German press castigates Kohl's tactics

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WE HAVE grown accustomed to Britain always making grandiose and ridiculous statements - out of tune with the rest of Europe while claiming unconvincingly to represent the voice of sanity. This time, though, London may at last have a point.

After yet another 11-to-one stand-off in Corfu at the weekend, it seemed that Britain was again playing out the familiar role of complacent troublemaker. Germans are fond of quoting the alleged English view of life - 'Fog over the Channel, Continent cut off' - as an indication of Britain's self-absorption and failure to understand the European realities.

But John Major's isolated stand is not, on this occasion, self-evidently foolish. The British refusal to accept the Belgian Prime Minister, Jean-Luc Dehaene, as President of the European Commission, appears to represent a classic case of Thatcher-style handbagging - good for some loyal tabloid headlines, but unproductive in the longer term.

In reality, the need for a rethink of tactics may be as great in Bonn as in London. In advance of the Corfu summit, German officials had privately expressed concern at the clumsiness with which 'the elephants' - Germany and France - sought to impose their candidate, on the rest of the EU. German press comment, which traditionally takes a bemused and ironic tone with regard to British tactics on Europe, was yesterday far from united in its support for the games played by Bonn.

In a frontpage editorial, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung suggested that the bitter argument over Mr Delors' successor would put the beginning of the German presidency of the European Union 'in a dim light'. It argued that Franco-German co-operation was essential for European unity, but noted: 'Bonn and Paris damage their joint cause if they are perceived as a directoire,' - in other words, making decisions without consulting the rest of the team.

Elsewhere, too, there were worries about what the Frankfurter Allgemeine called the 'lack of style and tact' in the presentation of Mr Dehaene's case. The Suddeutsche Zeitung talked of 'strange mistakes' made by Chancellor Helmut Kohl. 'Everything would have been all right, if (Mr Kohl and President Mitterrand) had presented their candidate through the normal diplomatic channels, and had discussed things in confidence, with their partners in the Community. But they did the opposite: they talked to nobody, and merely let it be known that Dehaene was their choice . . . '

On this occasion, Mr Major can convincingly argue that he is flying the flag for smaller EU countries, who are genuinely worried by the prospect of a Franco-German carve-up of the most important decisions in Europe.

Admittedly, Mr Major has some rabidly anti-European backbenchers, not to mention Sun leader- writers, to worry about. But that is not new. What is new is the sympathy expressed elsewhere for Britain's complaints.

All of which makes life complicated for Germany in the immediate lead-up to the German presidency which begins on Friday. In recent weeks, Germany has been quietly preening itself in the knowledge that its presidency would be immaculately organised, and impeccably European - in stark contrast to the Greek chaos of the past six months.

But it has not turned out like that. The beginning of the German presidency will now be overshadowed by an enormous crisis over the succession to Mr Delors - a crisis which has almost nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of the respective candidates, and everything to do with the heavy-handed German handling of the issue.

Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper yesterday that Germany's most important task in the early weeks of its presidency would be to 'get the cow off the ice'. For the moment, the cow is slithering uncontrollably. If it falls through, farmers Kohl and Kinkel will find it difficult to avoid taking part of the blame.

(Photograph omitted)