Germany

Quietly, A London-Berlin Alliance May Be Shaping Europe's Future

Even if outwardly the UK and Germany may appear on opposite sides of the debate over Brussels' power, the European economic heavyweights share common interests.

Angela Merkel and David Cameron
Angela Merkel and David Cameron
Stefanie Bolzen

BERLIN - When politicians wants to subtly dodge a question, they simply answer it from another context.

But Michael Meister, deputy parliamentary chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, instead was both blunt and obscure when replying to BBC questioning about European Union powers.

“I think we are open for arguments why it makes sense and follows the principle of subsidiarity to move something back to member state control,” he told the Today show.

But that’s exactly the course of action British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested to the Chancellor, the presenter prodded – and one that the German government is still officially refusing. To which Meister said: "We need to debate this. But for the time being we’re not discussing it that way. We are open for arguments. And we need compromises."

The CDU man’s convoluted agreement with the British government’s line that Brussels’s power needs to be thoroughly reviewed by fall 2014 makes the German dilemma very clear. On the one hand, Berlin opted out of that membership review. On the other hand voter pressure is on, after the euro catastrophe, to take back some of the power from EU institutions.

But there is clarity about one thing: the Chancellor absolutely wants the British on her side -- that much was crystal clear from her unusual invitation to David Cameron and his family to stay at her official country residence, Schloss Meseberg, when Cameron visited Berlin earlier this month.

And London is counting on Berlin, which is why a high-level group of representatives from Cameron’s Tory party arrived in Berlin last week.

"Germany is our most important ally," Andrea Leadsome told Die Welt.

The British conservative heads the "Fresh Start" group whose Manifesto for Change calls for the repatriation of all social and employment law, an opt-out from all existing policing and criminal justice measures, and an emergency brake on any new legislation that affects financial services.

Perils of cherry-picking

Like Cameron, Leadsome does not favor leaving the EU, "but support for membership in Great Britain is wafer thin," and factors such as double majority voting which comes into effect in 2014 only intensifies British aversion to Brussels. Which is why it’s important for their German counterparts to be briefed about Tory positions, Leadsome said.

At the end of the day both the UK and Germany share a "pragmatic approach," British Minister for Europe David Lidington told Die Welt. Biannual consultations that had been taking place between German and British ministers have now become a permanent fixture.

The British conservatives are definitely being heard in Berlin. “In Europe, we are missing a monitoring procedure to control transfer of powers from individual member states to Brussels. In many areas, the EU has gone too far,” says Detlef Seif (CDU) the rapporteur on Great Britain in the German parliament’s Committee on the Affairs of the European Union.

Still, Berlin doesn't want to see it all devolve into cherry-picking so that, in the end, only the internal market remains. Seif takes the example of cooperation of justice departments and the police: "How is it supposed to work smoothly at the European level if one country doesn’t recognize an EU arrest warrant?"

The cherry-picking scenario is already being debated in the UK. The House of Lords published a report that warned that "opting out of the policing and criminal justice measures would have significant negative repercussions for the internal security of the United Kingdom and the administration of justice in the United Kingdom," as well as reduce British influence over that area of EU policy.

Cameron is getting support from another side: this week in a newspaper campaign, 500 business leaders came out in favor of national action to renegotiate British EU membership.

Members of Business for Britain include heavyweights like top executives of clothing chain Next and British American Tobacco. The group statement said that “a flexible, competitive Europe, with more powers devolved from Brussels, is essential for growth, jobs and access to markets.”

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Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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[*Sundanese - Indonesia]

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