This week's big questions: Can Angela Merkel save the European Union? Should Turkey be allowed to join?

This week's questions answered by historian Brendan Simms

Share

Can Angela Merkel save the EU both politically and economically?

Angela Merkel could save Europe by pushing for a constitutional convention for the eurozone and creating a political union on Anglo-American lines with a consolidated debt and common representative structures. She certainly has the authority within Europe to do so, and in Germany itself her CDU party is by far and away the most trusted on “European” issues. It is unlikely that she will do so, however, because her political style is largely reactive.

How do you view her decision to make the speech she did this week in Dachau?

The immediate timing of the Dachau speech was dictated by an invitation from the Holocaust survivor Max Mannheimer, but it is of piece with Ms Merkel’s previous actions. Unlike her predecessor Gerhard Schröder, Ms Merkel has not argued that Germany is now a “normal” nation, which has transcended the Nazi past. Instead, she has held joint cabinet meetings with Israel, been tougher on Iranian sponsorship of international terrorism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. The Jewish community in Germany holds her in high esteem.

Is the outcome of next month’s German election now a foregone conclusion?

The overwhelming likelihood is that Ms Merkel will be the next Chancellor, though the exact composition of the coalition is not clear. Nothing short of a “September surprise”– say, German involvement in a Middle Eastern war or a euro blowout leading to an economic collapse comparable to that which erupted in 2008 – can stop her now. This state of affairs reflects both her competent management of the economy – from a narrow German point of view – and the absence of a credible opposition.

What do you think of the argument sometimes heard that united Germany’s rise to economic dominance in Europe is nothing other than the fulfilment of Hitler’s project by other means?

Not much. There is no possible comparison between Hitler’s genocidal project and modern Germany’s genuine, if sometimes clumsy and misdirected, attempts to manage the euro crisis in the common interest. That is not to say that there are not useful parallels to be made between the current situation the perennial “German question”, the structural problem of a large and economically and politically potentially dominant state at the very heart of Europe. What we are seeing now is the difficulty of “embedding” Germany in common structures without either fleecing German taxpayers to shore up the southern periphery, or disenfranchising the “bailed out” by subjecting them to austerity programmes by diktat.

Has the formation and expansion of the European Union made another European war impossible?

War between Western European countries was made militarily impossible by the Nato alliance; the EU provided important economic and cultural underpinning of the peace. Given Washington’s retreat from Europe, and the looming security vacuum in the east, a future eurozone political union will have to become a major security player in its own right. There is also a (remote) danger that a failure of the European project could lead to a revival of national tensions and conflict further down the road.

Where do you set the border of Europe and do you support Turkey’s accession to the EU?

Europe’s borders should be set politically and strategically. The future eurozone political union will have to secure its “neighbourhood” one way or the other, and the best way is to admit those states prepared to surrender their sovereignty in the interests of democracy, security, an agreed set of liberal values and prosperity. The admission of Turkey would be highly desirable in principle, but – in its current Islamist or alternative secular nationalist incarnations – sadly impossible.

What should be the West’s response to the latest atrocity in Syria? Has a red line been crossed? Is it time to intervene militarily?

We still need more information on that particular atrocity, but the pattern of regime behaviour has been clear from the start, which has been to use extreme force and play the sectarian card. As in Bosnia, our reluctance to intervene in support of what was originally a non-violent protest has created an opening for Islamist terrorism. That cannot be an argument against doing the right thing now, which is to defend refugees in “safe areas” through the use of air power, and to support the non-Islamist rebels in their struggle to bring down the Baathist dictatorship.

Does a free press mean we have the right to know classified information if it shows the extent to which government spies on its citizens?

Elected governments in Western democracies have the right to conduct surveillance to protect their citizens from terrorist outrages and suchlike, or to authorise their allies to do so, providing this information is not misused for other purposes and is subject to parliamentary control. I personally have no objection to the security services reading my emails and other communications so long as such safeguards are in place. In this context, a free press would usually have no right to place in the public domain information that might jeopardise our security.

As a professor at Cambridge University, do you think Oxbridge is guilty of perpetuating education that’s largely for the benefit of a social elite?

No. While serving as a director of Studies for about 15 years and admissions tutor for five years, I was struck by the efforts that Cambridge made to improve access. We spent a great deal of time visiting state schools, inviting teachers to visit, either individually or on open days, and reaching out in other ways. Moreover, the tutorial system gives students from more disadvantaged backgrounds a uniquely favourable framework to develop.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Langley James : Desktop Support Analyst; 1st Line; Moorgate up to £23k

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Langley James : Desktop Support Analyst; 1st Line; ...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Sales Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fragrance store are looking for enthusias...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role ...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Executive - UK / International

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a long-established, renown...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Old London Bridge; how to fight UKIP; and wolves

John Rentoul
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible