Germany shrinks from N-test protest

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The Independent Online


Briefly, it looked as though this would turn into Brent Spar II: Germany, the environmental warrior, rides into battle once more. One could imagine yet more triumphal headlines: "Victory! German boycott forces French retreat."

Restaurateurs said they would no longer serve French food or wine - in protest against France's proposed nuclear testing. The Berlin daily taz demanded people stop eating Camembert and change their travel plans. "Holidays in Brittany and Provence - enough! We can go on holiday anywhere."

Germany seemed ready to declare another green war after its victory against Shell. This time, however, Greenpeace itself seems eager to dampen the enthusiasm. Thilo Bode, the new head of Greenpeace International, told his German compatriots: "Nothing would be worse than a national protest movement in Germany against France."

Partly, this is because of a belief that a boycott might backfire, and also the wrong people - small French farmers - would be hit. There was pragmatic calculation too: would Germans seriously give up French food, drink and holidays?

Above all, though, the differences between the protests have been based on different national Bad Guys. There has, in the words of the weekly Wochenpost, been "a re-nationalisation of politics, which ought really to belong to the past".

Britons are an easy target: everybody in Germany knows that the British are in any case bad Europeans. In the case of Brent Spar, criticism of the British position was unanimous. Conservatives and Communists, churchmen and city councils, all supported the Shell boycott call with one voice. Alternative arguments were never heard - until, curiously enough, after the whole show was over.

With the French testing, by contrast, German politicians have kept the campaign strictly low-key. During the Brent Spar arguments, Klaus Kinkel, the Foreign Minister, wrote a foaming anti-Shell editorial in Bild, the German equivalent of the Sun. On French nuclear testing, he has been more circumspect.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, too, who insisted on putting Brent Spar on the agenda when talking to John Major at last month's Nova Scotia summit, said the French testing was an "internal matter".

German officials privately note that this is an obvious matter of realpolitik. Being rude about the Euro-hostile British is politically uncomplicated. When it comes to the French, however - the key players in helping the German vision of a united Europe - tough talk is considered inappropriate. "Nobody wants to start off on the wrong foot with the French government," as one official noted, in reference to the recent election of Jacques Chirac as president. "The French said they would take it kindly if we didn't shout too loudly." Mr Kinkel and his colleagues were quick to oblige.