Two Cheers for Angela Merkel

The European Summit of 29/30th October represents something of a come back for Angela Merkel from the May summit where she had been forced to concede to the Euros 440bn European financial stability facility  to prop up Greece while insisting that it run out in 2013 and be outside treaty rules. These conditions were insufficient in terms of domestic German opinion and the CDU suffered a humiliating reverse in the North Rhine Westphalia Land Election in May 2010.

Chancellor Merkel  learns from reverses , as evidenced by the way she gradually shifted her position on economic reform after the unexpectedly poor performance in the 2005 federal election. The lesson that Chancellor Merkel now  drew was not that lacking a European vision she had failed to get over the value of the eurozone to Germany but that bail outs were always likely to be electorally toxic .Her answer involves not only  tough rules  on fiscal excesses but that there ought to be the possibility of  insolvency for sinning states so that private as well as public creditors would suffer a ‘hair cut’ ,a situation which would move them to be more cautious (ECB President Trichet saw this caution as a potential danger) .The Federal Constitutional Court had not  ruled the EFSF unconstitutional but Chancellor Merkel fears that any follow on arrangement would fall foul of the Federal Constitutional Court which has increasingly been the source of ‘compelling demands’(Bulmer and Paterson) in relation to German European policy .Her solution was to suggest anchoring a permanent crisis resolution mechanism in the Lisbon Treaty..

Any suggestion of treaty revision provokes alarm among member states traumatised by the Maastricht ratification process .Chancellor Merkel has therefore taken the offensive .Traditionally Germany’led from the second row’ (Joschka Fischer ) but this was not an option on this issue. Angela Merkel is known for her dogged perseverance and a great deal of effort was spent in contacting other leaders in the run up to the European Council making it clear that the twin pressures of the Federal Constitutional Court and German domestic opinion left her with no alternative. David Cameron agreed to treaty revision without the United Kingdom in return for a German commitment on EU budgetary restraint

The European Council accepted the logic of the German position and President Van Rompuy was mandated to produce a proposal by the December 2010 Council meeting.Here the new post Lisbon machinery has proved to be useful. It is easier for  Van Rompuy than it would be for a national leader utilising Art 48  to craft a consensus proposal which has to be sufficiently minimal to satisfy the member states and sufficiently watertight to withstand a challenge to the  Federal Constitutional Court. This is also an activity at which Chancellor Merkel excels as seen in her salvage of the Lisbon Treaty and she works together with Van Rompuy better than with President Barroso. Her proposal to withhold voting rights from sinning states was not accepted.

In the months since the May Council Chancellor Merkel has successfully defended core German values .No real concessions have been made to France on economic governance of the eurozone  which would potentially weaken the ‘sound money ‘ principle and the suggestion that Germany might moderate its position as a hyper export oriented ‘extraordinary trader’(Wolfgang Hager) has been swatted aside. The casualty has been Germany’s traditional ‘european vocation’(Paterson) where no effort has been  made to  convince German domestic opinion of the centrality of the eurozone to Germany’s prosperity. It is clear that Chancellor Merkel does not believe that she could rely on pro European sentiment to detoxify any new ‘bail outs’ which might occur if her proposals are not accepted. The coincidence of the next   Federal Election scheduled to take place a few months after the EFSF expires in 2013  weighs heavily with the Chancellor.


Cameron’s EU Budget ‘Victory’

The Prime Minister David Cameron claims he has “succeeded spectacularly” in seeing off a potential 6% EU budget increase. Mr Cameron has spent much of Friday taking credit for putting together an alliance of 12 mostly old, rich Member States in favour of a smaller 2.9% increase in the Community budget. Even during the present period of self-imposed austerity, the size of the increase in the budget is actually rather uninteresting – after all, the Union spends a fraction more than 1% of the aggregate GDP of the EU-27. This post is also not concerned with the rights and wrongs of whether rich Member States should really be repatriating funds away from assisting poorer ones.

What is interesting about Mr Cameron’s grandstanding today are three things.

First, what Mr Cameron has provided us with a textbook example of how Member States (and the UK in particular) portray the business of Brussels negotiations. In this game, the Government stalwartly defends the national interests of [British] taxpayers from attempts by dastardly Brussels bureaucrats to suck in ever more money for their hare-brained, money-wasting schemes. Needless to add, every penny that goes to Brussels can’t be spent on “schools n’hospitals”, “frontline services” and so on back home. Governments “win” at summits – no less than “spectacularly” in this case – although Mr Cameron’s announcement is hardly the news of a great victory on the plains of Waterloo that his rhetoric implies.

Second, Mr Cameron and his allies have demonstrated publicly that Member States really believe that the only “fair” Union budget is one where everybody gets out more or less what they pay in. Yet why should this be the case? Do we expect to get back from the State in services EXACTLY to the value of what we pay in taxes? No – at least not if one is reasonably sane and sober at the time that the question is asked. Following on this logic, one might ask: “why contribute to the budget at all?” Cameron’s claim is tedious pub-talk populism at best and reminds me of that boorish class of individual who “doesn’t mind paying tax” but it’s “what they spend it on” that he objects to. Insert here: housing benefits for “layabouts”, wars in Afghanistan, “waste”, NHS managers etc. etc. What do such people expect? A questionnaire from HM Treasury asking the respondent to tick which areas of State activity he is willing to support and by how much?

And the third point is that for all the talk about eurosceptic Tories and pro-Europe Liberals (or Labour supporters), British governments basically all act in the same way in Brussels. It’s not hard to imagine a stern faced Gordon Brown emerging from the smokeless negotiating chambers of the Council asserting that he has saved “£450 million pooounds” or similar which can now be “invested” in “hard-working families”. What about lazy families? Who will take care of them? Answers on a postcard please.

Immigration and Citizenship in Germany Twenty Years After Unification: Deutschland einig Einwanderungsland?

One of the most resilient fixtures on the domestic policy agenda of the old West Germany was immigration and citizenship. By the late 1980s, it already had a thirty year long history, with the first recruitment treaty for temporary Gastarbeiter signed with Italy in 1955. It had also been over fifteen years since the end of recruitment (Anwerbestopp) in 1973 heralded the start of the transformation of a hitherto temporary migrant population into a more permanent community, as well as the advent of dependant migration. Even so, throughout this entire period West Germany remained resolutely wedded to the notion of not being a country of immigration (kein Einwanderungsland), a position which especially the CDU/CSU maintained on the basis that, in contrast to countries such as the United States, West Germany had not actively sought to attract new permanent migration to increase its population. At the same time, for good historical reasons, West Germany had maintained a comparatively liberal policy on political asylum and offered a homeland for ethnic Germans who had been persecuted under Communism (so-called Aussiedler).

Unification in 1990 had a seismic impact on all aspects of this self-understanding. For one thing, the associated end of the Cold War and collapse of the Iron Curtain triggered unprecedented migratory flows to Germany: Between 1988 and 1993, over 1.4 million asylum seekers and over 1.6 million ethnic Germans and their dependants arrived in the country. The sheer scale of this migration led to its curtailment in two separate items of legislation in 1992. At the same time, the demise of the GDR formally allowed united Germany to reconsider the basis of its citizenship and to move away from the pan-Germanic and ultimately ethnic definition which underpinned it. This culminated in the 2000 Citizenship Law, which inter alia introduced ius soli for the first time in history into German citizenship.

So, twenty years on after unification, does this mean that Germany is now an undisputed Einwanderungsland? Even when one moves beyond the rather simplistic interpretation of this question during the 1980s to consider whether Germany now reflects the structures and experiences of other countries with large migrant populations, the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains a resounding ‘Jein.’

On the one hand, Germany’s immigrant population is more settled than ever. At the end of 2009, almost 7 million non-Germans resided in the country, including 1.7 million Turks. Over 95 percent of non-Germans lived in the old Länder, with an overall average residence period of over eighteen years; indeed, over one-third had more than twenty years’ residence. Around one-fifth of the total population of Germany is formally considered to have a ‘migration background.’

In policy terms, Germany has witnessed a visible convergence with other countries in the EU. Thus, over the past five years, and in addition to the citizenship reform of 2000, Germany has passed not only the first immigration law but also, thanks to the EU, the first dedicated anti-discrimination legislation in its history. High-skilled migration is now possible from outside the EU. There has been a concerted policy focus on integration, with the introduction of formal language courses in 2005, a national integration plan in 2006, and citizenship tests in 2007. Institutionally, integration is now recognized as a core policy task under the auspices of a government minister in the Federal Chancellery, as opposed to a non-governmental commissioner located in the Labor Ministry in the 1980s. And although the educational attainments and labor market outcomes of migrants generally remain well below those of the indigenous population, this too is common to other countries with a similar migration history.

On the other hand, despite the 2000 reform, and in clear contrast to countries such as France and the UK, citizenship in Germany remains largely exclusive. Contrary to initial expectations, the number of naturalizations has actually halved over the past decade. Dual citizenship remains formally rejected and thus constitutes a key impediment to higher numbers. More broadly, and despite their long residence periods, migrants in Germany have struggled to make an impact on society as a whole and, some notable exceptions notwithstanding, remain largely under-represented in the professions, public service, and especially in politics. Perhaps even more fundamentally, Germany is no longer a major recipient of migration. Ethnic German and asylum migration flows have slowed to a comparative trickle from their peak in the early 1990s and net migration too has been broadly around zero since 2006. If anything, Germany is becoming a country of emigration once more, as both Germans and high-skilled Turks increasingly seek opportunities elsewhere.

In general, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Germany continues to struggle to come to terms with its situation as a culturally diverse and pluralistic country. Discussions about a German Leitkultur in 2000, or more recently Thilo Sarrazin’s tendentious and frankly prejudicial claims about what he perceives as the apparent inability of Muslims to integrate into German society, completely miss the point. For better or for worse, Germany has and will continue to have a permanent and large migrant population. Migrants cannot be expelled for integration deficits, as such a policy could scarcely be reconciled with the principles of the Rechtsstaat. Germany therefore has no choice but to do much more to give this significant part of the population a full and active stake in Germany’s economy and society at large. Calls for Turks to do more to ‘integrate’ are thus not only by definition tinged with a hefty dose of hypocrisy, they are also unrealistic and counterproductive: By tarring entire groups with the same brush, they, if anything, risk alienating those migrants who might otherwise have been willing to play a more active role in German society.

In any case, the demographic realities Germany is facing dictate that the country will need more, not less immigration. The most recent Statistisches Bundesamt demographic projections show that the country’s population is set to fall from currently 82 million to 65 million by 2060, with the proportion of the population of working age falling from 61 percent to 50 percent over the same period. Crucially, as well as a constant fertility rate, this assumes annual net migration of 100,000 persons – a level Germany last experienced in 2003.

Perhaps Germany could learn more from immigration countries such as the United States. For all its problems, the ‘American Dream’ remains a powerful image, which helps to attract thousands of determined and often highly able migrants from across the world. Tales of first generation migrants who are now millionaires abound in the U.S.; by contrast, in Germany there are literally only individual parallel stories. And yet this is not, as Sarrazin would have us believe, a question of the genetic make-up of migrants; rather, German policymakers have long overestimated the country’s attractiveness for high-skilled migrants from across the world, especially compared to the U.S. The ‘Green Card’ program of 2000 filled only two-thirds of its very modest quota of 20,000 places over five years, and those who came quickly found out just how conservative the immigration authorities remained. Tellingly, although such migrants can now be granted immediate permanent residence in Germany, only 450 persons obtained this status between 2005 and 2008 – that’s just 150 each year.

Germany has certainly come a long way since the late 1980s, something which is already reflected in the fact that the term Einwanderungsland no longer appears in public discourse, on either side of the political spectrum. But Germany has not yet grasped the extent to which recent migration has already changed it, as well as the extent to which it must change itself in order to prepare itself for the future.

This essay appeared in the Advisor of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) on 1 October 2010. It is part of a series of AICGS essays celebrating twenty years of German unity.

Housing benefit cuts: how the government is shaping the argument

It’s been an interesting time for those of us who follow welfare politics. On the one hand, we’ve seen the axing of child benefit payments for higher earners, and now further, hefty cuts to housing benefit, on top of those announced in June. On the other, the government is apparently to embrace a greater degree of universalism on pensions. In terms of Realpolitik, this isn’t much of a riddle – turnout at the last general election was highest amongst pensioners (76%), and lowest amongst the less well-off (social classes D and E had turnout of 57%) and those who rented accommodation (55%).

But there are, it seems to me, there are several interesting points to come out of this. In future pieces, I’ll write about the likely costs elsewhere to the public sector through these cuts, and the likely effect of housing policy changes upon our welfare settlement. For now, I want to focus upon how the government is trying to win the arguments for these cuts.

There’s a lively debate about when, and under what circumstances, cutting welfare payments may be popular, and what politicians can do to influence this. An assumption that permeates much academic writing on this subject is that cutting benefits is usually unpopular. There is the least resistance when there is a lower number of beneficiaries, and when they have less access to the political process (hence the relevance of lower turnout amongst poorer people).

To build public support for the measure, the government’s strategy has been pretty clear-cut: to paint a picture of housing benefit which will be deeply unattractive to the general public. This started prior to the announcement, with ubiquitous stories in the media about particular families who appeared to be getting very generous support with their rent, had no desire to become active in the labour market, and were photographed, slouching or beaming around a flat-screen television.

Latterly, in justifying the cuts, a similarly jaundiced picture has been painted. So Nick Clegg, at Prime Minister’s Questions, contrasted those who claimed Housing Benefit with those who
“go out to work, pay their taxes and play by the rules“
. This is a pretty hopeless representation of housing benefit –“the rules” dictate that people are perfectly entitled to claim housing benefit if they are on a low income, and a good many people on HB do go out to work. As the homeless charity Shelter pointed out, just 12% of housing benefit recipients are unemployed. In many of the remaining cases (i.e. excluding pensioners, parents of very young children, and the disabled), it is just that their work is insufficient to allow them enough money to live on whilst paying their rent.

Similarly, both Nick Clegg and David Cameron focused on the £400 weekly cap on housing benefit payments. In fact, this particular measure will apply to under 22,000 households, whereas some 774,000 households, according to the government’s own impact assessment, are likely to see their benefits drop as a result of reduction in rates to the 30th percentile within a Broad Rental Market Area (the area for which benefit levels are calculated).

It is perhaps no surprise that there is initial, abstract support for the government’s plans, which 57% of voters say they support. Whether the efforts to discredit the benefit and those who receive it are as successful once the full impact becomes clear remains to be seen.

Student Forum on the Spending Review – a Resounding Success

Our lunchtime Student Forum on the Comprehensive Spending Review was a resounding success, with some 90 students attending the discussion on 21 October. The highlight of the discussion was a presentation by Dr Anneliese Dodds, Lecturer in Public Policy at Aston University. The slides used in the discussion are posted here for those of you who have not managed to attend. Dr Dodds’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion and we look forward to the next set of events.

You can download Dr Dodds’s presentation here: The Comprehensive Spending Review — Autumn 2010(2)

Welcome to our new MA students

We are very pleased to welcome our new cohort of twelve Masters students this year. The students are taking part on the programme MA EU and International Relations, and the Double MA programme which is offered jointly with the Institut d’Etudes Politiques Lille. This semester’s lectures on European Security, International Relations and Research Methods have started, and the group is hard at already work in their MA students’ office, preparing their readings and class discussions.

This week, we will also welcome our new postgraduate student from Albania, who is taking part on our Professional Development course through a specially designed one semester programme for students from the European University Tirana. The students on this programme will take part in MA-level classes and will begin to prepare their MA thesis, before returning home to complete their degree.

In other MA student news, Luke John Davis (MA EU and International Relations in 2009-2010), has just returned from a Youth in Action Conference in Belgrade, Serbia, where he discussed problems of European integration with other students from across Europe.

Making Sense of the Comprehensive Spending Review

This Thursday, 21788984_10603133 October, we will be discussing the Comprehensive Spending  Review (CSR), in an informal lunchtime forum.

Introductory statements by Dr Nat Copsey (Politics and International Relations)  and Dr Anneliese Dodds (Sociology and Public Policy), followed by an open discussion. Chair: Professor Simon Green (Politics and International Relations)

The Comprehensive Spending Review, the results of which will be announced on 20 October, is likely to lead to the most far-reaching restructuring of the British state for at least a generation. In this session, which is the first in a new series of student-oriented lunchtime events hosted by the Aston Centre for Europe, colleagues from LSS will provide a first response to the outcome, followed by a chance for general discussion.

All students  and colleagues are welcome to attend – just turn up on the day!

13.00 – 13.45, Thursday, 21 October 2010 in Room G11, Main Building, Aston University

Malcolm Harbour MEP lecture on the European Parliament

Malcolm Harbour MEP
Malcolm Harbour MEP

We are very pleased to announce our first event of the new academic year.

Malcolm Harbour MEP is coming to Aston on 15 October to talk to students about the work of the European Parliament in European governance. His talk is at 14.00h in MB578 and is open to all. There is no need to book, but if your require further information, please email

Prof Anand Menon: Europe, State of the Union

Prof Anand Menon, Europe: State of the Union

As a part of our series of events examining the changing nature of Europe, we will be hosting a public lecture with Prof Anand Menon, entitled ‘Europe: The State of the Union’.

Anand Menon is Professor of West European Politics at the University of Birmingham. He was previously founding Director of the European Research Institute, one of the largest academic institutions devoted to the study of Europe. Prior to this, he taught for ten years at the University of Oxford (St Antony’s College), and has held positions at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, Boston University, Columbia University and New York University. He has written widely on many aspects of contemporary European politics, particularly the institutions and policies of the EU and on European security. He is author of Europe: The State of the Union (Atlantic Books 2008) and France, NATO and the Limits of Independence 1981-1997: The Politics of Ambivalence, (Macmillan, 2000). In addition, he has edited 9 books on the European Union, and published widely in the media, including the Financial Times and Wall St Journal. He has worked as a special adviser for the EU Committee of the House of Lords and as speech writer for European Commissioner Neil Kinnock. He is currently preparing the Oxford University Press Handbook of the EU.

Event Details

27 October 2010
4.30pm until 6.00pm
Byng Kendrick Lecture Theatre (G11)
Main Building, Aston University

The event is free and open to all. There is no need to book.
For further information, please email