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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: pours or pores, pulverised, ‘in preference for’ and lists

Guy Keleny
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect