Tim Montgomerie is Editor of Times Opinion.
In recent days there have been a number of articles about the blossoming relationship between David Cameron and Angela Merkel. Eurosceptics are being asked to believe that this warmth between the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor will help deliver a repatriation of powers from Brussels. While it’s true that repatriation would be very difficult without German co-operation I doubt that many Eurosceptics will buy the spin emanating from Number 10.
There are at least three key reasons why the Tory machine might be putting too much faith in the relationship with Mrs Merkel:
She is already close to – or even past – the height of her powers. She is very unlikely to stand for office again – a number of very able women in her CDU party are emerging as candidates to succeed her before the next German elections in 2017. Moreover she heads a grand coalition in which her junior partners, the left-leaning SPD, do not share her determination to build a more free market EU. The SPD, like Hollande’s France and the new leadership in Italy (however long that might last), want a more so-called social Europe. The European Left will oppose the more economically liberal kind of European economy that Cameron and Merkel want.
As Matts Persson of Open Europe pointed out in The Times two months ago, the last year – since Cameron made his In/Out referendum pledge – has largely been a wasted year. Mats wrote that “there was no follow-up plan”. Team Cameron hasn’t crossed Europe seeking a grand bargain. It has built good relations with the Dutch – and with the Germans – but that won’t be nearly enough. Open Europe believes that “Mr Cameron should appoint a lead negotiator or an EU reform task force to co-ordinate work across all departments and tour national capitals testing ideas.” That’s a good idea. Why hasn’t it happened?
Thirdly there’s a huge weakness at the heart of David Cameron’s negotiating strategy. Every other EU leader knows he wants to stay inside the EU at all costs and in all circumstances. Every opinion poll shows that British public opinion swings heavily in favour of staying inside the EU even if a modest renegotiation is secured. The rest of Europe (like all of us) knows that Cameron has promised a referendum in order to appease Eurosceptic elements within Britain and his party – rather than as part of a pursuit of a grand redesign of a new European Union, fit for the twenty-first century. He doesn’t have a serious renegotiation strategy and European leaders aren’t treating him seriously as a result.
Rachel Sylvester gets to the heart of matters in her piece for today’s Times
“Not for the first time, Mr Cameron is relying too heavily on his own charms. He is putting all his chips on winning Mrs Merkel’s support — but when the roulette wheel stops spinning he is unlikely to get it… Even the Foreign Office worries that No 10 is naive in hoping that personal chemistry will trump political reality in Europe.”