Christopher Howarth is a senior Political Analyst at the think tank Open Europe. Before working for Open Europe he worked as a Conservative Foreign Affairs Adviser and senior researcher to a Shadow Europe Minister.
Angela Merkel is in London on Thursday and will be given the full treatment. There is good reason for the pampering – a good relationship with Merkel is vital to the success of David Cameron’s whole EU strategy. If a re-elected Cameron intends to use the period 2015-17 renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU he will need Germany’s help.
If Germany said no to ‘renegotiation’ at this point (as President Hollande came close to doing) then David Cameron’s whole policy would unravel – and with it the reason for postponing the In/Out referendum until 2017. Cameron is therefore counting on Merkel to lend his policy credibility and get him through to the election.
But when Merkel gives her speech, under the painting of Blucher and Wellington, will her likely intimation of support be enough to make Cameron’s policy credible? For Merkel, there are at least four factors to consider:
- What is Cameron asking for?
- Will Cameron win the 2015 election?
- Is reform necessary to keep the UK in the EU? and
- Are other EU states willing to go along with the UK’s demands?
At the moment, the only one of these factors that Merkel is probably sure of is that reform of the EU is necessary to keep the UK in for the long-term. The rest are unknown – or, when it comes to the prospect of Cameron’s election prospects, unknowable.
The good news for Cameron is that there are many areas of potential agreement. We set out many of them here: more power for national Parliaments, reforming access to benefits for EU migrants, less regulation, a smaller EU budget, more external trade agreements and potentially, although a hard sell, liberalisation of the internal market for services – something that would benefit the UK. Merkel is acutely aware of the need for the EU to regain competitiveness, not least in the Eurozone periphery. She is also sympathetic to the need to accommodate non-Eurozone states, as she did over banking supervision. Angela Merkel can also see the benefits of treaty change for the Eurozone, something that would give Cameron his chance to create his own package.
Some of these policies are popular within Germany, and Merkel is undoubtedly keen to keep the UK within the EU, but she will not go out on a limb to accommodate Cameron unless there is a wider appetite for change across a number of member states. Merkel now has a more assertive coalition partner of her own, which could make EU reform more complicated but certainly not impossible.
Gaining allies outside of Germany is therefore essential. If Cameron can gain general sympathy for concrete reform proposals amongst a wider group of states then he will increase his chances with Merkel of reform succeeding and of going into the election with a credible plan.