In this country, we tend to think of Euroscepticism as a largely homegrown phenomenon. That’s far from being the case, of course. But because Continental Euroscepticism tends to come from the political extremes, British Eurosceptics wisely keep their distance.
There is a Nordic strain of Euroscepticism, too. With the exception of Finland, Scandinavia has stayed out of the single currency (and, in the case Norway and Iceland, out of the EU altogether). However, this was due to the scepticism of ordinary voters, not the political establishment.
Thus it might seem that Britain stands alone as the only major European country where opposition to further EU integration is a mainstream political force. That, however, may be changing. According to Hans Kundnani – the research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations – Euroscepticism is stirring within the German establishment:
“A couple of weeks ago I took part in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Tendenzwende conference – a small gathering in Berlin of historians, economists, constitutional lawyers and philosophers, that has been held annually since 2009…
“What struck me at the conference above all was how Eurosceptic the participants – members of Germany’s intellectual elite – were. Since the euro crisis began, there has been a consensus of the mainstream political parties that ‘more Europe’ is the solution. But Eurosceptic voices have been gradually getting louder.”
The catalyst for these growing doubts wasn’t the Eurozone crisis so much as the measures taken to quieten it down:
“Many Germans are increasingly worried by what they see as a creeping debt mutualisation in the eurozone – in particular since European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s announcement of the Outright Monetary Transactions programme.
“In June 2012 the German constitutional court ruled that unlimited debt mutualisation, for example in the form of Eurobonds, would be unconstitutional and Merkel famously promised there would be no Eurobonds in her lifetime.”
It is difficult to see how the Eurozone can move towards a banking and fiscal union without further debt mutualisation. And even if the integration process comes to an effective halt, it might not be long before the money markets send the peripheral countries running for cover again.
If and when this happens, the German leadership will have a choice to make: Whether to keep its promises and uphold the constitution or to do whatever it takes to save the Eurozone.
It’s the ‘whatever-it-takes factor’ that has German intellectuals worried:
“Several of the participants at the Tendenzwende conference were constitutional lawyers… Several of them expressed anger and frustration at what they perceived as the casual way in which pro-Europeans in Germany were prepared to cast aside fundamental legal principles. In fact, they see in the steps in European integration that have been taken since the crisis a partial reversal of the progress that has been made in Europe over hundreds of years towards democracy and the rule of law. One of the participants even said that further European integration without a referendum would amount to ‘a coup d’état from above’.”
Germany is a nation haunted by its history – something that Hans Kundnani and his fellow conference-goers were acutely conscious of:
“It was clear that several of the participants, mostly from the centre right, who expressed concerns about European integration from a legal standpoint had at the back of their minds the way that the Nazis had abused the law. In particular, I had the feeling that the ghost of Carl Schmitt, the so-called crown jurist of the Third Reich, was in the room. One of the participants reminded me of Schmitt’s notorious declaration that ‘the Führer protects the law’ to illustrate the dangers of abusing the rule of law in the name of political expediency.”