Already facing an immigration and European integration crisis that is shattering the country's democratic foundations in the postwar era as never before, another nightmare looms on the horizon for Germany's political and business elite: the prospect of Britain leaving the European Union.
This explains why an embattled German Chancellor Angela Merkel--fully aware of the enormous political, economic, and geopolitical stakes--has put Berlin's preparations for the "Brexit-battle" as high as possible on her priority list.
My former colleague Thomas Kielinger expressed the forebodings of many Germans in his column for The Telegraph: "Britain, don't leave us. We Germans need you in the EU--and we'll bend over backwards to keep you," he wrote in December 2015. "For Angela Merkel to lose the British on her watch would be a disaster for a country which has so long regarded it as an indispensable part of Europe." And he continues: "Looked at from Germany, a British EU-exodus would be a catastrophe robbing us of a brother in arms for free trade and reforms; a valuable co-combatant, too, for the survival of liberalism."
But some Germans think--as Der Spiegel argued in an editorial recently--enough is enough. "Europe has taken British sensitivities and particularities into account for long enough. The European Union has allowed itself to be blackmailed and made to look like a fool time and again. It was patient to the point of self denial. For decades England was forgiven for every veto it cast; every special wish was granted."
CAMERON GETS HIS REFERENDUM
After British Prime Minister David Cameron won most of his renegotiation demands at the make-or-break "Brexit" summit in Brussels in February 2016, a day later he scheduled the United Kingdom's EU membership referendum to take place on June 23, 2016.
It will be the second time the British electorate has been asked to vote on the issue of European membership. The first vote was held in 1975, when 67 percent of British voters approved of EEC membership.
Cameron went into the Brexit negotiations with several demands. He wanted explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the European Union. He also wanted safeguards against having to contribute to eurozone bailouts. He wanted a target set for reducing the burden of excessive regulation and extending the single market. In terms of immigration, Cameron sought to stop those coming to the United Kingdom from claiming certain benefits until they have completed four years of residence. And finally, Cameron wanted to allow Britain to opt out from further political integration and give national parliaments greater powers to block EU legislation.
According to The Guardian, Cameron got the following deal:
* A seven-year term for the emergency brake to restrict EU migrants in the United Kingdom from claiming in-work benefits.
* Child benefit payments indexed to the cost of living for children living outside the United Kingdom for all new arrivals to the United Kingdom, extending to all workers from January 1, 2020.
* Any single non-eurozone country able to force a debate among EU leaders about "problem" eurozone laws--though they will not have a veto.
* An unequivocal opt-out stating that EU treaty "references to ever-closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom."
The Guardian concludes: "Cameron claimed victory and pledged to campaign with 'all my heart and soul' to keep Britain inside the EU after a deal was struck on Friday evening to redraw the terms of the UK's membership."
In the escalating Brexit battle, the British prime minister and his supporters will need all the help--home and abroad--they can get.
British voters should not ignore that European business leaders--represented through twenty-one business federations, speaking on behalf of over 2.5 million businesses, employing fifty million people--back reforms that make the European Union more competitive and support the United Kingdom's continued membership in a reformed European Union, considering the dependence of many UK businesses and jobs on a global world economy.
The results of an Economist Intelligence Unit survey on the Brexit question announced on February 15 point in the same direction. A four-fifths majority of British and German business representatives are against Brexit. In case a Brexit happens, decreases are predicted in revenues, investments, and jobs. Nearly a third of businesses would either decrease or relocate capacities away from the United Kingdom.
"A Brexit would lead to a dead end," warns...