Given the number of Germans who resisted Hitler and Nazism, and gave their lives for it, it is always wrong to make cheap shots about conquering Europe, especially when the country’s spokesman is Christian Democrat whip Peter Altmaier (pictured here), who lurched into the Newsnight studios like a Bond villain with a hatchet lodged in his head, but somehow still going.
The occasion was a discussion of the recent “proposal” by Angela Merkel that the monetary and banking crisis in the EU has only one solution — total fiscal control from the centre, with individual member states signing up to all the guideline conditions suggested when the euro was first established, chiefly one holding countries to a 3% budget deficit.
This is an extraordinary demand, made all the more so by the speed with which it is supposed to happen. Previous EU treaty revisions have taken years. This appears to be proposed as something occurring over weeks, the further and crucial surrender of sovereignty — the right of a state to control its borrowing and spending — treated as a bit of tidying up.
Reaction so far has been muted, but I can only presume that this is because everyone’s head is spinning at this audacious grab. That’s particularly so in the UK, where the announcement is a nightmare for David Cameron.
Having just survived an unprecedented backbench rebellion on the issue of holding a referendum on EU membership — promised as part of the election — Cameron is now faced with demands by Germany and France that all 27 EU states, not merely the 17 eurozone countries, sign up to the new expanded notion.
Cameron, in part fulfilment of the referendum promise, has already put in place legislation guaranteeing a referendum for any extension of EU powers, so this new request presents him with the choice of either honouring that, or having the EU centre draft the changes so that they get under the radar.
But the latter move would be so duplicitious that I do not think he would survive it. And the former move will have the two wings of the Tory Party debating itself vociferously and tearing each other to shreds, while Labour holds the coats, and the Lib-Dems lie scrunched up in a foetal position.
The new provisions would mean that the EU would have to sign off on the UK budget at some point, something that every euro sceptic would be sure to bring out, even though the austere budget provisions proposed by the EU concur with conservative sentiment.
Such fiscal controls favour northern states, of course, those who have already built up welfare states and high-end productive economies — by comparison southern states would be denied the option of heavier borrowing for investment in growth, thus leaving them permanently behind — and in trade deficit to — Germany above all.
With the news having dropped so suddenly and substantially, reaction has been in real time. Thus, since I began writing this piece, Cameron has come out and said that he will veto the treaty changes if the UK’s rights aren’t preserved, which could in turn trigger exactly what the EU is trying to avoid, a crisis of confidence that will give US-owned Standard & Poor’s a chance to downgrade France’s, Germany’s and the entire EU’s credit rating some time before the end of January.
The question is whether this new move will be the spark for renewed resistance to a neoliberal EU, running an inflexible and ostensibly depoliticised fiscal/monetary policy across the EU — or whether people are so beaten and broken down that they will accept anything to guarantee euro stability.
With the centre-left parties stymied on their position on Europe, I would have thought that the chief beneficiaries would be the right, especially Le Front National in France, and the Northern League in Italy.
It is extraordinary, unprecedented, the European project that everyone was so solemn about being re-engineered on the run like, well, like the dodgy banks that put us in this mess in the first place. Less a slow drilling through hard timber, as someone once said of politics, and more a blitzkrieg. Damn, almost made it through.