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This is an item from this week’s subscriber-only newsletter by Iain Martin for Reaction. To subscribe for only £1 a week click here.
One of my favourite Remainers used to lament the rubbishness of Britain by comparing the UK unfavourably to Germany. “Now, there’s a proper country. Germany is a proper country,” he used to say.
This always struck me as an odd view. Germany is, indeed, a great country. Its cultural legacy is as rich as that of any nation on earth. Its wine is an underrated marvel. A manufacturing powerhouse was forged out of the wreckage of 1945. No-one takes penalties in football competitions like the Germans. All of which means that, in many respects, Germany is pretty fantastic.
But Germany, the West and the unified nation since the end of the Cold War, is in a lucky position among the leading powers. It has not had to pay for its own defence, because America did so with some British help. Then the invention of the Single Currency, the euro, gave its exporters an advantage. Even so, Germany has weaknesses. For understandable reasons it is not a leading power on security and intelligence. On universities, it comes nowhere close to the UK.
Now, its politics – so often cited by British Europhiles as the ideal example of calm consensus and pragmatic grown-up brilliance – are deep in crisis with “grand coalition” talks going beyond extra time. They are into the exciting penalties, and the SPD leader Martin Schulz has booted it over the bar and been humiliated. Schulz has withdrawn as potential foreign minister and party members will vote on the whole deal with Merkel.
Some people are reluctant to call this crisis a crisis, because it contradicts the narrative in which Germany is supposed to be a perfect powerhouse and a “proper country”that makes us silly British people look daft. On the contrary, right now Germany’s erstwhile Chancellor Angela Merkel looks about as strong and stable as Theresa May.