Leading Article: A serious rift

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ANGLO-GERMAN relations have not looked as bad for many a year. Europhobic Tories such as Lord Tebbit and Teddy Taylor have suggested that 'there is a conspiracy against Britain within the (Bundes)bank' and that the Germans are getting 'too big for their jackboots'. Even the normally sensible Sir Marcus Fox said: 'Backbenchers, along with the British people, are beginning to think that the Germans haven't changed at all.' In the Daily Mail, Mark Almond, an Oxford academic, described the EC as being steered towards 'a vision of Europe which was imagined by Hitler's economists and bankers'. The Prime Minister himself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont, pinned much of the blame for sterling's slide on the Bundesbank.

The Germans have been far from blameless. Remarks by the Bundesbank's president, Helmut Schlesinger, did indeed kill any chance of the pound surviving within the exchange rate mechanism until the French referendum. Chancellor Kohl's latest accusation, that the British were behind a report in Der Spiegel of a secret Franco-German agreement to pool their currencies, was rash and seemingly inaccurate. His government's plan, later cancelled, to attend a celebration of the launch of the first V2 rockets from Peenemunde was staggeringly insensitive. Earlier, the feeble initial official reaction to racist violence in the former GDR reawakened not unreasonable fears across the Continent.

One of the chief aims of Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and his German counterpart, Klaus Kinkel, at their meeting yesterday was to repair some of the damage inflicted by all these incidents. Fortunately, there is solid ground on which to rebuild. If Britain wants to maximise its influence in Europe, its government has no choice but to have a close working relationship with Bonn. John Major recognised as much in giving his relations with Helmut Kohl a high priority. At the level of officials, Britons and Germans relate easily to each other. The Franco-German partnership is, by contrast, more willed than


Yet, as the events of the past week have again shown, when the frites are down it is political imperatives rather than genial relationships that matter most. The French and Germans created the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community together, intent on finally burying their old enmity. The British preferred to stand aside, then were kept out by General de Gaulle. They remain late-comers, short on experience and deprived by the Channel of the contiguity that is at the heart of the Franco-German experience.

That makes it all the more important that Britain should enjoy good relations with both Paris and Bonn. For senior British politicians and journalists to whip up old hatreds to boost their popularity is disgracefully opportunistic and short-sighted. It is not the strengths of newly unified Germany that are worrying, but its weaknesses. Inflationary pressures forced up its interest rates. A continuing political and emotional vacuum in the former GDR creates serious political tensions. A fragmented sense of identity helps foster neo-Nazism. That is why Germany needs the firm embrace of understanding friends within the EC - and preferably one that extends from Lisbon to Warsaw.