Daniel Johnson: The folk memory that makes Germany reluctant to act over the euro
A SPECTRE is haunting Europe – the spectre of German domination. As the Heath Robinson structures of the European Union buckle under the weight of their own contradictions, the question on everybody’s lips concerns the Germans. What will they do about the eurozone crisis? Will they try to save the dream of a federal Europe – or let it go up in a puff of smoke?
In the old days, what gave European statesmen nightmares was known as “the German Question”: once it was united by Bismarck, Germany was too big and powerful to be balanced by the other Continental powers. After starting two world wars, the division of Germany was seen as the price of peace in Europe. At the time, the French writer François Mauriac observed with heavy-handed irony: “I love Germany so much that I am glad there are two of them.”
Today the German Question has returned in a new form. Silvio Berlusconi, like other fallen European leaders from Bertie Ahern to George Papandreou, could be forgiven for blaming the Germans for his defenestration. These days it is the call from the Berlin Chancellery, rather than the White House or the Kremlin, that Europe’s weaker brethren dread.