Bavaria needs 'more control of political and economic standing in Europe'

Bavaria needs 'more control of political and economic standing in Europe'
In terms of population and economy, the German State of Bavaria is bigger than many European countries. It has over 12 million people and an annual GDP of over €440 billion. German politician Wilfried Scharnagl is calling for independence for the state.

“Bavaria is a 'free state' by virtue of its history, economic power, population size and constitutional set-up. Ever since the Federal Republic of Germany was established in 1949, Bavaria has lost considerable independence and authority as the European Union was assuming more and more powers,” the author of the book "Bavaria Can Go It Alone" Wilfried Scharnagl told RT.

RT: What would be the benefit of an independent Bavaria?

WS: With its population of 12.5 million, Bavaria is Germany’s second most populated state after North Rhine-Westphalia. It also has the strongest economy, and boasts outstanding progress in science and technology. So why can’t a state like that take charge of its own future? If we look at the European Union, 20 out of its 27 member states are smaller than Bavaria in terms of population, economic power and efficiency.  Why can’t we have more control of our political and economic standing in Europe?

RT: How do you see Bavaria going about trying to achieve independence?

WS: There is a brilliant democratic solution for that: the people should decide. Certainly, I would never agree to an independent Bavaria that would not be conscious about its responsibilities as part of Germany, and as part of Europe. But Bavaria should have more say as regards its political and economic status. This is all the more important since Brussels, as well as Berlin, have been continuously taking on new powers in the past decades. A case in point as far as finance is concerned is the German inheritance tax, which is levied in all of the states by the federal government. Even on fiscal matters, it isn’t the states who get to make decisions, but the federal policy makers in Berlin. This cannot last forever.

RT: Have you looked at the independence campaigns in other parts of the world?

WS: What we can learn from history is that political maps are not set in stone: nations can have their boundaries altered through a peaceful process based on the will of the people. Take the former Czechoslovakia, which was dissolved peacefully, forming two independent states, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. There are more examples. Scotland will be holding an independence referendum in 2014, and a similar initiative is currently being debated in Catalonia. There are movements with a similar agenda in many European countries. Brussels, which I am especially critical of for usurping powers within the EU, is itself the capital of a nation whose actual existence is questionable, as Belgium appears to be divided more than it is united.

AFP Photo / Christof Stache

RT: Would an independent Bavaria remain within the EU? Would it keep the single currency? WS:

Definitely so. And we could have our own representation in Brussels as an independent state - same as the Scottish, who also wish to remain in the European Union in case they secede. Historically, Bavaria has always been an integral part of Europe. And it was becoming ever deeper involved with the rest of Europe up until 1871, when a single, centralized German Reich was established, cemented by Prussian military might. In a sense, this was a failure. If anything, the German Reich was ill-omened by virtue of its very origins as a state that was set up at the height of a war - the Franco-Prussian War, and proclaimed in an enemy capital; in the Palace of Versailles in Paris. That was not a promising start as far as the prospect of a peaceful Germany was concerned. The emergence of the German Reich upset the balance in Europe and pushed history along a disastrous route.

RT: There is a long history of Bavarian independence campaigns, but why do you think this needs to happen now? WS:

Our patience is running out. Bavaria is part of the German transfer union, and under the present fiscal equalization policy we contribute more than the other states. Germany must have an odd notion of fiscal equality, because in 2012 we had three of the German states submitting money, while the remaining thirteen were strictly on the receiving end. You see the same kind of imbalance within the European Union. Germany is a major contributor to the EU budget, and yet we don’t have the voting power that would correspond to our share. In fact, on a number of issues we have very little power. Germany’s share in the European Central Bank is 30 percent and yet we have as much voting power as representatives of Malta or Cyprus. Maintaining such an unequal relationship on a permanent basis is inconsistent with democracy. Remember, America’s War of Independence started with the slogan, “No taxation without representation.”

RT: Do you imagine Bavaria’s secession could trigger a total disintegration of Germany as a federal republic?

I don’t think this is a decision that can be made any day. It has to develop incrementally. And it’s the kind of issue where you have to consult the people. Should the people vote in favor of secession, we can get down to launching the process. But if the people say No, then secession is not what we need. Up until now, there have been no parties, no groups, no unions and no churches in Bavaria that would call for independence from the federation. Nevertheless, a recent independent survey shows that 39 percent of Bavarians would like Bavaria to have more political powers, and 24 percent would like it to become a fully independent state. One could argue this is not that large a share of the populace, but I would say it is at least noteworthy, considering that there is no party or group promoting the notion of Bavarian independence; it is a grass-root sentiment.

RT: If Bavaria withdraws from the Federal Republic of Germany, how will this affect other German states?

Even if one day it ever gets to the point where Bavaria separates itself from the rest of Germany, and I don’t know if this will ever happen, I think Bavaria would always show solidarity with Germany-but it would be a different kind of solidarity. Bavarians sometimes say, “We are for solidarity. But we’re not stupid.” Let’s take financial equalization, for example. Sometimes we get the impression that we have to pay for almost everybody else. We pay 2 billion as part of the VAT equalization program. We pay 2 billion more than other states to the health care fund. Bavaria always donates more than other states. But it doesn’t see much gratitude in return. On the contrary, others criticize and ridicule it. For years, we have been asking for talks on fiscal regulation. But there have been virtually no talks with other states.

AFP Photo / Christof Stache

RT: Is it fair to say that Bavaria looks on Germany’s poorer states the same way Germany as a whole looks on poorer EU countries? WS:

Bavaria has always shown solidarity, and we continue to show solidarity even during the European crisis. We bear a large share of the burden. But I’d like to ask: the EU has provided the first bailout for Greece, second bailout for Greece, third bailout for Greece… Billions, billions and billions. If I ask the German people whether they believe they will ever get even one euro back, they will all say no. Politicians are aware of that. They just pretend like they’re not. But the worst part of it is that millions and millions of Greeks, who are really between a rock and a hard place, don’t benefit one bit from all these bailouts. I don’t know anybody who has ever benefited from them. Those Greeks who don’t have jobs, who don’t have any income, who don’t know how to provide for their families - their situation does not improve. This means something is wrong with the system. And one more thought about Greece: our politicians say that Greece is only 2.5 percent of the EU economy. So, my question for my fellow politicians is: how can 2.5 percent bring the entire 100 percent to ruin?

RT: Where does the independence movement get inspiration? Does this have to do with the Bavarian national character?

I think it is because Bavaria and Bavarians are special. Bavarians have a different mentality. Bavarians are more focused on themselves, on life. Bavarians are by no means arrogant or disrespectful to others but they are confident in their strength. Bavaria is a wonderful state. It was not established in 1945 by a decision of the occupation forces. It has retained its face since 1800, when the Kingdom of Bavaria was formed. And this is very important. People are knit together; they are confident in their abilities. In the past, Bavaria was underdeveloped. It was a poor, agrarian nation, but because of proper policies, diligence and the work ethic of Bavarians, it became the leader of Germany and the entire Europe. We have regions in Bavaria which are key regions for the whole world. No other state in Germany has that. Of course, Bavarians are very proud of this. They love their land. And I think, these feelings are stronger in Bavaria than in other states.

RT: What do you think the reaction from the rest of Germany would be to Bavaria gaining independence? WS:

I think this would be a good example for other states. Baden-Württemberg is a large and well-developed state. North Rhine-Westphalia is also a large state. It is actually quite strong but I think it is being weakened due to bad policies. But all these states may consider their strength.