Chatham House: Independent thinking on international affairs

International Affairs

Interview with Hans-Dietrich Genscher

Quentin Peel and Michael Stürmer, November 2012

Germany was always in favour of the UK joining the Common Market, in spite of French objections, because Britain — with its 'special relationship' to Washington — was seen as helping to bind the US to Europe, according to Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the longest-serving German foreign minister. Young Germans were inspired by Sir Winston Churchill's Zürich speech in 1946, calling for Germany to be part of a united continent, and Genscher saw Britain as the model of 'the new Europe'. But while a united Europe meant for Germany a return to the community of civilized nations, for Britain it meant 'the loss of empire'.

Although Margaret Thatcher, when prime minister, had a 'bogeyman image' of Germany, Genscher dismissed her opposition to German unification as unimportant, because she was never likely to disagree with the US on such an issue. President Mitterrand of France was never so fiercely opposed to unification. Germany and the UK were always close on economic policy and support for the common market, but the UK was 'mentally too far removed' to join France and Germany as part of a three-nation directorate leading Europe, he says. Genscher believes that Europe will solve the problems of the common currency, and make itself more attractive to Britain, especially thanks to the single market. The rise of Euroscepticism can be attributed to Europe’s failure to present itself as attractively as it ought to, and also to the 'cowardice' of politicians who agree to policies in Brussels, and then blame an anonymous power in Brussels if they prove unpopular. 'Europe is all of us,' he concludes.

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