Angela Merkel is getting the full red carpet treatment when she visits next week. In a 24 hour visit, she’ll address both Houses of Parliament and meet the Queen. These honours are being heaped on her because she is Cameron’s indispensable ally.
Merkel is so vital to Cameron because as the most important person in the most important country in Europe she holds the key to his plan to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership. If she is prepared to offer encouragement to this, then Cameron’s plan is credible. If she’s not, then it isn’t. Several of the other big European players, notably the French, would be happy to cut Britain out of any future treaty talks by simply using an inter-governmental treaty rather than an EU one to define the governance of the Eurozone.
Number 10 is confident that Merkel will deliver some helpful words on the renegotiation during her visit this week. Cameron will then use her comments between now and 2015 to argue that his renegotiation plan is credible.
But given that, on Cameron’s own timetable, this renegotiation has to be finished by 2017, one has the sense that it is behind schedule. Cameron is nowhere near getting into specifics yet. Number 10 has to remember that however important the relationship with Merkel is, it isn’t—by itself—a European strategy.