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In search of Europe: Germany

German enthusiasm for the EU is tempered with doubts, the BBC's Jonny Dymond reports, on the last leg of his European election tour of the continent.

Whoever said that Germans don't have a sense of humour?

BBC correspondent Jonny Dymond

I'm Jonny Dymond and I've said goodbye to the BBC Brussels bureau in the run-up to the 4-7 June European Parliament elections. I've been taking the temperature in nine EU member states, asking voters what they think of the EU and what their priorities are. Join me on the trip!

Within minutes of meeting Georg Bernreuter, the owner of a small brewery in the pristine Bavarian countryside, he is telling a joke. He was in the US some years back, in California, and an American told him that he'd been all over Europe.

"Oh really," asked Georg, "when was that?"

"When I was bombing it,"came the reply. And Georg, eyes a-twinkle, laughs long and hard. Which is pretty funny, and fairly generous, given how the nearest city, Nuremburg, was bombed to bits during World War II.

Once we'd both stopped laughing I asked Georg about the EU, which for many decades looked to some like an extended form of German war reparations. He reels off a list of complaints.

Brewer Georg Bernreuter
This Bavarian brewer likes the family of nations - but not the bureaucracy

"We are paying for Europe, not getting that much, but paying for it." Enlargement, he says, has gone too far. And there's more.

"Lots of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is growing faster than the European Union itself. Big problem."

So I ask him whether he still has faith in Europe, faith that the EU is the right way forward for Germany?

"Absolutely," he cuts across me, before I can finish the sentence. "The only way to go in Europe is this coming together of the nations, this is the only way that we can stand the challenges of the future."

"Follow the beer" is a good motto in life, so I head off to the Nuremburg suburb of Laufamholz, where in a tent about the size of Texas something approaching German heaven has been created.

The concerns of Germany ahead of EU voting

Hundreds of people are sitting at long tables drinking enormous glasses of Georg's beer and eating sausages, or huge chunks of meat. There's a band playing and young men in red waistcoats prance round the room in a line, shouting boisterously and waving their hats, to which ribbons are attached… it's all quite mad.

It's also the living, beating heart of Europe.

I dip in and out of the tables, annoying innocent drinkers with questions about the EU.

Nearly everyone says they'll vote in the elections. Only one person is downright sceptical about Germany and Europe. Others have complaints of course - the cost is mentioned a fair few times.

But ask them how the relationship is between Europe and its biggest member, and everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

'Europe is the future'

"Relations have got better," says one man. "Europe is the future for all European countries," says a young woman.

"Relations are strong," says another man, boasting that a Bavarian had until recently held a senior post in the European Parliament.

Stilt walker campaigning in Nuremberg
Stilt walkers advertise the right-wing CSU party in Nuremberg

Claudia Floren, with one of her three children wrapped around her leg, also mentions the cost of the EU - or EC as she calls it. But again, on the fundamentals, she is a rock-solid supporter of Europe.

"I think the EC is very important for Germany, you know, you have to see how big a market we get.

"And it's also important that the EC is getting bigger these days, because there are other states like the USA or China. If we stay as a little country, we won't make it."

Even as the global economy tanked, Germany's trade balance was $223bn in the black over the last 12 months. An important part of that was having a market of 26 pretty rich neighbours to sell to without hindrance.

But there is more to the relationship with the EU than just selling very impressively made products. Amidst the shattering defeat of the last world war, atonement for the extraordinary evil of that period and the miraculous resurrection of the German economy, Germany's fundamental character - its DNA even - has been changed.

Why enlargement is cause for concern for some Germans

There is not Germany on the one side and Europe on the other. There is Germany and Europe. They are not the same, but they go together, and are inextricably linked, like black and white, or salt and pepper.

In Nuremburg's city centre, as the election campaign draws to a close, a local conservative politician drums up votes from a decent-sized crowd whilst stilt walkers in costume hand out flags and leaflets. Inside the next-door church pilgrims sing and pray before some of them start the long walk to Spain.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are all fervent Europeans. But as the conversation starts to wander onto the new, larger Europe, I can sense disquiet.

"Is it fair to say," I ask them as they sit in St Jakob's Church, "that the EU is now big enough?"

Across the pews heads nod in agreement.

"Turkish membership would go too far," says Gunther Bildstein, a pilgrim in his mid-40s. "I personally would reject it. It is two different worlds that are meeting each other there. The cultures are very, very different in the end."

Further EU enlargement does have supporters in Germany. But many are firmly opposed.

It's not just the fear of the "other". For many here the EU is a precious and important construct, part of what Germany has become. Reckless enlargement is seen as a threat to the safety of the EU, and of Germany.

The best of Europeans for more than 50 years, the limit of many Germans' appetite for Europe may now have been reached.

Jonny Dymond's route across Europe
4 May - France
8 May - Ireland
12 May - UK
16 May - Sweden
21 May - Latvia
25 May - Poland
29 May - Austria
2 June - Italy
5 June - Germany

Jonny's response to some of your comments:

First things first - the vexed question of the German sense of humour.

Mitt, I think it's pretty clear from the way I wrote this that I do think that Germans possess a sense of humour. Of course for a German it's a bit of a Catch 22 - the more you protest that you do have a sense of humour the more humourless you seem.

Andrew in Nottingham brings up the question of Franconia - the region-within-a-lander that Nuremberg is in. Yes, ok, it's in Franconia, but it is also within Bavaria and there's only so much detail that a man can go into. On the broader question that Andrew brings up about Germans' rational view of the EU - I did find more rational, informed and balanced debate in Germany than in many places; not necessarily because they were pro-European, but because there was more weighing up of the pros and cons of the argument.

Roman, thanks for the note about Slovenian history. I'm a journalist, not an historian and though history weighs heavily on much of Europe I am at a complete loss as to how 9th Century Slovenian history has much bearing on Austria's European outlook these days. So forgive my ignorance this time.

Bojan in Belgrade makes the point that "enlargement" should mean more than "Turkey". I think a good proportion of people do understand that the question of western Balkan accession is different from that of Turkey's. The question mark over the Lisbon Treaty does threaten the accession process of the western Balkans. But that appears to be a different argument about the perceived need to streamline decision-making structures ahead of an expansion of the EU.

On Turkey I freely admit to being horribly torn. I lived in Istanbul for three-and-a-half years and found the Turks some of the most decent, hard-working and generous people on the planet. I disagree entirely with John in Greece that the Turks share none of the ideas or values of Europe; many aspire to exactly the same kind of life that most Europeans do - one in which human rights are protected, where people can live in some degree of comfort, where children are given every chance in life, where the government protects the weak.

It's true that many of the Turks who came to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s have failed to assimilate well. It's been pointed out by people cleverer than me that many of them came from deeply backward parts of Anatolia - what they must have thought of 1960s Germany is almost beyond comprehension. As to what Martin Kilicay writes: yes, Turkey may well choose to go its own way. But given what the pre-accession process has already down to the way in which Turkey is governed, that would seem to be a loss to both Turkey and the EU.

The real issue seems to be to be "informed consent": after the wrenching challenges of the 2004 accessions, EU citizens must be engaged in a a proper debate about Turkey, and the conditions under which it might join the EU. Beyond platitudes about the "Muslim world" there seems to be no effort at all to explain the potential benefits to the EU of Turkey joining, or to have anything close to a debate about it. Meanwhile, the slow death of the pre-accession process in Brussels threatens to poison the well of EU-Turkey relations. Is this the sum of a relationship stretching back hundreds of years?

Thank you for all your time and comments. That's it from me - now for the election results…

Some of your comments on Jonny's feature:

Given the rich but turbulent history of Europe, it is remarkable to see so many peoples engaged in such rational and civil discourse about their future. Too often the alternative has been "discourse" from the barrel of a gun. The USA, China, Russia, among other countries, have a great deal to learn from the example of the EU, its member countries, and aspiring members. Pray, continue!
Dennis McIntosh, Alexandria, Virginia USA

I'm originally from Turkey and although it may seem that the Turkish government has EU accession high on its agenda, there are millions of people in Turkey who couldn't care less about joining the EU. They are fine on their own and see themselves as a unique and strategically powerful nation. The EU is more than welcome to reject them.
martin kilicay, london, england

"Whoever said that Germans don't have a sense of humour?" Well, I didn't. Whenever an English person goes on about the Germans not having a sense of humour, remember, all they are really saying is, "I cannot understand German."
mitt, sheffield

Although this article is very flattering, being German, I think Germany doesn't receive (sometimes) enough criticism from non-Germans. Best example is the comment from Johannes, Berlin, Germany - he thinks a referendum about the Lisbon Treaty should be made. Clearly we are no better Europeans than French or the Polish. EU enlargement (even Turkey) is important but not at this point. First the 12 "new" member states should be fully integrated and then Turkey and other countries should join. Europe is the future, so vote!
Max, Lyon France

The Germans have been one of the primary drivers to what we today perceive as the EU. Without them and their socialist flavour of capitalism this experiment would not have worked. I believe it's not their appetite that has reached the limit, but the ability to absorb and bring to par our newer members. We need to strengthen what we have before we move on.

I also agree that Turkey should not enter the EU. The Greeks in many ways have much in common with Turkey, but in the end we do have a fundamentally different religion and culture that is unlike any of the current members. The perfect example of Turkish EU integration lies within modern Germany itself. The Greeks/Poles arrived and integrated, whereas thousands of Anatolian Turks still live in their isolated communities, many not even speaking German after decades in the country.

This is not xenophobic or biased slur. To integrate, people need to have some shared values and ideals. Turkey has none on a geographic, religious and cultural level. Turkey will and should always be close to the EU. It just does not have to be within it.
John, Volos, Greece

With regard to EU enlargement it's understandable that negative attitudes exist, however I would say the social and economic impact of a lack of enlargement is worse still. You don't have to look far to see the effects of a closed Europe, eg the effect of the CAP on developing economies outside Europe and the resulting social issue of mass immigration. There does need to be less bureaucracy and more efficiency in budget spending, but battening down the hatches is not the answer to the long-run sustainability of the system as a whole.
Richard, Madrid, Spain

A recent poll in Die Welt showed that a massive 74% of Germans think the EU has too much power. This is BEFORE the Lisbon treaty/constitution/reform treaty comes into force!

Germans were not consulted over the Euro or if they agree on enlargement and further integration. They were not asked about the constitution/Lisbon treaty. Here in Germany we are only TOLD to keep financing it.
Johannes, Berlin, Germany

Your story about Austria omitted some important historical facts.

Firstly, no mention was made of the Central European country of SLOVENIA, despite the fact that Slovenia and Austria have a shared history going all the way back to the 5th Century, when most of what is today the southern part of Austria (Tyrol, Carinthia and Styria) along with present day Slovenia was actually part of the first Slovenian state of Carantania. That is why there is a Slovenian minority that still lives in Austria today. The Germans arrived in these areas later.

In fact in the 5th Century, Slovenian Dukes were installed near the southern Austrian city of Klagenfurt/Celovec using the Princes Stone, a Slovenian historical symbol that currently appears on the Slovenian Euro coin.

Secondly, between the years 800 and 1803 Slovenia along with Austria, Germany, the Czech Rep, northern Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland were all a part of the Central European Holy Roman Empire.

Mr Dymond, how can such historically important facts be overlooked when talking about Austria?
Roman Sirk, Slovenia

I can understand people's concerns over Turkey entering the EU, to a point. But are they not more concerned with the EU abandoning Turkey and Turkey being left to be taken in by more rogue states further east? Maybe EU politicians should actually try and explain to the peoples of Europe why Turkey being in the EU is in our best interests.
Alastair, London

A very interesting piece on the Frankisch (not Bavarian - ask any Nuernberger!) view of Europe.

In the first place, the people Jonny spoke to actually had rational opinions about Europe, both positive and negative. Second, none of the extremist views that have been reported from other countries, including Austria which were frankly frightening, were present.
Andrew, Nottingham

"And it's also important that the EC is getting bigger these days, because there are other states like the USA or China. If we stay as a little country, we won't make it."

I agree with it hundred percent. Germany, the UK, France are big countries ONLY if you compare them to a small CEE or Baltic country. If you compare them with the real big players of the world (USA, BRIC countries), you will see how small they have become and more importantly how tiny and insignificant they will be within 20 years or so. peter, budapest

I am feeling kind of bad that the first association that EU enlargement produces is accession of Turkey. Understandably, many people in the EU are opposed to it.

However, there are several aspiring countries in the western Balkans that would also like to join. But, even though we know that "EU is now big enough" statements are mainly related to Turkey, we do feel fear that we don't end up in the same boat.
Bojan, Belgrade, Serbia

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MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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