European Elections: Bad Nauheim travels the road to unity

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IN GERMANY, even the road signs imply statements of European loyalty. As you arrive in the spa town of Bad Nauheim, north of Frankfurt, the welcome sign carries the 12 yellow stars on the familiar blue background. In Bad Nauheim, Europe is not Them; Europe is Us.

The town has a population of 30,000, and receives twice that number of visitors each year, who come to take the waters.

Health tourism, and the service industry which it supports, keeps the town economically strong. Unemployment in Bad Nauheim is just 6 per cent. Economic and political stability are the watchwords. The Christian Democrats are the largest party on the town council, and gained the largest share of the vote to the European Parliament. Consensus rules, however. The directly-elected mayor is a Social Democrat. One town hall official has photographs of two heroes on his wall: Konrad Adenauer, Christian Democrat and first Chancellor of West Germany, hangs alongside Helmut Schmidt, Social Democrat Chancellor until Helmut Kohl came to power 12 years ago. The juxtaposition illustrates a familiar feature of German politics: the barriers between parties are much less absolute than in Britain.

The elections in Bad Nauheim on Sunday are, above all, a reflection of domestic politics. Germany's parliamentary elections are in October, and both the ruling Christian Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats will interpret the results as a signal for October.

Some in Bad Nauheim are bored by the idea of the European elections. 'I'll go to vote in October,' said one woman. 'But why should I go now? It won't change anything.' But the majority believe that European issues are important. A recent poll suggested that 60 per cent of Germans would vote - far more than in Britain.

For the first time, there is the beginning of an anti-European backlash in Germany. Thus, the League of Free Citizens, led by Manfred Brunner, a former European Commission official, is fielding candidates in the region. So, too, are the far-right Republicans, who are campaigning on a 'No to Maastricht]' platform.

But, as a new opinion poll confirmed yesterday, only a minority hold anti-European views, even now. All the main parties remain committed to the European idea, as do the Greens. In Bad Nauheim, it is unlikely that a candidate from one of the main parties would echo John Major's warnings against Brussels interfering in the 'nooks and crannies of your lives'.

Christian Democrat posters, scattered about Bad Nauheim, show the European and German flags together, and declare simply: 'For the good of Germany.'

Bad Nauheimers note that exchange programmes with Buxton are less active than with the French and Belgian twin towns - but that may reflect the difficulties of geography, and the additional expense, as much as degrees of enthusiasm. Certainly, there is a defiant loyalty to the European idea - not least because of the perceived security that this brings. In the words of Hans Kosel, 40, a caretaker: 'It's good that people are getting closer. Terrible things are happening in the rest of the world. But at least we in Europe should work together.'

Friedrich Minder, 78, a retired teacher, believes 'The time of nation-states must be over. Over the years, we've had too many wars, because of this. It's a kind of education, this European way of thinking.' He tells the visitor that 'you (in Britain) need to think more European'. But he, too, is wary of spiralling bills, and is worried that rich Germany may be expected to prop up the rest of the Union. 'People fear that we will be pumping money in, for ever. One can't slaughter the cow that one's milking. You have to remember that.'