ost to the time the Armada set out. And, when peace came, James I was quick to resume the German connection, marry- ing his daughter to the Elector Palatine, from whom our present royal family are descended.

It is worth remembering, too, that our monarchs were kings of Hanover until the accession of Queen Victoria when, under the Salic Law, the lines bifurcated. In the wars of the 18th century, we always had a German ally, often two, and it was that prime architect of Britain's global policy, Lord Castlereagh, who brought Prussia to the Rhine, as a more effectual means of boxing in an expansionist France. Of course Castlereagh saw Germany not as one power but two, Prussia and Austria, in con- venient equipoise. Sensible Germans did not want a centralised German state. William von Humboldt, the celebrated philologist and diplomat, observed at the Congress of Vienna:

The real purpose of the German confedera- tion is to ensure peace and to preserve the equilibrium of the Continent through natural gravity. It would be quite contrary to this pur- pose to introduce another collective state into the ranks of the European system, in addition to the bigger individual German ones ...N No one could then prevent Germany, as Germany, from becoming another con- quering state, a situation which no good Ger- man can want.

Bismarck's establishment of a Prussian- based German Empire went against this sound advice but it did not necessarily make Germany our enemy. The British never objected to Germany being the lead- ing land-power in Europe, feeling that its army was aimed at France and Russia, not

'Elizabeth R. what?'

ourselves. The catastrophic change came in the 1890s when Germany began to con- struct, with menacing speed, an enormous high seas fleet, which could only be aimed at Britain. Building this fleet, which brought Germany no benefits, which never won a battle and ended its existence in ignominy, was one of the fundamental mis- judgments in history. Public opinion, for the first time, moved against the Germans; there followed the beginnings of the Entente, the famous Crowe Memorandum and, in due course, Britain's decision to regard Germany's invasion of Belgium as a casus belli. Again, in the 1930s, it was the German resumption of U-boat and battle- ship construction, in addition to its huge bombing force — all aimed at Britain — which made a second round inevitable.

That long aberration, however, ended decisively in 1945, and we must accustom ourselves to the fact that the last half-cen- tury has been much more characteristic of our true and natural relations with Ger- many than the half-century of war and enmity which went before it. Von Hum- boldt had noted, in 1814, that Germany 'has derived great advantages in intellectual and scientific education from having no foreign policy': it was too powerful to become united, or at any rate a state like the others; it ought to be a European trustee, united for defence but not for expansion, devoting itself to science, educa- tion and progress. From 1945, and to a great extent under British supervision, Ger- many was reconstructed to attain Hum- boldt's ends: provided with a devolved sys- tem of government, an excellent democratic constitution, a rational trades union movement and elaborate protection for human rights. It was locked into Nato and other international systems and, by the

time it was joined by East Germany, it was already irrevocably committed to the super- nationality of the EEC. We have nothing to fear from a healthy Germany: much, I sus- pect, from a sick and angry one. What John Major must now do — what Margaret Thatcher should have done — is to resur- rect the ancient Anglo-German confrater- nity, and unite our persuasive powers to counter the devastating corruption spread- ing from the Mediterranean members of the Community, which threatens to engulf the whole. I look forward to a Northern League of Rectitude, under the aegis and apostolate of St Boniface.