Germans Find British Premier a Major Improvement
ONE of Europe's thorniest relationships, that between Germany and Britain, is taking on the smooth touch of the rose petal. This is largely because of John Major's replacement of sharp-tongued Margaret Thatcher as the British prime minister.
The change has been most noticeable over the last few days, when Mr. Major, in a state visit here March 11, emphasized cooperation with the Germans in building a more unified Europe.
After the summit, in his first speech as prime minister outside Britain, Major underscored the similarities between his party and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's, saying they could "achieve great things together for Europe."
This was in stark contrast to Mrs. Thatcher's blunt words over the weekend, where 4,000 miles away, on her first post-leadership tour in the United States, she warned against a European "super state" that risked being dominated by Germany.
The Major summit was the second in Bonn within 30 days, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl will be returning the visit in the near future.
According to a British diplomat here, relations are now solidly established on a new level. "They are almost certainly the best relations between us in the postwar era," he said.
Although the British prime minister brought five of his Cabinet ministers to Bonn with him, meetings among the officials were short on substance, the British diplomat says.
This, however, does not seem to disturb either the Germans or the British. First, the chasm between the two countries was so wide, it would have been impossible to leap to details without first building up a friendly atmosphere.
And on the two biggest issues, the post-Gulf security order and European monetary and political union, the time is "not yet ripe for conclusive decisions on substance," the diplomat explains. It was a "good time for a tone summit" to build mutual understanding, he says. "We have established access to Kohl's thinking, which we didn't have before."
Major's March 11 speech was on "The Evolution of Europe," and his host was the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank that toes the political line of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
The forum was an attempt by Major to bring his Conservatives closer to the continent's Christian Democrats, which have never liked their British counterparts, says Angelika Volle, a specialist on Europe for the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Bonn.
In his address, Major stressed the importance of cooperation in the European Parliament, saying that German CDU members and British Conservatives should work as a team.
Major distanced himself from Thatcher in several ways. He spelled out his aim for Britain as being "at the very heart of Europe," though he also strongly supported the British-American relationship, as well as the necessity for an American presence in Europe. He emphasized his age (47) as relevant, because he belongs to the postwar generation, a generation with fewer prejudices against the Germans.
The British prime minister did not shrink from pointing out the differences between Bonn and London's approach to European monetary and political union, but, unlike Thatcher, he left room for discussion.
He said, for instance, that Britain cannot accept the "imposition" of a single European currency, but added: "We are confident that the intergovernmental conference will be able to work out arrangements which protect the right of a future British Parliament to make a decision later."
Meanwhile, it is to the British advantage that Bonn has recently adopted a slower approach to monetary union.
The British prime minister still holds quite distinct views on European union in comparison to the Germans, says Ms. Volle. "But Major is adopting a 'yes-but' attitude, which is the best attitude you can have in Europe, and is better than the unyielding 'no.' "
The Germans, she says, are "absolutely sure that Major is a partner we can rely on, even if there are differences."