European Union: Cameron-Merkel, a courting couple

15 April 2013 – The Times (London)

As David Cameron’s recent visit shows, a growing band of people in Germany support the British PM’s tough approach to the EU. Ahead of Germany’s September election, Chancellor Angela Merkel looks quite tempted to align herself with Britain’s open market ideas, rather than those of protectionist France.

Angela and David — theirs must be one of the most eye-catching romances of recent political history. Seven years ago they were locking horns because the newly elected Tory leader had ordered his MEPs to leave the European People’s Party, where all right-minded conservatives are grouped together, Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats included, and join a new centre-right group of Cameron’s own creation.

If you could see them now... Over the weekend they celebrated a spring awakening in each other’s company, with Samantha, Joachim and the Cameron children thrown in for good measure. What a metamorphosis. Never before has the PM taken his entire family on a foreign trip with so much policy content, nor has Mrs Merkel awarded such closeness to any other guest, foreign or German, at the German government’s official residence at Schloss Meseberg [where Cameron and Merkel spent the weekend].

Now, it may be an axiom of political philosophy that nations don’t have friends, they have only interests. But it surely helps in this crisis-fraught age if the protagonists manage to add friendship to networking and by doing so to reinforce common purposes.

Headline-writers tend to overlook what unites people, preferring to go for the drama of enmity and rupture of one kind or another. Thus it was with Mr Cameron’s EU speech in January that called for powers to be returned to the national level. But little notice was taken of what the German Chancellor had been saying that same week at Davos. Mrs Merkel, too, spoke of the need for the EU to commit to reform to improve competitiveness and to reverse the deep alienation Europeans feels towards the “union”, a misnomer if ever there was one.

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