PARTNERSHIP between Germany and the UK is vital for the EU and at a devolved level could be fruitful for both nations, says David McAllister
Germany has been influenced by the United Kingdom more strongly than might be first thought. After 1945, the British played a key role in setting up democratic structures in Germany. Soldiers belonging to the previous occupying force, or later the British Forces Germany, found good friends and many married local women. Recently, the BBC called their children: “The British Germans the war left behind”. I am one of them, a German with Scottish roots, born in 1971. This is why I attach special importance to the relationship between the UK and Germany, as well as between Scotland and Lower Saxony.
In my opinion, we Germans are well advised to remember how much Britain did for us. And I am also keen to point this out to the few people in Germany who deliver one-sided sermons to our British partners when it comes to current European policy.
This is not the only reason why I would like to advocate closer partnership at a European level between the UK and Germany. We will only be able to strengthen the European Union if our two countries can align their positions – which often differ for good reason.
We will not achieve our goals if we force Europeans to take steps towards integration if they do not want to. We need to join forces to find a way out of the fiscal dilemma. Anyone attempting to sweep aside the interests of one country will be isolated eventually.
The past few months have put the EU to the test. It is not just about the stability of the euro, but also about the stability of the EU.
The German government is often criticised for imposing too severe austerity measures. The fact is that in 2008 and 2009 EU member states launched a European Recovery Plan worth around €600 billion to combat the financial and banking crisis. Loans were drawn on to finance the package. Therefore, the majority of the member states could not comply with the 3 per cent deficit rule.
At the time, public opinion in Europe was unanimous that the member states would not be able to fund such a package a second time.
I am strongly in favour of consistent budget consolidation and creating sustainable stimuli for growth and employment. Instruments exist and they should be used, such as the EU 2020 Strategy, the EU Structural Funds and the European Investment Bank. We can extend these tools, but we should not reinvent the wheel every time a crisis occurs.
All EU member states need further structural reforms to encourage growth, and I believe David Cameron’s and Angela Merkel’s governments are on the right path.
Germany and the UK do not always agree on how to react to the current fiscal challenges. Both countries have had different experiences and developed different philosophies on how to handle economic and monetary crises.
In Germany, monetary stability is of prime importance, or in other words keeping the inflation rate below 2 per cent. In order to prevent hyperinflation, stringent budget management enjoys top priority. Hyperinflation and currency reform are firmly anchored in the collective psyche of the German people. Inflation provokes fear.
In the Anglo-Saxon world inflation may be considered an aspect that is controllable. Consequently, it is easier during a crisis like this one to flood domestic markets with money. Politicians may see this approach as an opportunity to kick-start economic growth and business activities, as well as consolidate the country’s revenues by receiving higher taxes.
However, this is not about irreconcilable, opposing concepts. No universal panacea exists to solve the crisis. Therefore, Europe needs to send out one message to the globalised world: we are united in combating the crisis and we will demonstrate our ability to act together.
I am currently visiting Edinburgh and Aberdeen. My objective is to build on a partnership between Scotland and Lower Saxony. I believe there are good opportunities, especially regarding renewable energies. Apart from health, the environment and transport, energy production will be one of the major issues in tomorrow’s world.
An OECD analysis shows that in 2050 global energy consumption will be about 80 per cent higher than today’s level, unless radical measures are taken. Probably 85 per cent of consumption will be based on fossil fuels, while just 10 per cent will be drawn from renewable energies. The biggest energy consumers are likely to be Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa.
We will not be able to demand that they cut consumption of fossil fuels in the interest of the climate. These nations will not understand that they should renounce their own growth and wealth due to the threatening climate catastrophe.
Consequently, our natural resources will continue to deplete and lead to destabilising changes in the climate. We can no longer halt this development, but we can limit the impact of climate change, above all by increasing the use of renewable energies.
Energy policy today is caught in the conflict between economic and ecological objectives. Bearing in mind the global rise in energy demand, we will have to find a way – both at a national and a European level – of maintaining energy supplies at affordable and competitive prices in the long term, while achieving environmental and climate protection goals at the same time.
Recently, my government presented its own energy concept. Our objective is to source 25 per cent of the energy in Lower Saxony from renewable energies by 2020. By accelerating the expansion of renewable energies, we also aim to create the basis for replacing nuclear power in 2022 permanently.
Scotland also has ambitious aims for renewables, with 100 per cent of Scottish electricity to be produced from renewable energy by 2020. What could be more appropriate than boosting each other’s strengths in these areas to mutual benefit, particularly in science and research? I am convinced that we can accomplish more by joining forces. And if our businesses should compete with each other on the global market, let us view this as friendly competition. Competition is always good for business.
We will also agree on stronger partnership on other areas too. Perhaps we can make good use of the fact that we have a prime minister in Hanover who is a German with Scottish roots.
• David McAllister is prime minister of Lower Saxony.