Apparently, two German Chancellors are coming to London later this week.
One is a eurosceptic, sympathetic and supportive of David Cameron’s desire for a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU:
“Angela Merkel will this week give the green light to David Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Brussels. On a visit to the UK, the German chancellor will say that she wants to see a new treaty to redraw the rules of the EU – opening the door for the Prime Minister to thrash out a different deal with Brussels. Foreign Secretary William Hague yesterday confirmed that Mrs Merkel is also expected to back two key planks of Mr Cameron’s renegotiation effort, demanding tighter controls over the rights of migrants to claim benefits and greater controls by national parliaments.”
The other, the evil twin if you will, is dismissive of eurosceptics, and intends to give no ground to Cameron:
“German chancellor Angela Merkel will urge Britain to ignore the eurosceptics and stay at the heart of the EU in a speech to both houses of Parliament on Thursday. But during her one-day working visit to Britain, she is unlikely to make significant concessions to prime minister David Cameron on his key concerns, including immigration curbs and changes to EU treaties to return powers from Brussels.”
The former story seems to be based on William Hague’s Marr interview yesterday, plus some briefing from unspecified sources, while the latter cites some less encouraging voices from Berlin. But unless Angela Merkel has a doppelgänger, both reports cannot be true – so which ought we to believe?
We’ve been here before. Last summer there was much ado made in Westminster about Merkel’s supposed points of agreement with Cameron, while people on the German side were saying she had no interest in treaty change. Given that treaty change is the only possible way to carry out fundamental reform of the EU (which is one of the reasons I believe such reform will never happen), the latter comments totally undermined the former.
Essentially what is afoot is a game of expectations. The Government know that the prospect of meaningful renegotiation, already taking on water thanks to the catastrophically bad Balance of Competences review, will sink entirely without some impression that Merkel is open to the idea. The Germans, on the other hand, quite like the idea of Britain as a liberalising ally but have very little appetite for reopening treaties, particularly with a new eurosceptic party doing well back at home.
Which Angela Merkel actually turns up on Thursday remains to be seen. It cannot be both.