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Merkel to Back Cameron at EU?


German Chancellor Angela Merkel made some comments in a radio interview on Tuesday that have been turning heads in Europe. While noting that the EU needs to work hard to become more competitive, Merkel stated that it would be possible to do this with “less Europe” and that Brussels could “give something back” to national governments.

As the Independent reports, these comments come shortly after Merkel received a visit from a group of “Tory Euroskeptic MPs” who are touring Europe to campaign on behalf of David Cameron’s push to renegotiate Britain’s membership in the EU, giving more power to the London at Brussels’ expense. Sources on both sides indicated that Merkel was largely sympathetic to their arguments and expressed a willingness to support Cameron’s efforts, which appears to be borne out by these recent comments.

Merkel’s cozying up to British Euroskeptics may come as a surprise, but a blog post at OpenEurope does a good job of putting her remarks in context:

Merkel’s comments come at an interesting time. Just this morning it emerged that the eurozone has finally emerged from recession. Is this when Merkel turns away from an inward ‘crisis containment’ policy, towards a reform agenda? This agenda would be  designed, in part, to keep the UK inside the tent (which Berlin wants for a number of reasons), and in part, to kick-start desperately needed reform for the EU to become more competitive.

What’s often lost on observers of this scene is that the two go together. As people in Berlin will tell you, Merkel is convinced that Cameron is one of the few EU leaders who understands the ‘global race’. He is seen an ally in ending Europe’s dependence on cheap cash (which is why the UK government simply has to stop lecturing the Germans on the need for turning the eurozone into a debt union).

This may not be as much of a reversal as it seems. It’s long been a key interest of Germany to keep the UK in the EU. Despite a number of differences between the two states, Germany and the UK have a number of common interests with respect to Europe and the common market. Both countries have economies that rely heavily on trade with areas beyond Europe. As such, both have a keen interest in liberalizing trade policy and keeping the EU competitive with the rest of the world. From Berlin’s perspective, the UK’s presence in the EU is valuable as a counterbalance to the profligate Southern European states, which look to Germany and other northern countries to bankroll their weaker economies.

Despite the fact that much of the EU has always been suspicious of Britain’s attempts to enjoy the benefits of club membership without following the rules it doesn’t like, it’s beginning to look more likely that David Cameron can get what he wants when it comes to taking power back from Brussels. If Merkel wins the election, as it appears she will, Cameron could find that he has an ally in Germany in his negotiations with Brussels. Given Germany’s power within Europe, this is no small matter.

[Angela Merkel image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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