The German election results will burst Britain’s Eurosceptic bubble

The UK media can say what they like, but Angela Merkel will not move her country an inch from its place at the heart of the EU

In spite of frequent warnings by business leaders, a majority of people in Britain currently want to leave the European Union. Even the reluctant admission by the government of the benefits of Britain’s membership has not changed that much.

Now, it seems, even the Germans are coming round to British Euroscepticism. Over the past two weeks, British conservatives have been in a giddy state of excitement after Angela Merkel seemed to back David Cameron’s calls for a reform of the EU. Following her cautious thought experiment of “giving back” some powers to national governments, the Daily Mail reported that the German chancellor had apparently “opened a secret back channel” to the government to help with the renegotiation. After this revelation, the Telegraph added triumphantly, Labour’s attempt to discredit Cameron’s campaign for a new relationship with the EU “now looks even sillier”. The Times, meanwhile, interpreted Merkel’s comments as proof that a “pan-European agreement” over EU reform is within reach. Over at ConservativeHome, Marc Wallace was more cautious, but still welcomed the news “on the principle that any movement in the right direction is better than nothing”.

This is not much more than wishful thinking. As always with the enigmatic chancellor, it’s not clear from her comments in which direction she moved or if, indeed, she moved at all. One thing is clear, though: she will not move her country an inch from its place at the heart of the EU. While it is true that Merkel is not such a passionate proponent of the European project as Konrad Adenauer or Helmut Kohl, she is far from a Eurosceptic. She might not see the need, as her predecessors still did, to dress Germany’s national interest in the EU’s existence in a heart-felt declaration of European brotherhood. But she will not alter Germany’s course in the European integration process. Anything else would be political suicide, because in contrast to the British, the German electorate is ardently pro-EU. A recent opinion poll showed that pro-European sentiment among Germans has actually increased over the last few years. Most surprisingly, considering the whole euro crisis, the number of people who want a return to the trusty old deutschmark is at an all-time low. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which commissioned the survey, this trust in the single currency is the main reason why Germany’s Ukip equivalent, the EU-critical Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), has performed so badly. At the moment, just over two weeks before the general election, several polls show that only about 3% would vote for the party, not enough to even make the election threshold of 5%.

According to another survey, by the thinktank Open Europe, Germans are getting fed up with propping up their southern neighbours. But when you look more closely at the numbers, the general trust in the EU is still apparent: 60% of respondents are against a return to the deutschmark and 55% even wish for tighter political integration, as long as this does not include direct fiscal transfers.

This difference in the popular sentiment in both countries has a lot to do with the fact that in Germany, EU membership is mostly linked to memories of postwar resurgence and western reintegration, while the country’s own national narrative is fraught with disaster and genocide. Britain, on the other hand, has a powerful national culture (driven home with every media report about the royal baby), while the EU raises painful notions of imperial decline. Another reason is the fact that the EU has a bad press in Britain, and I mean that quite literally: a little-known passage from the Leveson report that (ironically) has not been reported on much in the papers criticised the UK media’s coverage of the EU as “a further category of story where parts of the press appeared to prioritise the title’s agenda over factual accuracy”. Examples included a headline from the Daily Telegraph claiming that children were to be banned from blowing up balloons under EU safety rules. That was, of course, downright wrong. As the Leveson report mentioned, “there was to be no ban on balloons, merely the introduction of a requirement for balloons to carry a warning”.

As with the balloon story, the recent reports on Merkel’s Eurosceptic stance were heavy on the agenda and light on accuracy. Her comments were blown up by the British media to lend some much-needed credibility to the Tory attack on the EU. I expect that as soon as the last ballot is counted in the German elections in September, she will burst these bubbles.