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Calling the shots on Brexit: Jean-Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel at the EU summit in April (© Pool Frederic Sierakowski/Belga/PA Images)


So it really was all about the money. Europe, that is. All along. Forget all that high-flown rhetoric about “Never Again” to war and genocide. Forget all the hot air about a European identity replacing the nationalism of the past. Forget, especially, any spiritual dimension of the European project. In 1962, to be sure, Adenauer and De Gaulle attended a Mass for Peace at Rheims Cathedral, the first of many magnificently mawkish exercises in Euro-ceremonial. Only last month, to the strains of Beethoven’s Ninth, Emmanuel Macron made his entrance as newly-elected President of the Republic in the courtyard of the Louvre, once the palace of the Most Christian Kings of France, now the greatest single repository of Western civilisation. But as far as the French and Germans were concerned, the British were mere offshore islanders. It was always about the money.

We have now, belatedly, been forced to recognise this by the extraordinarily belligerent tone of the leading figures on the Brussels side of the Brexit negotiations, particularly Jean-Claude Juncker. No doubt these officials would prefer the talks to end without a formal agreement, and with Britain subject to unspecified protectionist sanctions and discrimination, because they believe the other 27 member states need to be warned of the consequences of leaving the EU. But their mercenary attitude still has the power to shock. Such arbitrary sums are being bruited about as the “divorce bill” — €100 billion is the latest figure to emerge from Brussels — that you could be forgiven for wondering why, as the second largest net contributor for over four decades, Britain is being asked to pay a penny. By the time Brexit takes effect, the UK will have paid half a trillion pounds to the EU since 1973. France and the Mediterranean countries have been propped up by British taxpayers; the absorption of Central Europe after 1989 could not have been paid for without British subsidies. It is clear that Brexit is a catastrophe for the EU’s shaky finances. The euro crisis was, seen from Berlin, a price worth paying, so that German exporters could keep a cheap currency and continue to control the continental economy. Though Germany has twice bailed out the Greek government, it was the Greeks themselves who took the biggest hit: their economy shrank by a third after 2008 and is still shrinking. Italy has barely grown since the euro was introduced in 1999, while Spain has suffered mass unemployment for a decade. Germany, meanwhile, has enjoyed steady growth, apart from the year after the crash in 2008, and practically no austerity at all. Now the burden of subsidising southern and eastern Europe will fall even more heavily on the booming German economy.

Hence the vindictiveness with which Berlin has turned on the British for opting out of two great German projects: not only the euro but the EU itself. It was the European Commission president’s German chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, who is believed to have leaked a partisan account of the Downing Street dinner to Angela Merkel’s staunchest ally in the German press, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. (A belated denial by Jean-Claude Juncker failed to remove this suspicion.) And it was Mr Juncker himself whose phone call, revealingly made immediately afterwards to the German Chancellor, that prompted Mrs Merkel to lecture the British before the Bundestag. “Some people in Great Britain still have illusions” that the UK’s rights after Brexit would remain unchanged, she declared. “And that is a waste of time.” By “some people” she meant Theresa May, of course, and the insult was meant to sting. It is one thing to be patronised by the bibulous Juncker or the garrulous Tusk, neither of whom is even elected; quite another to be rebuked by the most powerful person in Europe, who also happens to be the most senior member of the sisterhood of female leaders.

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amcdonald
June 16th, 2017
1:06 PM
The Tory austerity/cuts project has gone up in flames at Grenfell Towers. Theresa May claimed to be championing the will of the people. Now the Tories will also be championing the anger of the people ? The entire government should be in jail along with those guilty of corporate manslaughter. I voted for Brexit and I voted Labour. The Tories as a herd are now reduced to virtue signalling lamely. George Osbourne is a dead man talking and so are all his allies.

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