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EU politics: Merkel visit – Brussels comes first

Richard North, 08/11/2012  


Handels 834-wes.jpg

When the stage magician wants you to focus on one hand, watch the other one. When politicians try to focus your attention on one thing, ask what they are trying to hide. So it is with the Merkel visit to London, making the EU multi-annual budget the headline event.

As to the real agenda, there is one clue in the German media. You can find some details in the broadsheets, such as Handelsblatt, but you have to struggle to find them and most media organs have not updated their stories since yesterday – those few that have them. One concludes that the German media isn't really interested – the story isn't important to them.

The Handelsblatt headline, though, is a contradiction in terms. Merkel is going out of her way to create irreconcilable differences – taking the EU places which she knows Cameron can't follow.

If we didn't know already, the loss-making Guardian told us all we needed to know of Merkel's pre-visit to the heart of darkness in Brussels, where she addressed the EU parliament, calling for eurozone countries "to surrender key tax-and-spend powers".

The Guardian called it a "rare landmark policy speech", in which she voiced Berlin's "absolute determination" to stand by the euro and to strengthen the EU through greater integration of policymaking.

When you think that through, and consider the diplomatic implications, for her to reaffirm her commitment to greater integration, immediately before a meeting with David Cameron, whose own party is committed to resisting  further integration, is a pretty tactless thing to do.

For Merkel then to speak in honeyed words of "overcoming differences" simply doesn't stack up, any more than does her proclaiming that she wants a "strong Britain in the European Union". What European Union? What is Frau Merkel talking about, the Union as it is now, or the Union that she is shaping, the one she knows Britain cannot and will not join?

On the other hand, Cameron isn't really taking this seriously either. Having come scooting back, late, from a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, he cannot have been in any fit state to entertain serious talks or make important decisions.

What we are seeing, therefore, it not what we're getting. Some papers like the Daily Mail sense, if not understand, the emptiness of the story, and try to jazz it up with pictures of Greece imploding. But that doesn't work. These days, riots and Greece go together like bread and jam – predictable and routine.

All that said, the German Chancellor does not come to London for nothing, even if it's via Brussels. Or perhaps she does – perhaps her real purpose was to deliver a message: as far as Germany is concerned, Brussels comes first. And if that is the case, we should have no difficulty framing a suitable response.

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