Article / 21 June 2016 at 13:00 GMT

Saxo on Brexit: Why Germany wants the UK to stay

  • Making fun of Germans is common in the UK and a sign of mutual respect
  • During the Brexit debate, Germany has often been cited as a reason to leave EU
  • Political and cultural ties between the two countries have been strong for long
  • More British pragmatism would suit Europe well — Schäuble
  • More British pragmatism would suit Germany well — Fricke
Too much of Merkel is what many Britons proffer as an argument against EU membership prompting these 'magnificent 7' to impersonate Germany's chancellor at carnival. Photo: iStock

By Clemens Bomsdorf

“HALT ze German advance!” it said on billboards popping up beside the busy M40 motorway that leads out of London towards the university spires of Oxford, subsequently going viral on social media by the end of May. 

On the advertisement, people were asked to “Vote Leave” on June 23 and hence support those that no longer wish the UK to be part of the European Union. Though its website’s URL is on the poster, the official vote leave campaign denied being behind the rather crude caricature of German accents.
The eye-catching slogan of course makes fun of the difficultues that many Germans have with pronouncing the English “th” correctly and also relates to the aggressive expansion of Nazi-Germany during WW2 which was ultimately only halted in its tracks by a combination of UK, Russian and US troops after six long years of war and bloodshed. 

It is of course so full of lazy stereotyping that one wonders whether it is meant seriously or satirically. On social media it has been labelled as xenophobic. In any case it does underline that so much of the Brexit is about Germany. It is after all the biggest economy in the European Union.

It is well known that one of the main arguments for the EU is to guarantee peace by containing Germany and fostering cooperation on a continent where it has been held responsible for two world wars (in that respect the idea behind the above mentioned poster becomes even more obscure). UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill was one of the founding fathers of the idea of a united Europe and until today the UK is, besides France, the most important ally of Germany within the EU. 

But the two countries are heavily interlinked beyond economic and political ties. Let’s have a look at a few aspects of this before turning to why Germany wants the UK to remain within the EU.
Many Krauts don't want to be left alone, but rock with the British. Photo: iStock 

1. Humour, language and culture

The British can make as much fun as they want of the difficulty that many Germans face in pronouncing the „th“ (see above), and for a large portion of Germans it will continue to be a challenge. But, as English remains the foreign language of choice for most Germans, it will be the source of yet more 'good' jokes in the future.

It is of course, one language more than the average Briton but who's counting among friends? As the English can retort, Germans do prefer pop-music sung in English and that puts the average Briton at a distinct disadvantage given their German musical repertoire hardly stretches beyond the native version of Nena's 99 red balloons.

It is revealing that, when it comes to the Germans respect for the UK as well as conclusive proof that they are not without an understanding of irony, the term „Krautrock“ in Germany has become widely accepted as a label for the experimental music that evolved from Düsseldorf and other German cities half a century ago. While in the English speaking world „krauts“ used to be a term of abuse for Germans, it was reclaimed by German youth with a positive and ironic connotation. Having said that, it must be conceded that, generally speaking, German humour still somewhat lags its British counterpart. 

The Observer has put together a list of Krautrock you should hear and you can find it here.

2. Football

Only few nations are so obsessed with football as the two in focus here. It is often said that football as a national sport can unify a nation (as everybody sits in front of TV the same time watching the same event) and it also has often brought the UK and Germany together. When the UK's top teams play, the following among Germans is sizable and passionate. 

Bayern Chelsea
In 2012 Bayern München played against Chelsea in UEFA Champions League final, 
Chelsea won. Photo: iStock
Unforgettable in both countries is the 1996 hymn "Three Lions“ with its "football's coming home“, refrain subsequently making the 1998 version (watch it here on Youtube) an unofficial anthem for that year’s world cup and just about every major football competition since.

It definitely does not depict the British team as one full of heroes, but paints a more realistic picture and also demonstrated just how much the UK needs Germany if for no reason other than adopting an arch-nemesis role as it would be the ultimative victory to win over Germany in a football final. 

And, while we won't mention the surname here, the quickest of glances at the video underpins British wit at its very best in the mocked-up football match between German and English supporters. Perhaps surprisingly, that particular scene does make most Germans smile too!

3. When the private becomes political

England of course was one of those safe havens where those who could fled from Nazi-Germany. Also in the decades that have passed since then, it has in German eyes always been viewed as a beacon of liberty. No wonder that Ralf Dahrendorf, Germany’s most famous liberal sociologist moved to the UK to then go on to become not only a head of the renown London School of Economics, but also a British Lord.

Another German-British link is much more private, but not less interesting when it comes to the relations of the two countries. Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) and one of the most outspoken proponents of the leave-campaign, which - see above - can sometimes be associated with anti-German rhetoric as well, is married to a German.


Yes, I married a German - the irony eh? Photo: iStock

Please don’t go

Der Spiegel, Germany’s internationally well known news magazine, last week came with a bilingual title urging the UK in German and English to stay within the EU. "Please don’t go!“ was the headline and "Why Germany needs the British“, it also opined. 

Inside were articles in both languages including an interview with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, in which he argued that "the UK consistently advocates market-based solutions in Brussels, which frequently makes it an ally of the German government. And, in my view, one cannot have enough British pragmatic rationality in Europe.“ 

Schäuble's statements made (German) economist Thomas Fricke underline that the increase of Britain’s budget deficit was much larger than in most other countries and that its structural deficit is higher than the French one. However, Fricke praises the UK for its pragmatism (which is probably not the one Schäuble noted) and is critical towards the German approach, which in particular brought Greece into trouble.
A German leadership that wants to force other countries to adopt such recipes is not what will keep the UK in the EU, Fricke warns. Instead Germany should adopt a bit more of the pragmatical British approach, he says.
Der Spiegel
 Der Spiegel with its UK/DE cover. Source: Der Spiegel

German leftwing thinker Johano Strasser in his essay "The other Europeans“ for the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation writes "of course it is true that in recent times, German politicians in particular have displayed sometimes dreadful arrogance towards the British as well as the Greeks. But was British truculence not occasionally also helpful, when bureaucratic routine in Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels threatened to stifle the European idea?“ 

Hence, it is also the German-British differences that are needed in the European Union. After all democracy comes with plurality and is always the aim to balance interests and the EU aims at turning this into a win-win situation.

Strasser concludes: "Dear British neighbours, don’t let anyone persuade you that we – the rest of Europe – want to take away your differentness, your obstinacy, your trouble-making. We need you in Europe precisely because you are so different from us. And you? Would it be impertinent to suggest that you need us too, if you are to fulfil your potential? And if that is true – or at least not completely false – would it not be a rather poor idea to abandon Project Europe? I think so.“

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 Britons love so much about Germany including the annual Oktoberfest. Photo: iStock

— Edited by Martin O'Rourke

Clemens Bomsdorf is an editorial consultant at Saxo Bank


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