There seems to be a general assumption about that Angela Merkel is Britain’s natural friend in the Brexit process (or as close to a friend as we might now have). It’s easy to see where it comes from – a centre-right leader, understandably sceptical of both the obsessive integrators in Brussels and the fiscally irresponsible Mediterranean states. If you go in for that kind of thing, she might even feel some sense of kindred spirit with our Prime Minister, as female leaders.
If so, it would be best for us if Merkel is strong and secure – in a position to enforce her will on the rest of her EU colleagues. And, conversely, her current weakness – suffering in regional elections, and taking a reputation nosedive on the back of her misjudgement of the migration crisis – must surely be bad news for Britain. With her attention focused on trying to shore up her position at home ahead of next year’s federal elections, surely Britain will be in a weaker position?
It ain’t necessarily so. The conditions that have weakened the German Chancellor are more likely to help than hinder Britain in the forthcoming negotiations – because her weakness is due almost entirely to the chaotic state of the EU. The migration crisis, to which Merkel contributed by essentially inviting illegal immigrants to Germany, is prime among the causes of that chaos. Brussels is still reeling from its impact, member states are falling out over how to handle it and there is still no sign of a proper solution (despite the bunging of billions of euros to Erdogan in the hope that he could make it all go away).
That provides an obvious opportunity for a departing member seeking a deal. A united EU, confident in its approach, would be far more likely to bluntly tell its secessionist neighbour to sling its hook. As it is, fundamental policies which were once supposedly non-negotiable are now in question. Witness, for example, the news that Juncker is reportedly open to agreeing a deal with Switzerland by which jobs could be allocated to “locals first” ahead of EU migrants. That specific arrangement most likely wouldn’t satisfy the British electorate, but it is telling that something which would once have had Eurocrats howling from the rooftops as a breach of the four freedoms is now viewed as acceptable. The crisis which pains Merkel has destroyed the concrete certainties which would once have caused serious trouble for the Brexit talks.
Normally, it is in this country’s interests for the EU to be calm, productive and prospering, as our neighbour and trading partner. Normally, for that matter, it would be in our interests for a politician like Merkel to be ensconced comfortably in power, as a voice of reason in an often unreasonable organisation. Right now, though, the fact that the European project is reeling – and knocking her off balance with it – is more likely to be good than bad.