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

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own