If Dave thinks Merkel will ride to his rescue on Europe, he doesn’t understand German politics

by Callum Anderson

After three months of intense negotiations, Germany finally has a new government. Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU centre-right party will enter a so-called ‘Grand Coalition’ with the centre-left social democrats, the SPD, after its members ratified the agreement in a vote a week ago.

The arrangement, however, could represent the proverbial ‘spanner in the works’ for David Cameron’s plans to repatriate powers from the European Union to individual member states. Although Mr Cameron does have a natural ally for EU reform in Chancellor Merkel, her coalition partners, the SPD, are likely to prove a substantial stumbling block for any attempt by Ms Merkel to collaborate with the prime minister.

For a start, the Euroscepticism of David Cameron’s Conservative Party is completely at odds with the staunchly pro-EU stance of the SPD. A German government, with SPD involvement, will almost certainly take a dim view of any potential “Europe a la carte” arrangement that the prime minister seeks, especially in regard to social regulations such as the working time directive. Indeed, it is highly likely that it will actively try to block attempts to return EU powers to national governments.

Difficulty also represents itself in the form of the new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who also served in the same capacity in the last ‘Grand Coalition’, between 2005 and 2009. Steinmeier not only frequently scuppered Merkel’s foreign policy plans during that time, but is also considered one of the Social Democrats’ closest links to the French Socialist party. Indeed, Steinmeier is reported to have said in December 2011 that he expected the UK to leave the EU, remarking that, “I fear the decisive step for Great Britain’s exit has already been made. If the regular meetings take the form of a Europe of 26 without Britain, then a process of alienation will become inevitable and irreversible.” It is therefore likely that he will not idly sit by and let Angela Merkel freely negotiate with David Cameron.

The possible ramifications of SPD hostility are obvious. By blocking Angela Merkel’s attempts to work with the UK on a new relationship between the EU and its member states, the SPD will deprive David Cameron of a possible key ally in claiming powers back from Brussels. If Germany is unable or unwilling to work with the UK prime minister, other Northern European states such as the Netherlands and Sweden are also likely to become sceptical. Similarly, any significant strengthening of Franco-German relations could further weaken London’s hand.

With the European elections just a few months away, a failure to gain any concessions from fellow EU member states will not only allow UKIP to put David Cameron and the Conservative party under pressure in the run up to the general election in 2015, but also on the pro-EU wing in UK politics, as the path towards an in-out EU referendum in 2017 will come into clearer view.

There is ultimately scope for Cameron to do business with Merkel. The CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, are highly sympathetic to Cameron’s reform agenda (especially in regards to issues such as immigration), and will dominate the next German government. They will also, in addition to the Chancellery, keep control over the Finance Ministry – the two bodies which will have the largest influence over German decision making over the next four years.

However, it is unrealistic to assume that the SPD will accept this without a fight. Indeed, for many SPD politicians (and members), the main lessons of the 2005-2009 ‘Grand Coalition’ are, first, not to let the CDU railroad them into policy positions that they feel uncomfortable with, and second, that their [the SPD’s] hard work should not result in the CDU taking all the credit.

The result? The SPD will reduce the negotiating room for Ms Merkel, and as such will reduce the scope for a UK-friendly policy. So Dave – you’ve been warned.

Callum Anderson is a recent Economics and German graduate from the University of Birmingham

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4 Responses to “If Dave thinks Merkel will ride to his rescue on Europe, he doesn’t understand German politics”

  1. swatantra says:

    We could do with a Grand Coalition here, to sort out those nagging deferred problems like Housing Planning the Green Belt and Manufacturing HS2 The Airport etc and Renationalisation of Industries. Get those nagging little issues oout of the way with a whopping majority and Britain is on the road to recovery. World here we come.
    My prediction for 2015 A Grand Coalition, Labour being the majority Pary of course.

  2. Tafia says:

    Swatantra, a ‘Grand Coalition’ is not on the cards. Plaid & the SNP are not the slightest bothered about anything concerning England or the concept of UK and will always abstain unless you buy them on a Bill-by-Bill basis. Their vote in Westminster Parliament in a Coalition would have to be paid for with ever increasing devolution, paid in cash up front. And up front it would have to be – both Plaid & the SNP have learnt from experience that only the brain-damaged trust the word of Westminster. Before you even start you would have to offer the Secretary of State for Wales & Scotland to Plaid & the SNP, and then buy their turning out for everything after that. Never forget Swatantra – in the eyes of Plaid & the SNP London is some city in a nearby foreign country and their vote would cost Labour a price it would balk at paying.

    And quite how you would get Northern Ireland parties involved is anyone’s guess. Sinn Fein do not take their Westminster seats. If you include some of the Unionist parties the SDLP will not take part & vice versa.

  3. swatantra says:

    It might be a good idea if all the ‘Nationalist’ Parties stayed away from Westminster, and left it to Labour the Tories and Lib Dems to manage things.

  4. Tafia says:

    “It might be a good idea if all the ‘Nationalist’ Parties stayed away from Westminster, and left it to Labour the Tories and Lib Dems to manage things.”

    Not only is that breathtakingly arrogant, it’s also pig-ignorant, blatantly racist and makes politics more excusive and more England-centric than it is already.

    It’s also moronic. Labour, Lib Dems and the Tories have been managing things for years and have continually managed to do little else other than f**k things up, commit war crimes and steal tax payers money.

    Mind you, it would send support for the nationalist parties through the roof.

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