Well, Angela Merkel has delivered her speech, entered Downing Street via a red carpet, lunched with David Cameron and met the Queen for tea.
After all that, what have we learned? (Aside from the fact that Merkel’s small talk is rubbish – ITV report that when the Queen said “You’ve had a very busy day”, Merkel replied, “It is my duty to have busy days”.)
The first thing is that, of the two Merkels I speculated about the other day, the much-hailed eurosceptic one was not in evidence. Sure, there were vague hints of disliking welfare tourism and a broad statement of wanting a more anglo-saxon, free market EU, but it was all part of a case for continued integration. She even adopted the age old, baseless, claim that the EU is the source of European peace (rather than NATO, the true pacifier of the continent).
Whoever claimed they saw a German visitor approaching who would “give the green light to David Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Brussels” either saw a mirage or was sold a pup. At the start of her speech she specifically burst that bubble.
Second, we saw the depressing effects of the useless Balance of Competences review. The chances of Merkel turning up to offer a fundamentally different relationship with the EU were already extremely low, but they were reduced to the point of non-existence by the simple fact that Britain has not yet asked for anything in particular.
With the review wrongly concluding that our current relationship is fine, the German Chancellor had all the room she needed to avoid the question of serious change to the EU. If Cameron doesn’t state what we want, then she isn’t likely to offer us a good deal. It’s the equivalent of going into a meeting with your boss, not mentioning you want a pay rise and hoping he will voluntarily offer one – it shouldn’t be a surprise when such a strategy fails to deliver.
Finally, despite the visit being timed to coincide with the anniversary of Cameron’s Bloomberg speech, the actual terms of the speech appear to have been forgotten. Today he welcomed the possibility of change in Single Market policy, or in the availability of welfare to EU migrants, but last year he laid out a much more ambitious vision.
The Bloomberg speech did not call for policy change, it called for fundamental, structural change to the EU – an end to the founding principle of “ever-closer union”. Without scrapping that concept, any policy changes he and Merkel might secure can simply be swept aside when the march towards a full EU state continues the day after a deal is signed.
By the yardstick of his original aims, then, today’s meeting fell utterly short. Even if the vague policy sympathies hinted at could secure the backing of every other national leader, which is unlikely, it would only be a temporary salve treating the symptoms of the EU’s real sickness.
The Cameron of a year ago argued that the underlying architecture of the EU would have to change if its problems were to be solved. Eurosceptics (myself included) argued such reform was nigh-on impossible, but it did at least suggest he appreciated the scale of the challenge.
Twelve months have passed, and in that time the Government’s renegotiation plan has, if anything, gone backwards. The Balance of Competences review has failed to set the terms for a wish list; the politician some claimed was a natural ally has proven to be lukewarm at best; and now the Prime Minister is reduced to talking about changing policies, when he began by talking about changing the founding principles of the EU itself.