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For All Nails #290: Joining Up is Hard to Do
by Jonathan Edelstein
Joshua Merkel couldn't recall the last time he'd seen a queen running her own errands, but most monarchs he knew didn't have many errands to run. The European royals were a degenerate lot, good for presiding over state dinners and creating scandals, but not for doing anything that would come to the attention of a foreign minister.
Alexandra was different. She did scandals well enough, but her constitution gave her actual power and she wasn't shy about using it. She was also an elected monarch rather than royal by right of birth; she was a weak executive, but in many ways more a president for life than a queen.
Still, she was a monarch, and royalty had its advantages, not least that the High Representative of the Europäische Bund could hardly refuse to meet with a queen when she came calling. And Merkel had very much wanted to refuse this meeting.
"Good morning, your Majesty..." he began.
"If you can't manage 'Alexandra,' please call me Mrs. Nkate."
The two exchanged a humorless smile. The opposition press in the Cape, and even some of the Dutch papers, had begun using that name for Alexandra even before her marriage to the Botswana prime minister, complete with the English title to emphasize his foreignness. She had taken to using the title herself - it was accurate, after all - but it wasn't meant as a compliment.
"Very well, Alexandra. I assume preliminaries aren't required."
"Neither required nor encouraged. My proposition is very simple; I'd like to join your union."
"I thought it might be that," Merkel sighed. "Aside from the minor factor of the Cape not being on the continent of Europe..."
"And did someone move Numidia to the north side of the Mediterranean while I wasn't looking? The Cape was an integral part of the Netherlands until 1879, and in personal union with the Dutch crown until forty years ago. We're at least as European as the Numidians."
"Aside from that," continued Merkel, "I can see at least four problems. Imprimis, defensive; if we admit you, we'd be extending our border into an entirely new continent and risking the Goldies' bush wars spilling over into our territory. Secundus, economic; your GDP per capita is hardly greater than Poland's, and our wealthier members won't be lining up to subsidize it. Tertius, political; we both know that there are quite a few people in your country who would rather bend the knee to Mercator than the present Dutch royal house. And quartus... well, your own political position leaves something to be desired."
Merkel saw Alexandra's grimace and knew he had struck home. The Cape queen hadn't had an easy three years. The low point had occurred shortly after the birth of Princess Motholeli, when Alexandra had triggered a constitutional crisis by vetoing a bill removing her from the throne. The Volksraad had failed to override the veto and the Court of Cassation had ruled in Alexandra's favor, but the affair had left a bad taste in many mouths. The last general election had improved her standing somewhat, but she still had to rely on ad hoc majorities to support her initiatives, and she didn't always get them.
"I wouldn't worry about defense," she began. She comes back quickly, I have to give her that. "Our frontier with New Friesland has been quiet since their civil war ended, and that's the only direct border we have with the Goldies. We'd actually be a net contributor of troops to the EB security force, and you don't have to worry about refugees or armed bands crossing over."
"I can't discount that possibility, but my next proposal might put it in some perspective," Alexandra said. She paused a moment to see if Merkel would respond, but he proved willing to wait. "We don't really need a high level of subsidies. We don't have the markets we had before the war, but we still have the production capacity, and there are quite a few niches we could fill if we had a domestic market the size of Europe. What I propose instead is that, at the same time you admit us to the EB, you let all the members of the Southern Africa Commerce Union into the Zollverein."
"You mean Botswana?"
"And the others; I'm sure I don't have to name them for you. I could hardly abandon them in good conscience, but the point is that Zollverein membership would generate jobs. The more work available in local industries, the less you'll have to worry about laborers knocking on your door."
And of course they'd all be shipping their goods through your ports, and those jobs would be with Cape companies. Cape and Botswana companies, at any rate; did Seretse help you dream this up? "I'm still not sure," Merkel said, "but you've given me something to think about. What about the political factors?"
"The Dutch nationalists aren't what they were even ten years ago. And... the other thing you mentioned can be overcome. Most of the Volksraad are patriots rather than nationalists, and they realize that we can't prosper unless we're attached to one of the major trade networks. If I'd managed to bring Natal into the SACU, we'd have been able to hook up to the United Empire largely on our terms, but I didn't, so now it's the Bund on yours. Frankly, I'd be willing to become a Mexican state if that were the only thing that would ensure our prosperity, but fortunately there are... more palatable alternatives."
Merkel breathed deeply. "I must say you've come closer to convincing me than I thought you would. But that also means I have to mention an issue I was hoping I could avoid."
"You." He paused only a moment before plowing on. "We have our share of monarchs in the EB, but none of them have anywhere near the authority you do, and frankly I don't think our member nations would be comfortable with it. I'm afraid that, as far as many of them are concerned, the Cape doesn't meet minimum European standards of democracy."
Merkel wasn't sure what response he expected, but he certainly didn't expect Alexandra's burst of laughter. "That's all?" she said. "The Volksraad wanted a figurehead when they elected me; maybe I should give them one. You've just given me an honest to God selling point - not only would the Volksraad get EB membership, they'd also get rid of me. I think a mutually acceptable arrangement might be made; if the EB decides to admit the Cape, I will initiate a constitutional amendment stripping the monarchy of its powers and abdicate the throne upon accession."
Now it was Merkel's turn to be taken aback. "I'm not sure what to say," he began. "All I can promise is that I'll consult my government..."
"That's all I can ask. And I certainly won't ask any more from the Mexican and Chinese Community representatives when I meet them tomorrow. It would hardly be fair of me to rush things..."
(Proceed to #291 (Africa): The Packer.)
(Proceed to 17 February 1980: Descendants.)
(Proceed to European Union: I Will Let You Down.)
(Proceed to Germany: I Will Make You Hurt.)
(Return to For All Nails.)