Byline: William REES-MOGG
The British tend to forget about the importance of Germany, our most significant European partner. There are, of course, memories of the world wars of the 20th Century.
Relatively few British people speak German; we like to enjoy Mediterranean holidays, so we have come to know the French, Italians and Spanish. Yet Germany is a stable Northern democracy and a major trading partner.
The sale of Opel and Vauxhall, which make up the the European branch of General Motors, this week demonstrated the significance of German bargaining power. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has to face a close election fight at the end of the month, wanted to save German jobs. The Opel and Vauxhall sale has now been made to Canadian car-parts manufacturer Magna International, which is backed by Russian Sberbank.
Magna has given an assurance that it will not close any of Opel's four German plants. In Britain, by contrast, Ministers are now urgently seeking talks with Magna to try to protect as many jobs as possible at the Vauxhall plants in Luton and Ellesmere Port.
The German elections may reflect shifts in European public opinion in favour of smaller parties. Chancellor Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is rather similar to the Tory Party; both are moderate, centrist parties. Until a few weeks ago, polls suggested the CDU, including its Bavarian partner the Christian Social Union (CSU), would win enough votes to form a coalition with the German equivalent of the Liberals, the Free Democratic party (FDP).
At present, a CDU and FDP coalition would receive 49 per cent of the vote. The other large party is the Social Democratic Party (SPD), roughly the equivalent of the Labour Party. The SPD has only 21 per cent in the polls, and 30 per cent of the votes would go to other parties. There is still a probability that Merkel and the FDP will win the election, but it looks less of a certainty.
In the European elections this year, there were similar trends in Britain: the Conservatives were ahead, but the smaller parties were thriving.
Historically, Britain and Germany have had a more significant relationship than many British - or German - people realise. Since 1714, we have had a German dynasty on the British throne. The House of Windsor is the successor to the House of Hanover.
What people do not realise is that Britain's German or Austrian alliances in the 18th Century were essential to the creation of the British Empire. Our Germanic links on the Continent allowed Britain to defeat France in colonial wars. One can see this record in wars that were decisive. During the reign of Louis XIV, one of our greatest generals, the Duke of Marlborough, fought the famous Battle of Blenheim (1704) and defeated the French. His ally was Prince Eugene, who was born in Paris but had become an Austrian general leading an Austrian army.
In 1756, at the beginning of the Seven Years' War, Britain signed a treaty with Prussian emperor Frederick the Great. …