Naked emperor greets young pretender

Tony Blair's visit comes when the German Chancellor's credibility is in shreds, writes Imre Karacs in Bonn

The moment Helmut Kohl had long dreamed of is approaching. Tomorrow, the last of the continent's Old Guard plays host to a British prime minister unburdened by a visceral fear of Europe, the first such specimen to alight in Bonn during the Chancellor's 15-year reign.

Theirs will be a meeting to savour, even if the symbolism of it all may not rub off on Mr Kohl the way he had hoped. When Tony Blair swept to victory last month, the Chancellor perceived a defeat for Euro-scepticism and, by extension, a triumph of his own creed.

But his ever more strident domestic opposition is deciphering a different writing on the wall: "In England and France the policy you have been pursuing for years has failed," claimed Oskar Lafontaine, the Social Democrat leader, at yesterday's stormy session of the Bundestag.

The German left naturally has an ideological axe to grind, but the feeling that Mr Kohl's European vision is a gross distortion of reality breaches political divides. Was it not, after all, the reactionary Bundesbank allied with conservative MPs that thwarted the gold theft of the century?

The misjudged attempt to syphon off the Bundesbank's gold for the sake of monetary union has torn Mr Kohl's credibility to shreds, not just among the banking fraternity, but also among ordinary Germans. The self-crowned emperor of Europe was caught with no clothes on, and however he dresses up now, he will henceforth always seem naked.

In yesterday's parliamentary debate, provoked by an opposition motion of no confidence in the Finance Minister, Theo Waigel, the Chancellor tried without conviction to rekindle the old flame: "We need the single European currency," Mr Kohl declared. "It is the basic precondition for peace and freedom and for building the common European house ... The federal government, my coalition, and above all myself, will do everything - everything - to ensure that the time-table and the criteria are adhered to."

Everything, including cooking the books, Italian-style, the cynics muttered.

The massed ranks of government MPs - united for the day - managed to see off the motion with 17 votes to spare, but they have yet to demonstrate that they can agree on anything else. The budget for this year and next has a huge hole because the squabbling coalition parties are unable to unite behind an alternative source of revenue.

In the resulting deadlock, which could still bring Mr Kohl down 15 months before the scheduled elections, Germany's effort to meet the Maastricht criteria goes begging. "Three point nought is three point nought," chants the Finance Minister, but three point five it is going to be, according to all the experts.

That would not be such a big problem, had Mr Kohl not locked the rest of Europe into the 3 per cent cage. The German government's posturing now smacks, according to Mr Lafontaine, of "cynicism towards the other EU member states".

Basking in the undying hatred of Italy and the other countries of the "Club Med" for opposing their applications, Mr Kohl has now been confronted unexpectedly with a French government that may no longer play ball. He tried to make light of it yesterday, declaring that "we should not concern ourselves so much with what other member states are doing to qualify for the [Maastricht] criteria". "Political developments in the neighbourhood should not give rise to speculation whether they are still on course for EMU," he added.

But the awkward "neighbourhood" will limit Germany's room for manoeuvre and, conversely, create opportunities for the new British government. Tomorrow's first official meeting between the ancien regimeand New Labour, in conjunction with the fresh winds blowing from Paris, is seen in Germany as a turning point in the continental power game.

Mr Blair comes to Bonn staking a claim for a place in the top rung of European politics; a niche in the triangle that London hopes will replace the Franco-German axis. Despite the lukewarm noises emanating from Bonn, the German government has been impressed with the Blair team's straight batting in Europe, and appears to relish the chance of working with or against Mr Blair, rather than his unfathomable predecessor.

For the moment, Anglo-German acrimony will lie buried. The British government has already stated that it will not obstruct the conclusion of the Inter-governmental Conference, and has laid all its cards on the table. Nevertheless, the differences will be plain to see. Mr Kohl will not enjoy being seen with an equal a generation his junior. The impression that a patriarch well past the age of natural retirement will be meeting the young pretender will be hard to avoid.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt


Life and Style

The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Life and Style
Passing on: George Washington died alert, aware and in his own bed. This is the kind of of death most people would like to have
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Financial Sales Executives

£19000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to our clients continuing s...

Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

£15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Internal Sales - Technical Solutions - £26,000 Basic

£26000 per annum: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Southend, Aldershot, Luto...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Manager - £30,000 - Manchester City Centre

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency works with ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game