A BRUSSELS VIEW
Merkel and her EPP give Cameron hope on EU reform by N. Peter Kramer, Editor-in-Chief
In her speech to both Houses of the UK Parliament, the end of February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel left the door open to “limited, targeted and swift” EU treaty changes. Following her meeting with David Cameron she said, “I firmly believe that what we are discussing today is doable,” adding “Where there’s a will there’s a way”, but that the negotiations would “not be a piece of cake”. Appealing for a “strong UK with a strong voice inside the EU”, Merkel said Britain was “an important ally” for making the EU more open to the world, more competitive, with less intrusive EU bureaucracy. She said she shared Mr Cameron’s concerns about so-called “benefit tourism” by migrant workers and talked about the need to protect the rights of non-eurozone countries in the single market. Some comments in leading German dailies on Merkel’s UK visit: Handelsblatt pointed out that Germany and the UK share a “staggering amount of common ground” and “the list of common interest has now even been extended by a very important point: both Germany and the UK want to readjust the institutional structure of the EU”. Die Welt wrote “Cameron will get his treaty changes sooner or later. In return, he should learn to walk the European walk and talk the talk – as Merkel does, while pushing a German agenda.” Indeed, Merkel didn’t set out a specific and detailed offer to Britain; there is still all to play for but the onus is now on David Cameron to articulate a clear plan of action to take to the EU negotiating table. Cameron can’t rely on Germany alone. He needs to build up a network of alliances involving as many European capitals as possible. That would make it easier for Merkel to offer her political support. But the British Prime Minister didn’t have much success during his recent meeting with the French President. Although it looked on the pic-
tures the two of them had a good time together in a traditional English pub, the socialist Francois Hollande staid neutral on the subject of returning powers to the EU capitals. An ally of Cameron is the Dutch government. Foreign minister Frans Timmermans repeated recently the slogan: European if necessary, national if possible! But a weak spot is the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, who backed the Dutch critical approach of ‘Brussels’, on the other hand he is a strong supporter of his liberal friend the Belgian Guy Verhofstadt: the most Eurofederalist of all Eurofederalists. Interesting is that in the beginning of March Merkel’s party, the European People’s Party, obviously shared her views. The EPP adopted an election manifesto speaking against a ‘centralised Europe that deals with every detail of people’s lives’. The EPP calls also for more ‘prudent’ EU enlargement policy and says EU citizens should only have social benefits if they worked in the country they live in. There is hope for Cameron!
Issue 02/2014 of the EUROPEAN BUSINESS REVIEW (EBR) magazine