Merkel meets Cameron: What connects and divides them?

PM David Cameron just recently said that if he wins the elections he would like to to organize the EU referendum earlier and he did not rule out the coalition with UKIP. In this situation Cameron is going to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel. In your opinion, what the UK and Germany expect from each other regarding the EU politics, what would you say they have in common and what divide them? Read few comments.

Christoph MeyerProfessor of European & International Politics, King’s College London

They share:

– To keep Britain in EU

– To keep the sanctions on Russia

– To keep anti-immigration sentiment at home at bay

– To keep freedom of movement as a principle (after Cameron’s recent speech where he moved away from caps and supported the principle)

They are divided on:

– Whether Treaty change is necessary and feasible on freedom of movement

– On strategy regarding anti-immigration movements: Cameron appeasement, Merkel confrontation as in recently Christmas speech (but domestic circumstances, cultural and economic differer widely between Germany and the UK, including the strength of the electoral challenge of UKIP as compared to AfD.

– On the benefits of deeper integration in general and issues such as banking regulations in particular

Merkel will probably seek to avoid alienating Cameron on the renegotiation pledge (keep talking) and stress what is possible without treaty change, but will probably also say that treaty change is not necessary (in fact most observers think it is undeliverable and certainly by 2017. What she may offer is support for changing some implementing directives in this area.

Carolin RügerInstitute for Political Science and Social Research – European Research and International Relations, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

In my opinion, there are more differences than there is common ground in Cameron’s and Merkel’s EU policy. There seemed to be some overlapping interests between the two leaders when Merkel indicated that some EU policies could be renationalized, a long-time wish of UK politicians. I think you wrote an article about this in 2013 (find the copy of my answer from that time below).

In the meantime, it proved true that Merkel will not satisfy Cameron’s demands at any price. In November 2014, she made it crystal clear to Cameron that any attempt to hinder free movement would lead the UK to a “point of no return”, where Germany would withdraw its support for UK EU membership. Establishing quotas for immigrants from EU member states, a demand strongly promoted by UKIP, is a red line for Germany and for Merkel who sees the freedom of movement as an essential foundation of EU integration. This was a strong signal by the Chancellor that she would prefer a ‘Brexit’ to eroding EU foundations. Cameron could also get an impression of Merkel’s priorities when she let him down in their – in the beginning – common opposition (or say at least non-support) on Juncker as President of the European Commission. When public support in Germany got more in favour of Juncker, Merkel changed course and isolated Cameron showing him the limits of their cooperation.

2014 has given clear signals that, although Germany wants to keep the UK in the EU, German support has its limits.

William PatersonHonorary Professor of German and European Politics, Aston University

What they have in common is that they would both like the UK to remain in the EU though this is more true of Merkel than Cameron who is buffeted by Eurosceptical currents in the Conservative Party. He has few if any real convictions having spent his life pre parliament in public relations. Merkel is keen to keep UK in as a counterweight to a statist France but the Eurozone is her top priority. She would be prepared to make a bargain on benefits for migrants but the problem is the Eurosceptics want so much more.

These latest moves are really bad tactics. Germans believe that Cameron cannot stick to a bargain. Not ruling out coalition with UKIP would be seen as a danger signal by the Germans.Cameron is also weakened by the fact that it is not certain that he will win.

I believe a deal could be done but Tory back benchers will make it impossible.

Anthony ZitoProfessor of European Public Policy, Co-director of the Jean Monnet Centre, Newcastle University, Newcastle University

Both Merkel and Cameron see themselves and each other as centre-right politicians that have common liberal ideological ground and an interest in boosting the competitiveness of their own national as well as European markets. They want economic stability within the Eurozone and renewed growth on the back of this.

Nevertheless, the tensions will only increase the farther Cameron moves himself and his party to the Eurosceptic position to protect his 2015 electoral prospects.  The differences are both procedural AND substantive: Merkel does not want to expose the EU to divisive struggles over the core principles of the EU (where one country can veto) while at the same time wanting to push integration (e.g. fiscal union) further, not backwards.

Michael GearyAssistant Professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University, Global Fellow, Wilson Centre

If David Cameron’s Conservative Party win a majority in next May’s British elections, the country will almost certainly face a referendum in 2017 on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union. Yet, in recent days, he has indicated that a referendum might be held even sooner.  For Cameron the stakes are very high. A referendum in 2016 would mean that the British government would have to begin membership renegotiations with Brussels immediately after the general election. Such a short timetable is not impossible, as history has shown. The 1975 British referendum on continued membership of the then EEC was held a year after the 1974 election. Forty years ago, it was easier to negotiate a better deal, two years after joining, with eight other Community partners.

Today, Cameron has to win the backing of 27 member states and the European Commission if he is to succeed in clawing back some powers from Brussels. So far, his charm offensive has been disastrous. His constant rhetoric about wanting to curb immigration is unlikely to gain any supporters from Central and Eastern European countries, many of whose citizens now live and work in the UK. To succeed, Cameron needs the backing of the big EU countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. France has only shown mild interest in wanting to keep Britain in the EU. Germany and its Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on the other hand, wants London to remain inside. Fearful of a messy divorce, the results of which are impossible to predict, Merkel would much prefer an amicable separation with Britain opting out of of most of the existing treaty provisions while remaining part of the Single Market. Cameron needs her support if any deal is to be reached soon after the May election with the other member states. Equally, the Chancellor wants Britain, a key liberal economic ally, inside the Union to continue promoting a liberal trade agenda. Moreover, a British exit, coming soon after a possible Greek exit from the Eurozone, might well have a destabilising and disintegrative effect on the entire European project. No German leader wants that on their political headstone.

Alexander Clarkson, Lecturer in German and European & International Studies, King’s College London

Cameron has based his entire EU negotiation strategy around cutting a deal with Angela Merkel. This is a major error. Not only has the UK neglected building support among other key EU member states such as Poland, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, Cameron has failed to reach out to Merkel’s own coalition partners in the SPD. However powerful Merkel is, Cameron still needs the support of all these other political actors within the EU and Germany to have any chances of success in a European negotiation process. Merkel alone cannot deliver Cameron the result he needs, and Merkel knows it.

Paolo ChiocchettiPhD, King’s College London/Political scientist

My impression is that we shouldn’t expect any major development from the coming talks. Cameron is indeed increasingly courting the Eurosceptic public opinion, but he remains convinced of the benefits of the European integration and merely seeks to divert the pressures coming from the UKIP and parts of its own party. In any case, before making any prediction we must wait the results of the coming general election, where the competition is very tight. European issues should not feature prominently in the talks you’re referring to, as Cameron might lose the election and Merkel has now bigger fish to fry (Greece, the economic and political crisis in the PIGS).

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