Next door to Nietzsche's children

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The Independent Online
WHAT British, French and Danish opponents of a federal Europe have failed to accomplish could soon be achieved by those seemingly most Euro- minded people, the Germans. In my view, the German constitutional court is likely to put the Maastricht treaty out of its misery before the end of the year. No decision is expected from the court today, when it concludes its two-day sitting at Karlsruhe. But when it resumes in the autumn, I think it will find that Maastricht is incompatible with the German Constitution.

This view runs contrary to what appears to be a general expectation. It is being argued that the pressure of public opinion will force the court to approve Maastricht. One recent report from Bonn reached this conclusion without even bothering to mention the general nature of the constitutional arguments against the ratification of Maastricht. But I heard these arguments authoritatively expounded last weekend at the annual Berlin Colloquium, which is attended by a number of distinguished and well-informed Germans. The speaker himself hoped that Maastricht would be ratified - 'and then revised' - but he did not make light of the difficulties, nor did anyone else around that table.

The main difficulty emphasised was that the federal government, in approving the Treaty on European Union, was relinquishing powers that it did not possess. Germany is a federal republic and the federal government (so the argument runs) purported to relinquish powers that in fact belonged only to the Lander. And this view enjoys the public support of the heads of the Lander themselves.

There are also other strongly sustained objections. Three former constitutional court judges have warned that Maastricht contravenes Germany's Basic Law. Their main objection is that EC laws are not under the control of a democratically elected parliament.

Are objections of that order likely to be swept aside by the pressure of public opinion? They might be, I suppose, if public opinion were sufficiently aroused. The American maxim 'the Supreme Court follows the election returns' has a degree of general validity, applied to relations between public opinion and courts of law.

But is German public opinion so strongly in favour of Maastricht as to cause the court to strain its interpretation of the constitution? I don't believe that this is the case, and nothing I heard last weekend caused me to change my opinion.

In that meeting, the current mood in Germany was defined as 'isolationist'. The speaker was German, and none of the other Germans disputed either the definition or the analysis that led up to it. (I am not naming persons here, as 'Chatham House rules' apply to such proceedings, under which participants may report the views expressed but not identify the speakers.) An isolationist public opinion hardly seems likely to sway a constitutional court in favour of Maastricht.

Other signs point in the same direction. For example, it was acknowledged that the old relationship between France and Germany - the alliance that provided the motor power of the federalist project - no longer exists. Germans are no longer disposed to accept the political leadership of the French. They are also prepared to break ranks with their European partners whenever they find it in their own national interest to do so - as they showed by doing a separate deal with the Americans over telecommunications. None of this is compatible with the spirit of Maastricht.

But it is all quite compatible with a constitutional court finding either to the effect that Maastricht contravenes the German Constitution, or perhaps more probably, setting such conditions for German participation as to make it unworkable. Maastricht could not survive either finding.

In general, the picture of Germany's immediate future presented by the German participants at Berlin was a bleak one. But it was not bleak in the same way as is some commentary on the German scene by foreigners.

There was no disposition to exaggerate the importance of neo- Nazism and race riots. Any return to militant nationalism was ruled out. The bleakness concerned economic and demographic issues. The picture, roughly, was that economic recovery, and the revival of the eastern provinces in particular, is likely to be delayed until the end of the century, and will then begin to be adversely affected by demographic factors.

The accuracy of the bleakness of that economic survey was subsequently confirmed with the announcement of massive cuts in social spending. But the most depressing part of the survey was the demographic part. Under present projections - some of which are said to be so alarming that they are being withheld - Germany in the next century will be a country with fewer and fewer people of working age supporting more and more old people. Politically, the implication appeared to be that while outsiders were fatuously going on about Germany becoming more dangerous in the next century, it would in fact become increasingly decrepit.

I found myself thinking on a different line. What if Germany became more dangerous as a result of the decrepitude factor? The question is this: will the German young, in the next century, indefinitely accept the burden of all these idle old people? Or might they at some point revolt against it? Might they, for example, decide to set up retirement camps for the aged, to be run on as frugal lines as might seem appropriate in the eyes of their juniors, and amply equipped with technical facilities for voluntary euthanasia?

In the nature of the case, this transition could not be accomplished by democratic means (since the victims are the majority). It would have to be done by force. It would be a Nietzschean revolution, for which ample warrant can be found in the works of the Master (when construed at face value, and not as explained away by 'gentle' Nietzschean academics). Should such things happen in the course of the next century, the youthful Nietzschean elite who would be masters of the new Germany might not be altogether comfortable neighbours.

At that colloquium, I kept these reflections to myself. They might not have gone down all that well in Berlin.

(Photograph omitted)