Inside File: Helmut comes to aid of 'Dear John'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE massively avuncular Helmut Kohl is only too happy to do what he can for his friend, whom he addresses at any given opportunity as 'Dear John'. If the bi-annual spectacle of the Anglo-German summit can help his friend in the fight against the opinion polls, so much the better.

Empathy figures large here. Mr Kohl himself may be staring defeat in the face with the German elections in October. He has called on a few of his other friends to help: Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin and Mitterrand are all lined up to pay high-profile visits to Germany within days of each other at the end of the summer. The intention is, as one German official put it, 'to show the people that the only one who can lead Germany in this world is Helmut Kohl'. And, as the official apologetically added by way of explanation, 'You must understand, Mitterrand is a bit more important to us than John Major.'

This is especially true as France happens to be the country that will take over the presidency of the European Union in 1996, immediately after Germany. It gives the two countries a full year in which to shape the future of Europe between them.

The Franco-German relationship continues to be the axis around which Europe revolves; it may have been a squeakier arrangement than usual of late, but reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. As one German analyst commented: 'We're talking marriage guidance here, definitely not divorce.'

Nothing illustrates that more than the preparations for Germany's EU presidency in the second half of this year. A German diplomat was particularly amused at hearing the spin provided by a British official on the eve of Chancellor Kohl's visit yesterday: 'The Germans have picked out a number of themes for their presidency which we could not have done better ourselves had it been our presidency.'

The British official listed as Germany's priorities: growth, competitiveness, employment, interior and justice, subsidiarity, deregulation, relations with Eastern Europe and free trade. Or, as the headline trumpeted on a joint article this week by Douglas Hurd and his German counterpart, Klaus Kinkel: 'Welcome to our eastern cousins.'

The British official left out from the Germans' agenda the small matters of a common European currency and a common foreign and security policy.

It was the idea of an agenda co- ordinated with Britain that so amused the German official. 'Who holds the presidency after us? France. We and the French have already arrived at a joint agenda for the coming year. We have the same content already. We have discussed it for four to five months now.

'What is important to us is to give the impression of a strong performance before the election. We decided we knew we could not get big results between July and October anyway. So we decided we have to be realistic.

'The British are already talking about widening. But the next step is to integrate the new countries from Efta.'

What you can achieve in six months is always limited, let alone if it goes against the agenda of your successor. Both France and Germany have elections concurrent with their presidencies (the French presidential election being in the spring of 1996). Neither will want to press for admission of poor countries that will result in higher taxes.

As one German official noted: 'At the moment we have a coalition of southern countries who have never understood the meaning of a market economy. So what we need at the moment are countries like Sweden, Norway and Finland. They understand. Like Mrs Thatcher; she understood it too.'

A German diplomat added: 'We don't want to do anything about a further widening now apart from the existing association agreements with Eastern Europe. We know that before enlarging Europe further, we have to deepen it. And our priorities remain things like a common currency, which we know can never happen before a closer political union first.'

Britain, the diplomat said, 'wants to show its own strength - by showing European institutions do not work. You had a chance to take a leading position in Europe after German unification. But you didn't'