UK Elections: Britain And Europe Stare Down The Brexit Trap

A view from France of Thursday's high-stakes election across the Channel.

We're out of here
We're out of here


PARIS — This is no longer political fiction. The threat of Britain leaving the European Union could very well become reality soon. During the campaign for this Thursday's general election, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has said time and time again that, if he's reelected, he will organize a referendum by 2017 on the country's EU membership. And polls suggest that three-quarters of the electorate support this initiative, even though it's still unclear how they would actually vote if given the chance.

In any case, there's already a name for a potential decision to leave the EU: "Brexit." And it has many supporters too, especially inside the Conservatives' ranks. Despite Cameron’s personal wish to remain in the EU, his party, which was formerly pro-Europe, is now dominated by Europhobic backbenchers convinced that Brussels flouts Westminster's sovereignty and that it's in the UK's best interest to move away from a limping continent to preserve its own economic recovery.

What's more, Cameron sees himself forced into outdoing Nigel Farage and his virulently anti-EU UK Independence Party. The prime minister is thus making a point of renegotiating Britain's membership and hopes to be able to opt out of the treaties that he believes undermine his country's interests.

Help from across the Channel

The stage seems set for a worst-case scenario: a British exit from the EU, almost by accident. Day in and day out, tabloids denounce to the point of absurdity the unbearable cost of EU membership, EU rules and Brussels' meddling in British matters.

European subsidies for infrastructure projects and agriculture are ignored, as are the advantages of the single market. Of course, those in favor of remaining inside the EU are making their voices heard, starting with Ed Miliband, the Labour leader campaigning to succeed Cameron as prime minister, who has been warning the electorate against the "disastrous" consequences of an EU exit. But the support of the business sector, which used to be a given, is crumbling.

It has therefore become urgent to help the British escape from this Europhobic trap. Great Britain obviously belongs in Europe, so much so in fact that over time it built itself a special status within the EU, in line with its specific island identity: It's neither part of the Euro single currency nor the Schengen Area of common borders.

A "Brexit" would mean a considerable loss of influence for London. But it would also have terrible consequences for the European Union. Without Britain, Europe wouldn't really be Europe.

Its economic and financial might, its standing in all ongoing commercial negotiations, as well as its influence on the world stage, would be badly damaged. Moreover, its precious post-War stability would be questioned. Without the UK, Germany's supremacy inside the EU would be even greater, and France would find itself further isolated and lacking a precious diplomatic and military partner.

To avoid this worst-case scenario, we need to negotiate amendments that could swing the public opinion in the EU's favor. But we must also help those who defend Europe across the Channel to show what the European Union can achieve in terms of freedom of movement, employment and peace.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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