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Richard North, 12/12/2012  


A confused and confusing piece in The Times by Berlin correspondent David Charter tells us that the UK recently attracted a ferocious outburst from Wolfgang Schäuble, who declared that Britain was leaving itself with "no voice in Europe".

He made what are said to be "unguarded remarks" at a private dinner in front of the British Ambassador, reflecting the "rising frustration" from Germany at the calls from London for more concessions and a looser relationship with the EU.

However, one has to take these earnest "revelations” with a pinch of salt, as sentiment rarely exists in isolation. Any remarks made by public figures have to be read in the context of the prevailing mood music.

That applies to this story in The Times, which has it that Merkel will do anything she can to keep the UK within the EU - although she has warned Cameron that her ability to "keep the EU door open" for Britain is "not unlimited" because of opposition in the German capital, Brussels and Paris.

Whatever the provenance of this intelligence – which is attributed to unnamed "senior sources" – there is certainly no indication that the British issue is setting the German media on fire. In fact, the UK is remarkably absent, suggesting that its fate within the EU is not high up the political agenda.

Nor is there any "chatter" to support another Times assertion – that Merkel is abandoning her quest for a new EU treaty, in favour of seeking ad hoc measures to adjust governance in the eurozone.

Certainly, we are aware that Merkel has relaxed the timescale, and is seeking wide-ranging discussions with the "colleagues" before making her move. But there has been no suggestion at all that the German chancellor has given up her ambitions.

Despite this, there can be no doubt about the message we are supposed to take home: "Britain cannot have a voice in the bigger world decoupled from the EU", we are told. The ostensible voice saying this is Wolfgang Schäuble, but this is the cry of the Europhile throughout time.

Convenient it was that an unattributable source managed to hear this message and convey it to The Times. What a tragedy it would have been if we had missed it.

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