Politics

Only Angela Merkel can save David Cameron now

Forget the special relationship. The German Chancellor is the indispensable ally

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

British politicians still prize a visit from the President of the United States above all others. Yet no American President has been as important to a British Prime Minister, in domestic political terms, as the German Chancellor is to David Cameron. Angela Merkel is the person who can both help him keep his party together as it approaches the next election and then, with luck, deliver his promised renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership. For Cameron, Merkel — far more than Barack Obama — is the indispensable ally.

When Merkel comes to London next week, Cameron will roll out every available inch of red carpet. Though she’s here for just a day, she’ll address both houses of Parliament and meet the Queen.

All the buttering up serves a purpose. No. 10 is confident that Merkel will use this trip to offer some encouragement to Cameron’s renegotiation agenda. One source involved with the visit says, ‘She knows everyone will be analysing her words, she is coming to be helpful. She has gone out of her way to ease the path for the PM.’

Support from Merkel is crucial because her word carries more weight in Europe than anyone else’s. The eurozone crisis has confirmed that the Franco-German partnership is not one of equals. Germany, with the biggest economy and the deepest pockets, is the dominant force in the European Union. As one Foreign Office figure puts it, ‘In today’s Europe, you can’t change things unless Germany is with you.’ Even if Britain were to leave the EU, Merkel and Germany would determine the exit terms.

If Cameron can show that Merkel is at least sympathetic to his renegotiation plan, he’ll be able to credibly claim that his strategy has a chance. So keeping Merkel sweet is now one of the defining features of Cameron’s European policy. This government has quadrupled the number of ministerial and official visits to Germany. Word has gone out across Whitehall that ministers and permanent secretaries must visit Berlin as regularly as they do Washington or Paris.


The charm offensive goes beyond diplomatic courtesies. Last autumn a question arose about new EU pollution limits for cars. The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, and the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, were in favour. Germany, which still has a large car industry, wanted a delay. We went with Germany. London will also fall in behind Berlin over what to do about Switzerland, which has voted to end immigration rights for EU citizens.

There are substantive reasons why Merkel should want to help Cameron with his European mission. Germany wants an open, competitive, free-trading EU; in that aim, Britain is a useful ally. And Merkel sees Cameron as one of the only other European leaders to grasp the existential crisis facing the continent. He shares her concern that Europe accounts for 7 per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of its economic output and 50 per cent of its social spending.

It helps that the two leaders get on. Tales of friendship between heads of government are often dismissed as irrelevant or confected. But at the very top of European politics, the personal is political. It is widely understood that Silvio Berlusconi would not have been ousted as Italian prime minister if he had got on with Merkel.

Cameron and Merkel’s relationship got off to an awful start when, as opposition leader, he withdrew his party from the centre-right grouping in the European Parliament. In office, however, the pair have bonded. Merkel has, as one Cameron ally put it, a ‘very long memory’. But she and Cameron are both pragmatists who roll their eyes at the histrionics of other European leaders. Each has interests outside of politics, though Cameron’s cultural hinterland is less elevated than Merkel’s love of Wagner.

At this point, government advisers are more familiar with parts of the German co-alition agreement — in particular, the commitment to EU treaty change — than with some corners of their own. They gleefully reel off the emerging areas of Anglo–German consensus on European reform. Berlin shares London’s desire to make it harder for people to move to another country and instantly access benefits. It agrees that far longer ‘transition controls’ must be imposed before the citizens of any new EU member state can benefit from freedom of movement. And do you remember William Hague’s idea that national parliaments should have a veto on EU laws? Merkel’s CDU party is about to embrace it.

But this package will not be enough on its own to make the bulk of the Tory party support staying in the EU. The Cameroons must remember that, for all Merkel might want Britain to stay, she will not, as one Foreign Office source cautions, ‘throw overboard some key German interest to achieve that’.

Even if Merkel is prepared to be the answer to all Cameron’s European prayers, that might yet be a problem in itself. Her power is now at its zenith, and he needs her to be as strong when the renegotiation nears its conclusion in two years’ time. But she is not expected to run for re-election in 2017, and once she’s a lame duck, Germany may tilt back to its more traditional integrationist position. One Cameron confidant dismisses this suggestion: ‘She has a history of cutting the legs off people who set themselves up as rivals.’ Still, Cameron remains alarmingly dependent on Merkel. His whole EU strategy turns on this relationship.

Then there is the perennial danger that the Franco-German axis will reassert itself. Merkel and Hollande are not simpatico either personally or philosophically. But history suggests that, forced to choose, Germany will pick France over Britain.

Cameron is right to be heaping honours on Merkel: every little helps when it comes to diplomacy. But there is a real danger that he isn’t leaving himself enough time to come up with a deal that will really change Britain’s terms of membership and placate his own party. He urgently needs to cultivate European leaders other than Merkel. His meeting with the Dutch Prime Minister this week should be the start of a sustained Cameron effort to bring other northern European reformists on board. Merkel’s support is necessary but not sufficient for a new deal.

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  • George_Arseborne

    Oh what a depressing article, tell us about a desperate Prime Minister Cameron , who is so weak in all aspect now rolling carpet for Angela to sort out his party shenanigans. Europe is Cameron’s nightmare amongs his ranks and files. This will not improve his chances nor the Party chances to stay at Number 10 since the electorates are now aware of his begging the German strategy to gain some insignificant power. He is a big loser. I can’t wait to see him go.

  • George_Arseborne

    Please put up my comment.!!!!! Do not kill freedom of expression. I noticed that my comments go un published on several articles. Why??????

    • Dan Grover

      Erratic use of punctuation.

      • JoeThorpe1963

        Maybe but more likely its in the name 🙂

  • robert henry

    You seem to have forgotten than Merkel is now in coalition
    with a socialist party so surely her hands are tied?

    • bill smith65

      …ands isn’t there something about sex scandal and leaked info that could end coalition and negate all that she can say?

    • henryGrattan1800

      Actually, Social Democrat..same as Blair was a “Socialist”…which he was NOT..

  • Kitty MLB

    So we has Blair as Bush’s poodle and not we have the shaking
    chiwawa on the German Shepherd’s lap protecting him from
    EU.
    This does not bode too well, Cameron looks weaker and weaker by the moment,
    The EU have said we will not have any power back- ( like we should even be asking
    for some measly power back from the wretched EU.
    Besides what can see even do, she hardly has a majority herself,
    besides isn’t Cameron helping Angela Merkell build a new Europe.
    Margaret Thatcher, if only we still had that lady, and she would most certainly
    not be sitting on Angela Merkel’ s Knee, she would be dictating instead of looking
    for mere help.

    • JoeThorpe1963

      Your written English isn’t great is it? So i’m guessing your not & are merely playing the wooden spoon

      • Ooh!MePurse!

        Potkettle.

  • barrydavies

    Merkel has her own problems growing with anti eussr feelings in Germany so pretending to be helping someone who is pretending to be a eurosceptic could help her.

    • Pip

      Cameron stopped pretending to be Eurosceptic as soon as he got his foot through the door of No10, he is a committed Europhile.

  • Pip

    We only have to suffer Cameron and Clegg for another year, I for one am enjoying watching them both slowly sink into the quagmire of their own deceit and treachery.

    • Dan Grover

      Yeah, I can´t wait for Ed.

    • Kennybhoy

      To be replaced by what?

  • global city

    The simple fact that Cameron is dependent on Merkel just proves to the nation how far we have been sucked into the wretched project.

    Have the Europhiles really not cottoned on yet, or are they genuinely OK with authoritarian rule?

    • Pip

      All completely irrelevant in so much that the majority of British (not including the Scots) want to leave the EU regardless and the pantomime now being acted out by Cameron and Merkel will make little or no difference expect to increase the out vote as people cotton onto the fact that Cameron is just playing a game of deception.

      • Terry Field

        Leaving will achieve NOTHING – you are now – permanently – dirt poor.
        Humility is required as a first point of reference before you are able to work to improve ANYTHING.

        • Pip

          Nonsense, if you believe securing our Democracy and self rule is nothing then you are in fact part of the problem.

          • Terry Field

            It as stupid to suggest that there is a ‘democracy to secure’ when the democratic process has worked openly since 1973 on accession, as it is for the Russians to suggest the Ukrainian protestors are ‘fascists’
            Silly, untrue, and perverse distortions of the truth
            But of course in your ‘laager mentality’ mind, anyone who disagrees with you is ‘part of the problem’
            You need to live on your own where no others can disagree with you.

          • berosos_bubos

            The British people were lied to as you well know.

        • manonthebus

          There are millions of people in the world who would love to be as poor as we are. Quite a lot of them come here from Eastern Europe where they hope to become poor like us.

          • Terry Field

            Ha Ha
            You would keep people out because of nothing more than mean-minded peevishness and little Englander petty arrogance – these are Europeans from a culture as sophisticated as yours – unlike the many people allowed to flood in after the second war.
            And I assume you would like to see the Brits in Europe forcibly repatriated to the UK???
            An idiot policy from People disconnected from the world that moves rapidly away from the destructive nationalism of the centuries of war and puffed up jingoism.
            You are sick and you are irrelevant in your silly nationalism.

          • 1Adam2014

            I would sooner rather rather be a little Englander than a Little petty European like You and numpties like Clegg

          • Terry Field

            You have turned your mind off. I can hear the snoring,

      • henryGrattan1800

        Why? so the other 26 countries are some how dependent on the …Germany and France created this project and the UK came in in 1973…the UK has an over inflated view of their worth to the EU

        • 1Adam2014

          I hate the Germans never forgive them for what they did to Europe

      • 1Adam2014

        the EU is in it’s death throes

  • Gregory Mason

    I’ll be damned before I vote for a man who goes cap in hand to the Germans.

    • Terry Field

      Then vote for Hollande!

  • Noa

    Like the Referendum that never was, this Downing Steet hyperbole dies with David Cameron’s departure next year.

  • beenzrgud

    There is a widespread movement of euroscepticism throughout Europe and it’s growing. The recent Swiss referendum has left them in a difficult position in regard to maintaining trade with the EU, which is something they absolutely cannot do without. Hence the Swiss are now scratching around for allies with the aim of reforming free movement of people. The momentum may the there to form an effective alliance that the rest of the EU simply cannot ignore. The UK, Swiss, and one or two others will represent a very significant % of trade which could possible bring the whole thing crashing down. I think this is our best hope for major reforms.
    Whilst we have a few things in common with Germany I think it is only interested in further integration, so a dead end as far as reforms are concerned.

    • Ben

      Can Germany do without Swiss purchases of Mercedes, BMW, VW, Boche,Siemens, Audi, Porche etc etc etc etc…..?

      Would WTO rules allow the EU to restrict trade with the Swiss?

      Answer has got to be no on both counts.

      • beenzrgud

        You’re probably right. The Swiss aren’t known for being paupers so I doubt the Germans will want to lose all those potential customers.

        • Ben

          Und zer is all zat gold ve haf in ze secret accounts to think about her schmidt!!

      • Tom Tom

        Most German MNCs operate their International divisions out of Switzerland anyway. Baden-Wuerttemberg would love to leave Germany and join Switzerland taking 25% German GDP with them

    • Two Bob

      Just wait until the next French elections…

      • beenzrgud

        I know Hollande is about as popular as a turd in swimming pool, but what’s going to happen at the next French elections?

        • Terry Field

          Le Pen.

  • Frank

    If Dave had an EU policy that was credible, he wouldn’t need any support from Merkel as he would clearly have most of the nation behind him. As it is, most European leaders know that our Dave is just floating barmy ideas and that virtually no-one in his own country takes him seriously (not that we take Clegg, or Miliband any more seriously).
    Where is a Cromwell when you need one?

  • Anjaan Aadmi

    The age old cunning British ploy … they would roll out red carpet, in
    order to get Markel to allow renegotiation and special concessions to
    Britain in EU … that is not fair, must not happen … Markel must not
    succumb to the British charm offensive … !!

    • matimal

      Bend or break, that is the choice. If Merkel doesn’t bend, Britain’s relationship with Europe will break with UKIP and others filling the void.

    • 1Adam2014

      stick to making Takeaways

  • matimal

    Are things really that bad in in England? I had no idea. No wonder Nigel Farage is doing so well.

    • Terry Field

      The UK hides its real desperation from the world – but travel round it and you will see.

  • Kennybhoy

    ” But at the very top of European politics, the personal is political. It is widely understood that Silvio Berlusconi would not have been ousted as Italian prime minister if he had got on with Merkel.”

    Tells you all you need to know about the EU really. Who needs tanks…

  • Mark Thomason

    “For Cameron, Merkel — far more than Barack Obama — is the indispensable ally.”

    That has been true since Britain rejected Joseph Chamberlain’s efforts at an alliance with Germany at the turn of the last century, and followed Edward Grey on a course that led inevitably into WW1 instead.

    Of course, the Czar made the same mistake, disregarding that factions culminating in P. N. Durnovo’s February, 1914 warning memo.

    It is still necessary to get right the things done wrong in 1914.

  • Two Bob

    It is not about benefits tourism! Get that into your thick head Cameron.

    Almost a million young unemployed. No houses left. Not enough countryside left to destroy.

    • manonthebus

      Unfortunately your words have to be rewritten thus: a million unemployables, lots of new houses that nobody can afford, loads of countryside that is left fallow to gather EU farm subsidies.

  • Terry Field

    Maybe nobody has noticed, but Germany is rich, successful and clearly part of the First World.
    We are not.
    Nor is France.
    Time for Germania to build the Big Dome in Berlin and dominate the weaker neighbours – ie NOUS.
    Get used to it.
    And ‘leaving’ with achieve NOTHING
    Britoland is de-industrialised, dirt-poor, the assets that earned ‘invisibles’ have evaporated and – I predict – brito Banks will soon be absolutely CLOBBERED as a result of their massive lending to the Chinese property boom and shadow banking system.
    You voted for ‘governments’ that so mismanaged you that you have become , permanently, MUCH poorer.
    And you look set to vote for Billimand for another ratchet down the track to collapse.
    Keep it up!!!!!!

  • valwayne

    Besides Obama has managed to kill or at least put into suspended animation the Special Relationship that the U.S. and Britain have enjoyed since at least WWII. Even the British leaders know that Obama is the most inept and INCOMPETENT President to ever sit in the White House, and as they showed over Syria they don’t trust Obama and want no part of any kind of adventure with him even if they have to turn their back on the U.S. until he is out of office.

    • Tom Tom

      Special Relationship ? I think you should read some history – real
      history. FDR used Churchill to dismantle the British Empire and gain US
      access to raw materials and make Britain a supplicant such that
      Morgenthau as Treasury Secretary threatened to cut off economic aid unless Churchill complied at Quebec in September 1944

    • 1Adam2014

      sadly it died with Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan they would of both put the EU in it’s place long ago

  • AnotherDave

    The cameroons do not want to repatriate power from Brussels to the UK.

    After the May elections they intend to pass power over justice and home affairs from the UK to Brussels.

    “… the date being pencilled in for a Commons vote is at the very end of the session on the eve of the Commons rising for the summer recess on July 22.”

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100260182/the-next-tory-plot-to-embarrass-david-cameron-on-europe-is-already-taking-shape/

  • manonthebus

    I rather thought she had just explained that he wouldn’t be getting any of his wishes next year.

  • henryGrattan1800

    For the sake of the rest of Europe, the UK should get out the other member countries do want a federal United States of Europe and the Euro is a part of this. The constant negativity of UK is at best tiresome, what will become of the 2.2 million UK citizens working or retired in the various EU countries has never been mentioned.

    • 1Adam2014

      no-one wants a Superstate Libtard only Europhiles do

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