A supposed debunking story in The Canary, of the kind that we are increasingly seeing as this year begins, asserts:
On 13 January, The Daily Express ran a headline entitled "UK and USA are WEAK: Angela Merkel calls for German-led EU ARMY to defend Europe."
The headline is nothing short of incitement to xenophobia. It is worded to stir nationalism and anti-European sentiment within the UK. But it’s also entirely made up [bold type original]. Angela Merkel said no such thing. Regarding either the military capabilities of the UK and USA, or the need for a “German-led EU army”. The Express headline is a hoax – the very definition of ‘fake news’.
Nothing presented in the article by Nick Gutteridge provides any reason to run such an inflammatory headline. Nor was there any hint of a slur upon UK and US forces in the snippet of the speech provided. The newspaper used a small and scarcely reported public appearance by the German Chancellor in Brussels as an opportunity to engage in unsubstantiated war-mongering. Then relied upon there being little evidence in the media to contradict it.
What is the context of this speech?
Merkel was giving her vision to Belgian students of the challenges which "Europe" (i.e. Greater Germany) faces in our day, on the occasion of her receiving a double honour (something so toadying that even she had to comment in the speech that it was unprecedented) from the two most prestigious Flemish universities: Leuven and Ghent.
(On a side note: Leuven is better known to historians as the ancient university and Jesuit seminary of Louvain, but it split into a French- and a Dutch-speaking university during the Walen buiten student protests against Francophone dominance of Belgian public life, protests which turned Flanders into a nationally-conscious entity in the 1960s. The poignancy of a German Chancellor receiving an award from the University of Leuven is, of course, that the Kaiserliche Armee shelled its irreplaceable mediaeval library to cinders in 1914. When the university's replacement modern library had to be divided into a Walloon-owned and a Flemish-owned pair of new university libraries, titles with odd shelf marks went to one institution and those with even shelf marks went to the other; an often-quoted example of how things are done in the EU's host country and prototype, Belgium.)
It does not take one long to track down Merkel's original speech in German on the Federal German Government's website. It took me half a minute. Granted, I am a conference interpreter, and all conference interpreters working out of German practice regularly on the Federal Chancellor's speeches and know by heart where to find the transcripts for reference. But it is (or ought to be) universally known among Europe correspondents in the media that speeches of heads of state and heads of government (typically with a Check Against Delivery warning, or in German Es gilt das gesprochene Wort!) are routinely uploaded to government websites in advance of the event in question and remain there indefinitely.
Gutteridge's article has been taken down and the Express website's robots.txt settings prevent it from having been archived. However, I am willing to wager that Gutteridge did not provide in his article a link, or any overt reference, to the existence of the transcript. British journalists never bother to provide such links, with the honourable exception of the Daily Telegraph's veteran Washington and finance correspondent Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who makes no secret of his ability in European languages and does not conceal his sources. Nor does The Canary refer in its ostensible debunking to the existence of the transcript. Quite the contrary; The Canary blithely asserts,
The only full version of Merkel’s speech on YouTube is in her native German, with no translation. Anyone but a fluent German speaker would typically pass it by.
It should be clear from the above that this assertion by our heroes, the would-be debunkers, is either bungling or deceptive. (It is technically correct due to the phrase "on YouTube", but the impression given is clearly that there is no way other than the video content to check what Merkel said.) I am prepared to settle for the lesser charge of bungling, since mainstream and independent journalists alike in English-speaking countries are so lost on the detail of anything to do with foreign languages and the practices of foreign governments.
So what did Merkel not "actually" say?
Machen wir uns nichts vor: Aus Sicht einiger unserer traditionellen Partner – ich denke hierbei auch an die transatlantischen Beziehungen – gibt es keine Ewigkeitsgarantie für die enge Zusammenarbeit mit uns Europäern. Wir als Europäer müssen uns für diese Zusammenarbeit immer wieder stark machen. Aber ich bin auch davon überzeugt, dass wir in Europa und der Europäischen Union lernen müssen, in Zukunft mehr Verantwortung in der Welt zu übernehmen.
Let's not kid ourselves: in the perspective of some of our traditional partners—and I am also thinking here of transatlantic relationships—there is no guarantee that close co-operation with us Europeans will go on for ever. We Europeans can never let up on concentrating on this co-operation. But I am also quite convinced that we in Europe and the European Union have to learn to take over more responsibility in the world in future.
The above is is my translation and the bold emphasis is my addition. One has to admit straight away that The Canary is an order of magnitude more accurate and honest than Gutteridge. Also, even the two brief quotations of Gutteridge's article which The Canary provides us with are riddled with translation errors which Gutteridge let through. Should any remaining doubt linger as to Gutteridge's journalistic calibre, a glance at his Twitter feed is enough to disabuse one of the notion that he has any standards; quite apart from what he fills his timeline with, his self-description is a "tabloid hack". Gutteridge by name, what by nature?
Yet The Canary is, given the quotation above, wrong to assert that Germany has no plans to lead EU military integration. No, Merkel is talking right here about taking over "more responsibility in the world" from, obviously, the United States and/or NATO; these are both entities which in the political sense have been gravely unpopular in Germany since the post-war generation came of age in the Seventies and wildly unpopular in Germany for the past decade, for reasons obvious to anyone who follows the news even in English.
My judgement, based on what I see British journalists do every day and quite crudely at that, is that Gutteridge quietly ran the transcript through Google Translate, hit upon the occurrence of stark ('strong') in this passage—which by default appears via Google Translate as "We as Europeans have to make us strong for this cooperation"—and took this to be a dig by Merkel to the effect of "EU strong, Anglo-Saxons weak". Hence the shouty capitalised "UK and USA are WEAK" (see what he did there?) in his headline. Award-winning journalism this is not.
The problem is that sich stark machen für is a set idiom in political German, and by no means a difficult or rare one, which means "to focus on" or "to make a point of, to attend to". Nothing to do with strength in the literal sense. Merkel thus actually said, "We Europeans can never let up on concentrating on this co-operation," and in the context of the immediately foregoing sentence, the sentence in question plainly means that she is determined to have Germany continue to make the EU (Germany writ large, replete with Friedrich Naumann's 1915 theory of permitting Germany's peripheral nations and the corridor down to Turkey only "limited sovereignty" within a "Community of Mitteleuropa", as I have previously covered on UK Column News) serve as the USA's and UK's junior partner in world domination. The change and the new responsibility which Merkel is referring to is merely one of seizing the opportunity of America's perceived isolationist bent under President Trump to exercise more German-EU muscle directly in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It falls far short of a paradigm shift.
Notice something else. The place at which this sentence comes in her speech is immediately after a disquisition (mistranslated by Gutteridge or his Google Translate, and not corrected by The Canary) on the worrying instability of countries on the periphery of Europe and the lesson learned from two millennia of European history that waves of impoverished Africans and Asians can move into our continent when the circumstances are right (not that Merkel says this overtly, but she does speak in this very paragraph of "the naïveté of believing that developments there cannot or will not have direct repercussions on our lives in Europe").
So The Canary is justified in deploring that the Express journalist in question over-egged his pudding by a few hundred per cent and "then relied upon there being little evidence in the media to contradict it." However, as we have seen, The Canary is going rather heavy on the eggs in its own concoction.
So what did Merkel actually actually say on EU military union?
A recording of Merkel's speech has been made available by the host university, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. At this timestamp (note the intonation and body language), but also in the transcript (cited below), she does speak about "cooperation in security and defence policy", "investing in joint defence capabilities" (in gemeinsame Verteidigungsfähigkeiten investieren) and "networking development policy, security policy and defence policy" as being necessary and as occuring "within NATO but also within the European Union", and calls it the antidote to "little nation-ism" (Kleinstaaterei, a hard term to translate, as it relates to the particular German disdain for small nations in Central Europe having the gall to assert their sovereignty). She tells Flanders' brightest young minds, hopeful of gaining a place in the EU on their doorstep or at least an EU-funded intellectual job, that this is all "necessary so that Europe can live up to its global responsibility":
Der dritte Bereich, den ich nennen möchte, betrifft die Zusammenarbeit in der Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik. Eine Welt in Unruhe, asymmetrische Konflikte, Cyber-Attacken – all das sind Herausforderungen, vor denen wir alle in gleicher Weise stehen. Deshalb ist es notwendig, hierbei mehr gemeinsam zu handeln.
Es ist klar – das wissen wir auch in Deutschland –: Wir müssen zusätzliches Geld in die Hand nehmen, damit Europa seiner globalen Verantwortung gerecht werden kann – innerhalb der NATO, aber auch innerhalb der Europäischen Union. Jedem wird einleuchten, dass uns Kleinstaaterei in der Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik nicht voranbringen wird, sondern dass wir unsere Kräfte konzentrieren, in gemeinsame Verteidigungsfähigkeiten investieren und im Übrigen auch vernetzte Ansätze von Entwicklungspolitik, Sicherheitspolitik und Verteidigungspolitik, Ausbildung, Training und Ausrüstung angehen müssen. All das gehört zusammen und muss vernetzt gesehen werden.
In other words, UK Column News' consistent line is borne out from the horse's mouth. There is a desire originating from Germany to turn the EU into its own new NATO; but this is not in direct confrontation with the Anglo-American Establishment but rather operates as a client and junior bully boy of that elite, one which concentrates on appropriating the manpower and resources of its own geographical penumbra (the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe), while the traditionally seaborne Anglo-Saxons pillage the wider world. This is just as the LaRouche organisation in the USA has been claiming for decades, to general ridicule and in some cases resulting in political imprisonments.
What are the implications?
1. The Daily Express deserves due credit for having been the first national newspaper to have called for Britain to leave the EU, but this does not mean that its individual journalists are all they are cracked up to be.
2. When foreign languages and foreign governments are at issue, the press in English-speaking countries—whether "left-wing", "right-wing", "mainstream" or "alternative"—is all at sea. The minuscule number of exceptions such as Evans-Pritchard, whose quality of writing sticks out like a sore thumb, merely serves to prove the rule.
3. Debunking is not about truth-seeking if it is fixated by the irrelevancies of Brexit, ignores the ongoing merger of HM Armed Forces and British defence industry into pan-European frameworks, or (to use a word beloved of the growing debunking industry) 'tribal' touchstones such as 'xenophobia' or 'austerity'. It has to be focused on the facts. In this case, David Ellis' reporting is particularly necessary, as we are considering the 'debunking' of the supposed untruth of moves towards German-dominated EU military union. Untrue? I am writing this from the Netherlands, a country which has already submitted its best army battalions to German command.
4. For foreign facts, you need foreign languages. Otherwise, you have nothing to contribute to the debate and at best will mislead your readership.
What else did Merkel actually actually say in her Belgian speech which is of interest?
She had a whole paragraph just about Britain. Merkel's intonation and body language when speaking of Britain and the EU at this point in the speech can be observed at this timestamp:
Für viele ist der Ausgang des Referendums in Großbritannien ein beredtes Beispiel dafür. Ich will hier darauf hinweisen, dass vieles, was in der Diskussion in Großbritannien eine Rolle gespielt hat, sicherlich nicht immer mit den Diskussionen in Kontinentaleuropa zu vergleichen ist. Großbritannien gehört nicht zum Schengen-Raum. Großbritannien teilt nicht die gemeinsame Währung. Großbritannien nimmt an der gemeinsamen Justiz- und Innenpolitik nicht in vollem Umfang teil. Aber dennoch: Wir sollten die britische Entscheidung zum Anlass nehmen, gemeinsam daran zu arbeiten, Europa jetzt erst recht zusammenzuhalten, weiter zu verbessern und den Bürgerinnen und Bürgern auch wieder näherzubringen.
For many, the outcome of the referendum of Britain is an eloquent example of this [the growing doubt about the EU project]. [Yet] I wish to point out that much of what played a role in the debate in Britain is by no means always comparable with the debates in continental Europe. Britain is not part of the Schengen zone. Britain does not participate in the single currency. Britain does not take part in the full scope of the joint justice and domestic policy area [AFSJ].
[Note: Merkel does not see fit to mention that Her Majesty's Government had its cake and ate it by pretending to opt out from this entire 'pillar' of the EU and subsequently voluntarily opting back in to the substantial and threatening parts of it, including opting back in to EUROPOL after the Brexit referendum, as trailed by the junior minister and less-than-wonderful correspondentialist Brandon Lewis.]
Even so, we ought to take Britain's decision as a spur to work jointly on really keeping Europe together, continuing to improve and also bringing [EU] citizens closer again.
[Merkel did not state whether this means to each other in a single post-national melting pot, as in the Soviet model of sblizheniye, or closer separately to their overlords in Brussels].
(Again, the bold type is my addition.)
Now, why might both the Daily Express and The Canary have covered this section of Europe's most potent politician's speech with the veil of charity?
Finally, one must note with a sense of irony (something in which all Belgians seem to excel and perhaps the only non-comestible way in which they form a single cultural entity) that this was the threefold blessing of European political, financial and military union which the Iron Lady Chancellor preached to the students of Flanders:
Wir dürfen nicht vergessen, dass viele Errungenschaften Europas uns mittlerweile selbstverständlich erscheinen: Reisefreiheit, die Vorteile einer gemeinsamen Währung, die Chancen eines Auslandsstudiums.
We mustn't forget that many aspects of Europe's acquis are things we now take for granted: freedom of movement; the advantages [sic!] of a common currency; chances to study abroad.
If this is a running gag, she has a great sense of comedic timing. Germany and Austria have announced (with only the Austrian press making much of it) the indefinite rollover of their bilateral suspension of the Schengen Agreement along their border. (Denmark has previously revoked Schengen on its German border, but only temporarily; this, on the other hand, has the character of permanence, as indeed might happen along the Franco-Italian border ere long.)
As UK Column News has covered twice just this week, the EU's European Neighbourhood Policy and European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI or sometimes just ENI)—with spin-offs such as BBC Media Action's training to instruct second-world journalists in how to portray the road to Berlin as being paved to gold and the sun as shining out of Brussels' orifice—is all about shaping the benefits and containing the risks represented by the massive pool of cheap labour (and of more unspeakable things) which the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa has represented to a drooling German and EU elite for exactly a century now.
The key geopolitical question for UK Column News to tackle in 2017 is who has been reframing, nudging and setting the boundaries for that grasping Continental elite. Hint: They don't live on the Continent, although a few of their high-ups do live or meet in a continental European country that is not an EU member state.