The Blog

David Cameron's Europe Speech: How the UK and Germany Compare

This party political move makes Britain's exit from the EU a real possibility. And that is neither in the UK's or Germany's interests.

Prime Minister David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited and much-postponed speech on 'Europe' last week. For the first time we can remember, and if only by accident, a UK Prime Minister's speech on the EU was delivered in the UK - as opposed to that other place called 'Europe'.

We now all know the deal. If Britain votes for a majority Conservative government in 2015, the Conservatives will attempt a renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the EU and hold an in/out referendum on whether to stay in with that fresh deal, or leave.

We are very worried. This party political move makes Britain's exit from the EU a real possibility. And that is neither in the UK's or Germany's interests.

From a German perspective, the fact that the UK wants to cherry pick the bits of the EU it considers to be in its narrow national interests and get rid of the rest is just not acceptable. Other EU countries cannot and will not agree, no matter how much Cameron tries to make it look like it is something everyone wants. It would unravel every single deal - big and small - struck since 1952.

From a British perspective, this announcement is a potentially serious blow to the economy. It will sow grave doubts into the minds of multi-national investors on whom so many British jobs rely.

Berlin was at one point a mooted location for the speech - until it was changed to Bruges, Amsterdam and London in quick succession. It is interesting to compare the situation with regards to euroscepticism in the UK and Germany.

Cameron said in his speech "people are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent". But neither of those things apply to the UK, so what are the British complaining about?

There is no hiding the fact that many countries pay in proportionately more than the UK into the EU budget. In 2009 Luxemburg paid in 260 EUR per capita into the EU budget, Germany 115 EUR and just 70 EUR in the UK.

Germany and the UK both have similar levels of exports to the EU single market - 60% and 50% respectively.

Yet the UK is by far the more Eurosceptic. In May 2011 - the latest EU-wide opinion poll for which data is available - 54% of Germans thought their country's membership of the EU was a good thing, compared to 26% of Brits.

Germany has seen in recent years rumblings of anti-EU sentiment. But no major political party in Germany is willing to take this forward.

This is partly because nationalism is taboo in German politics, for historic reasons.

It is also because the German political establishment knows that that is not where German interests lie.

In a globalised world, nationalistic and largely symbolic 'sovereignty' just does not make sense. We have more control over our destinies if we club together, and both Germany and the UK need to embrace that.