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How helpful can Angela Merkel be?

25 February 2014

Angela Merkel is, as James explains in this week’s magazine, central to David Cameron’s hopes of getting anything meaty at all from his renegotiation and reform of the European Union. Her address to Parliament later this week will be scrutinised for every hint that she might support one reform or another – and for her enthusiasm for supporting Cameron in his quest.

So it would be helpful if Merkel said some encouraging things in her speech. But can the Prime Minister suggest anything that would be particularly helpful for the German Chancellor to say? Asked about it at this morning’s lobby briefing, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted that the content of the speech was a matter for Merkel, saying:

‘We want to work with the German government, along with other European countries in terms of… EU reform so do we… talk to our European counterparts… you know that we do but in terms of Chancellor Merkel’s address, of course that will be her address to parliament on Thursday.’

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Regardless of whether Number 10 does mention a few helpful topics that Merkel might want to address when she does speak, it’s worth looking at this briefing paper from Open Europe, published this week, which sets out how realistic each option for reform is – a bit of backbench tummy tickling is quite different to the real negotiations.

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One of the interesting questions that it is worth mulling is whether Cameron would get away with reform that doesn’t involve treaty change, when Open Europe only lists this as having a ‘medium’ chance of success. The briefing note says:

‘There remains no guarantee that an EU Treaty change will coincide with Cameron’s 2017 referendum timetable but while this would be a blow, much reform can nevertheless be achieved without it.’

George Osborne demanded treaty change in January, and this delighted Conservatives. But if there isn’t scope for that, then the question is whether Cameron could sell other reforms as sufficiently significant.

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Show comments
  • Conway

    Is that a “Spot the Ball” competition picture?

  • abystander

    A Treaty change means 27 other governments agree to it no matter their domestic political agenda or electoral timetable.
    It means 27 other national parliaments ratify it, including those without a working or with a shakey governmental majority.
    It means approval by a number of constitutional courts
    It requires endorsement from the European Parliament
    It means approval by referendum in other countries, France and Ireland to name but two.
    It is not going to happen.

    • jonlivesey

      There will need to be treaty changes in any case. Treaty changes that give concessions to the UK will be the obvious trade for UK consent to changes the other members want.

      We saw this in the creation of the euro. A permanent UK opt-out was the price of the UK’s signature on the Treaty.

      • Denis_Cooper

        “Treaty changes that give concessions to the UK will be the obvious trade for UK consent to changes the other members want.”

        Oh, really? Then why wasn’t that the case last time?

        A question from Tory MP Mark Reckless to David Cameron on October 24th 2011:

        “The Prime Minister tells The Daily Telegraph today that we should use any treaty change to shore up the euro to get powers over employment and social policy back, yet on 25 March, he agreed to precisely such a treaty change, but did not ask for anything in return.”

  • alabenn

    It does not matter what Merkel says we can have or not have, how debased to be in this position.
    Cameron can spout any nonsense he likes, the bottom line is that if the Tories are the majority government after the 2015 election there will be a referendum and it will have some solid changes in it, the party and its MPs will not let him or anyone else present a plate of platitudes to vote on, he will not dare to campaign to stop in if it is not a substantial return of powers.
    Money talks and the other countries will give the UK everything it needs to stay in, any other course for them is the destruction of the EU itself.

    • abystander

      What money? The EU budget is 2% or thereabouts of all public expenditure in the EU and the British “contribution” is one tenth or so of that.

      • alabenn

        The UK is the second largest contributor to the EU net 4 billion, it throws almost 15 billion into the pot, that money go-round needs feeding.
        Those figures are from the BBC so the veracity is subject and regardless of what politicians say it is going up.
        If this money was not paid to the EU the spare room subsidy could be paid out of it as an afterthought.
        That might be something for so called church leaders might reflect on when spouting on about cuts, the EU cut will provide more than a mythical bank bonus tax, especially as the village idiot Miliband intends to ban bank bonus payments.

        • abystander

          Well lets just work off your figures.
          The UK net contribution is 4 billion. The EU budget is 120 billion or thereabouts.
          4 billion cut 27 ways isn’t going to terrify anyone.
          Its not a bargaining chip.

          • Conway

            It isn’t cut 27 ways though, is it? There are relatively few net contributors and a lot of net recipients.

            • abystander

              True. But you get the general picture. The British, I hope, know that this is not a serious bargaining chip.

      • jonlivesey

        Now add in other member states that might get the same idea as the UK. The prospect of the UK actually leaving the EU and maybe taking others with it, compared to the UK remaining as a semi-detached member, will be a powerful motivation for serious negotiations.

        • abystander

          If the British are silly enough to think everyone thinks like they do they are in for a rude awakening. The others certainly prefer to have the British in rather than out but I wonder if their patience with this never ending special pleading may be wearing thin.

    • Conway

      IF the Tories are the majority government, and that is a BIG if, you forgot that there have to be negotiations and repatriations to offer for us to vote on. As there won’t be any repatriations (the list of EU officers telling us that is too long to quote) then ergo there will be nothing to vote on, so I can’t see any referendum happening. In any case, Dave doesn’t want to leave (“no me gusteria” he said to El Pais when they asked him if he’d take the UK out after an OUT vote).

      • jonlivesey

        “As there won’t be any repatriations (the list of EU officers telling us that is too long to quote)”

        That is just a preliminary negotiating position. Of course EU officials aren’t going to say “help yourself”, since that would be abandoning their negotiating position in advance.

        The actual repatriations will be up to the other member states, not to “EU Officials”, and since what the UK is asking will cost them nothing in monetary terms, allowing the UK to have an increasingly formal semi-detached relationship while remaining in the Single Market is most likely what we will end up with.

        The other member states will behave in a reasonable manner. Otherwise what are we doing with any kind of relationship with them to begin with?

  • Mynydd

    Angela Merkel is only one out of 28 leaders. It will only take one of the other 26 to do a Thatcher and vote no, no, no. Are we about to see these other 26 leaders about to have dinner with Cam and Sam at No 10, then off see HM the Queen and address both houses of parliament, of course to be paid for by us taxpayers.

    • Denis_Cooper

      Yeah, but Merkel is the Empress Angela who can usually bully or bribe the others to do as she wishes.

    • Conway

      You can bet that the other 26 have already been “pacified” so they won’t be voting no. The one who holds the purse strings holds the power after all.

  • CharlietheChump

    In any serious negotiation between powerful rivals you have to give to get. What can Dave possibly give Ange?

    • Denis_Cooper

      More of what he has already willingly given her, the freedom to intensify the federalisation of the eurozone; while at the same time doing nothing to prevent the eurozone from expanding until it encompasses all the EU member states present and futures, apart the UK and Denmark, as it is legally required to do.

    • jonlivesey

      Consent for a Treaty change to create a euro area Government.

  • Tom

    I don’t trust Cameron and I sure don’t trust is europhile buddy.

  • Wessex Man

    Call me Dave should be careful, I wouldn’t trust her further than I could throw her with my bad back!

    • Hello

      It’s not a question of trust, it’s a question of self-interest. Can Germany protect it’s chequebook without treaty change, and will 2017 be the best time for that treaty change?

    • Kitty MLB

      Indeed, she is probably sitting on Dave’s shoulders giving
      giving him directions to Dover and her beloved EU.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Cameron’s purported aims run counter to those of France.

    Will Merkel throw her lot in with an EU Reformation at the expense of France? Of course not, despite domestic pressures that favour us.

    This is not a renegotiation but an operation to find a way around the electorate with as little damage to the project as

    • Denis_Cooper

      The basic purpose of the supranational project being to neutralise the effects of universal suffrage at the national level, ie vitiate national democracy.

      • Tony_E

        Absolutely Denis – Mandleson said it right when he described the next era as the ‘post democratic’ one.

        Whatever we choose as a nation, more and more democracy will be withdrawn to an elite which will be either Authoritarian or Patrician, dependent on the prevailing circumstances. National or Supranational, the direction of travel will be the same eventually.

        But in some ways this is a direct response to our own voting patterns. We as an electorate vote ourselves more of the pot in election after election with little thought to the future or how it is to be paid for. It’s hardly surprising to me that removing democratic choice is the method now being employed to break the spiral.

        There just aren’t enough voters who will vote for the long term over the short any more.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Yes, they’ve been bought, slowly and surely. Merkel is completing Bismarck’s work, via the long-envisioned welfare state. She’s a loyal subject of the project. So is Dave.

          All of these drones despise democracy, and freedom and liberty, as did Bismarck.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    “Increased powers to national parliaments”
    Isn’t that a ‘regional’ issue with England not having such an institution to begin with?

    • Denis_Cooper

      No, it isn’t, it’s nothing at all to do with that.

      It’s to do with enhancing what one MP, David Heathcoat-Amory, correctly characterised as “a new right to be ignored” nine years ago.

      “We heard again the tired argument about this new power for national Parliaments over subsidiarity. That is not new; we can object already. It is certainly not a power, as we can object all we like, and the Commission can go on ignoring us. All that we get in this constitution is a new right to be ignored.”

      • BarkingAtTreehuggers

        Denis, you just do not get it do you.

        No one is ‘ignored’ in a federal set up. A United States of Europe is such a set up, modelled perhaps on a the United States of America.

        The place you *are* ignored is a centralist ineptocrat set up in which all those parties who ought to be in Parliament are not in Parliament, so any issues that concern the electorate cannot be debated because those parties are not represented. Then you could go further and say that the English don’t even have a Parliament (!)

        Whatever it is that you believe is the limit to the argument, here, where the facts are, not a single UKIP MP represents anything, one dismal Green MP makes you believe that not all democratic sense was lost. LabCon ConLab whiff whaff ad infinitum, that’s what we’re having. That’s it.

        And that satisfies you? Does it? No, it most emphatically no longer satisfies anyone!

        Our system is broken, here, not abroad, here in Britain the system is broken. When will we fix that?

        All labour will come up with is nothing and some select tories now table pathetic ‘recall’. That is just not good enough.

        • Denis_Cooper

          No, you don’t get it: Open Europe’s reference to “More powers for national parliaments” is to Hague’s idea of adding a “red card” to the present “yellow card” system, and then by dint of careful language convey the impression that this would give our national Parliament the unilateral power to block proposed EU legislation when in fact it would just continue to be another form of transnational majority voting.

          • BarkingAtTreehuggers

            Yes, precisely – you got it… finally

            ‘Transnational majority voting’ on Starbucks’s/Google’s practices. TMV on how banks ought to behave. TMV on defence strategy because frankly, we are no longer set up for this bollaux. TMV on industry standards and regulations. TMV on the way we express our foreign policy interests. We have an interest in Syria but curiously not in Ukraine? How did this nonsense come about?

            Yes: TMV on transnational issues, d’oh!

            • Denis_Cooper

              Is ever possible for you to compose a comment which is not just incoherent ramblings?

              • BarkingAtTreehuggers

                What is it now Denis? Did you not ‘get’ (to use Grant Shapps English) what I am on about?

                Transnational Majority Voting all day long – yes!

                • Wessex Man

                  You are hard work arn’t you.

                • Denis_Cooper

                  And rarely worth the effort.

            • Denis_Cooper

              Don’t bother to reply.

  • MirthaTidville

    Merkel isnt politically bothered whether we stay or go. What does bother her is that if we went, we would take the second highest lot of contributions with us, leaving her to pick up the not inconsiderable slack. Thats why she is trying to appear helpful. Always remember, bullshit walks but its money that talks!!

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      Fourth, behind Italy (!)

      • Tom

        The UK get less back as a percentage than what they actually put in,more so than any other country.
        Every £1 received cost us £1.80.

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          So what, the UK is not in the bottom tier so not a net recipient. D’oh!

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …so not where you socialist nutters want everybody to be, then?

    • jonlivesey

      Good point. The number of net contributors falls and the number of net recipients remains constant. Bad news for the remaining net contributors, who could each have to pay more per head, or on the other hand for the net recipients who could receive less per head. It would be fun to be at the meeting where they sort that one out

  • swatnan

    Germany doesn’t spend all that money on useless Defence expenditure, so no wonder they are in a healthier state than GB. Wonder if Dave could tap Angela for a loan, for a bailout?

    • Tom

      “All that money on useless Defence expenditure”
      Do you actually know what percentage of GDP we spent on defence last year?.

    • jonlivesey

      It always creases me when the declinists talk about the UK getting a “loan”. A loan in what? A bailout in what? Are you imagining Merkel setting up a print shop to churn out counterfeit Sterling?

      The UK has its own currency. That is the absolutely crucial point. We borrow in our own currency and we create our own currency. There is *zero* possibility of running out of money and *zero* chance of default.

      That’s why investors are willing to lend to the UK at such low rates and for such long durations. Greece has defaulted. Any euro member state still could, even France. For the UK – and US and Japan – default risk is zero.

      • swatnan

        I’d agree that the UK is a safe bet when it comes to investment; its unlikely ever to collapse completely because it is politically stable and the economy always chugs along despite Osbornes and Balls efforts to wreck it. The present upturn cannot be attributed to thepoliticians but only to the put upon business community.
        You won’t get any revolutions or coups; we’re ‘conservative’ with a small ‘c’; quite boring really.
        Whereas Germany has form on printing paper money galore; in the 1930’s, Frau Duffy would have had to have a wheelbarrow load of DMarks to buy a litre of milk and a loaf of bread.

  • Denis_Cooper

    I don’t have time today to go through all the details of how Merkel took advantage
    of the folly and weakness of British politicians to impose her rejigged version
    of the EU Constitution on the British people against their will, and if he was
    ever to be believed also against Cameron’s own will.

    But the idea that she would now be eager to do Cameron any serious favours in the opposite direction stretches credibility.

    A few minor cosmetic favours to help him deceive the British people, maybe; but not anything serious in the way of treaty changes to repatriate significant powers from the EU to the UK, let alone to remove the commitment to a process of “ever closer union” from the treaties.

    In any case, if the vote in Scotland goes the wrong way, that will instantly convert Cameron from somebody who is boldly demanding EU treaty changes to repatriate powers to the UK into somebody who is pleading for EU treaty changes just to deal with the effects of the break-up of the UK.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      If we are to believe our insider sources he will be performing ‘a Kate Moss’ in more regular intervals.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …is that the gibberish from socialist nutter HQ?

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