Coffee House

Merkel ally’s referendum warning underlines Cameron’s precarious position

10 January 2013

4:30 PM

10 January 2013

4:30 PM

The major gamble that David Cameron is taking with his strategy on Europe is, as James explains in this week’s magazine, that he’s relying on signals from Angela Merkel that she is keen to help him with a renegotiation. She has certainly given a few of those in recent months. But today one of her colleagues in the Christian Democrat party undermined some of the confidence that has been building about Merkel’s position.

Gunther Krichbaum is the chair of the Bundestag’s European Affairs Committee, and is leading a two-day cross-party delegation to Britain. He believes a renegotiation would open a ‘Pandora’s Box’, and that Britain should tread carefully:

‘There is certainly a risk that [a referendum] could paralyse efforts for a better Europe and deeper integration. Britain would risk being isolated. That cannot be in Britain’s interests.’


He added:

‘You cannot create a political future if you are blackmailing other states. That will not help Britain. It needs a Europe that is stable. It needs markets that are functioning.

‘You have to ask yourself if it is wise to carry out a referendum. It is certainly possible to convince people of advantages of the EU. But there is always a risk that the referendum becomes – as Charles de Gaulle put it – less about the question asked and more about the person who’s asking it.’

Though he is not claiming to speak directly on behalf of Merkel, Krichbaum’s intervention is far more significant than Philip Gordon’s. While the US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs’ comments that Britain’s ‘voice’ in the EU was ‘critical’ to American interests upset many Tory eurosceptics, as Alex points out, they’re not exactly a contradiction of Cameron’s own view, which is that there is enormous benefit to remaining a member of the EU.

But it is Cameron’s view that there should be a renegotiation. So if Krichbaum’s comments are in any way a reflection of Merkel’s views, this could make life very difficult for the Prime Minister when he finally reaches the negotiating table. The great danger is that he could find his confidence in the German Chancellor has been misplaced.

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Show comments

    Mr Cameron has to try negotiation as a DEMOCRAT.

  • Curnonsky

    Krichbaum appears to believe that, just as war is too important to be left to the generals, so democracy is too important to be entrusted to the voters. More dangerous than any run on the euro, a run on the whole Euro-oligarchy terrifies his kind. They tremble at the prospect of a wave of referenda, knowing that once the Pandora’s box is opened and the voters realize they can bring the whole mess to a halt – they will.

  • Bellevue

    His view that ‘there are enourmous benefits to remaining in the EU….’
    Perhaps he could spell them out for us, in words of one syllable.
    There is a lot of talk about the benefits/the dire consequenses of leaving the EU, but we need to be told exactly WHAT those benefits are…… because I for one cannot see them.

  • 700islands

    The UK is beginning to face up to a change in the international order that the Europeans are dragging their feet on and America has yet to fully switch on to.

    To keep the Euro the Europeans are going to have to deepen the political union between Eurozone nations. The currency can only work with a central institution that acts as a lender of last resort, can raise its own funds and redistribute those funds where they are needed in its own right. These powers are at the heart of sovereignty. If the Euro is to work Europe must emerge as a sovereign state. Cameron and the Government have grasped this (so does Mandleson). They also grasp that the British people are not going any further into Europe. We will not join the Euro, we will not surrender more sovereignty, in fact we regard Lisbon as a mistake and want powers back. There is also a clear understanding that a Eurozone state will profoundly impact the balance of power in the EU, leaving Britain sidelined, or to use that fashionable word, “isolated”. This is clearly not going to work. What we understand, the Europeans are only beginning to switch on to and the Americans have yet to focus on, is that a new deal between Europe and Britain is now inevitable because our agreement is needed to any treaty change.

    This is where the heckles are raised. The German Foreign Minister starts shouting “blackmail”. Interesting. Germany is the nation demanding treaty change, saying that there will be no more money until treaties are changed such that the EU (read Germany) has the right to sign off on other nation’s budgets. Accusing others of blackmail is therefor a bit rich. France also wants to renegotiate. Their President came to power with a mandate to renegotiate. Now he sticks his nose aloft and states that the UK can’t do it.

    More sensible minds, such as Delors, or the European Federalists, are at last admitting that Britain will have to be accommodated. Why? Who cares about a silly Britain which wants to up the drawbridge and sip Pimms while the world passes it by? Because Britain is neither silly, nor wants to raise the drawbridge, nor watch the world go by. America may be the only hyper-power, China is ascendent, but Britain is a global player. We matter. Without us Europe loses. It loses a rational, free market voice, it loses our commitment to fair play and the rule of law, it loses our commitment to markets, it loses our financial expertise, it loses our military might, our science, our education, our diplomacy, our funding. They will lose on trade too, and that will cost them jobs and inward investment more than it will cost us. Mostly, though, it becomes unbalanced. Europe was intended to tie in the major powers of the continent and if Britain were to leave one of the big three would be outside. And if demography is destiny then Britain is destined to be Europe’s largest player. The Europeans know this. Our hand is much, much stronger than the Declinists make out.

    America has yet to wake up to the change underway in Europe. It needs to. Not only because Britain’s loss of influence, which is happening anyway, results in an erosion of American influence, but because of something more fundamental and worrying. Europe’s record of distaste of democracy is troubling. There has always been something of the darkness about Europe. The EU was founded partly to keep that darkness at bay. But the unthinking zeal with which the Euro elite pushes against the democratic will of the people, and reduces so many millions to poverty for the vanity of their Euro project fills one at best with dismay and at worst with dread. The replacement of democratically elected PMs with appointees in Greece and Italy was shocking, and broke the back of British trust in Europe.

    If America wants us to keep our hand in then it will need to make clear its support for our democracy and independence or we would be subsumed into the belly of the beast. If America wants a strong Britain inside Europe America must support our renegotiation. If we cannot renegotiate then we are out. If we are out then Europe changes, and not for the better.

    • Andy

      Very good post. You have captured the essence of it all. There was an article in the Daily Telegraph from Peter Oborne which hit the nail on the head.

      This grand delusion just doesn’t work for the British: never has, never will. The grown up thing to do is for the Europeans to realise that because of our history, our long history, and our rather quirky institutions, Britain just doesn’t fit in. Come to some sensible arrangement and lets be friends. But are the Europeans grown up enough to do this ? Doubtful.

      It is possible that we are reverting to the norm. Britain has usually been the balancing power in Europe, building alliances to counter the strongest power in Europe. Sometimes that has been Spain, sometimes France and sometimes Germany. What is gradually happening is that Germany is again becoming the dominant power and perhaps there is a need for a balancing power. France should see this and France should have bent over backwards to accommodate the British. Instead France has chosen a different course and will live to regret it.

    • ButcombeMan

      Lots to agree with there and from Andy.

      The British people have, on the whole, largely understood the deep cracks and unsustainability of the whole EU construct.

      Unlike other nations, it is in our character to do something about it.

    • Dimoto

      High-flown stuff.
      But the new, “integrated” Euro construct won’t fly.
      The countries of eastern and southern Europe will just be plantations for German industry.
      Germany has done remarkably well, but actually has an economic base as narrow and vulnerable as Japan. The “German model” is utterly incapable of providing jobs and prosperity for the whole of Europe in a fiercely competitive world.
      Nothing to do with UK being “in” or “out”, it’s just a nonsense all of it’s own making.

  • CharlieleChump

    Good for Gunther, a little Germanic reality brought to this silly, pointless debate.

    Dave’s misread the German signals before, first Rumpy, the Gollum of the Berlaymont, now straight talking Gunther. How long before you realise DC??
    In or out, that’s it.

    • ButcombeMan

      Exactly. Article 50.
      Any country in Europe is free to take the same route.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Germany is desperate for Britain to retain it’s title and role as ‘The Biggest Mugs In Europe’. Without us they are increasingly isolated and even a limited UK detachment means that honour passes to Germany.

    The loss of the British option as a destination for cheap labour and source of housing and benefits would be a disaster for the Germans.

  • anyfool

    Cameron might not know it yet, he has the top people in Europe very worried, having powerful people not exactly near to the EU like Gordon in the US and high up Party members in Germany to put the frighteners on the UK probably reveals that they are very frightened of not just the UK bolting off down the road but that they will be followed by a few others including Germany when the German people get a say on who gets what little money they will be left with in a few years time.

    Some of the main press in Europe are starting to develop a hint of spine when reflecting on where the EU is heading.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      I can’t imagine the “top people in Europe” are much worried. If the Londonistan banksters get split off, and the current bond bubble pops and we see massive sovereign defaults, as we surely will, the EUcrats can wash their hands of whatever happens to the Londonistan banksters. They won’t care whether the banksters get paid. Right now, the EU is funding bridging debt for the PIIGS, wherein the ECB cash goes out to the PIIGS and then flows out elsewhere, including to Londonistan. If the PIIGS stop paying on their sovereign debt, that flow stops.

      So far, the private bond holders have been taking a haircut only on Greece. If that expands to other PIIGS, somebody’s gonna get hurt, and it very well could be the Cameroons’ paymasters.

      I do agree with much of the above. The Germans are critical players here. If they keep funding the ECB, and the ECB keeps funding the PIIGS, it keeps the Londonistan banksters afloat. I’m trying to see a clear path through here, but there really isn’t any. Either the banksters write off all that toxic debt they’re holding, or they sit and muddle along and hope their books right themselves over time.

      • anyfool

        The trouble is i want the whole rotten edifice to fall down, bringing with it the corrupt governance from the EU down to Local Councils, Graft, inefficiency and worst of all ideology has reached down to all levels.
        The only problem with this is, we have destroyed the future for our children and grandchildren and i do not see that many are aware of the damage we over the last 50 years have wrought.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          I guess I agree with you, but would seek an incremental tearing down, rather than something abrupt. If it’s taken 50 years to get here, then best take a few positive baby steps first, before launching into a big program, which itself should be a 5-10 year project, or more. I’d be happy if there were some solid rhetoric from these Cameroons, right now. But sadly, none is to be heard.

  • ButcombeMan

    For once, a sensible article on Europe here.

    It illustrates precisely why Cameron must not proceed on the the basis of private words and signals from Merkel, or anyone else. He would be a fool to do so and he will not convince a public growing increasingly sceptical about the whole EU project.

    Only the formal Article 50 route will do. Anything else is fudge. The Spectator would do the British public a favour by explaining all this, BEFORE Cameron gives his carefully crafted speech.

    Europe in my view needs the cathartic effect of a UK vote to leave the present flawed construct and needs the renegotiation of terms that would follow.

    The Europeans are fooling themselves over the Euro and “ever closer union”.

    The EU Emporer has no clothes and is crippling many nations, it wiill lead to great civil unrest, precisely the opposite effect to that intended.

    The mainland Europeans are inherently incapable, they lack the will, to save themselves and admit to the fault lines in what they have created .

    They positively need the UK to act alone and stand alone against their nonsense.

    Cameron has an opportunity to lead on this, it will mark him in history if he does it properly. He might be surprised at the support he will get and where it might come from, if, he shows real statesmanship.

    Has he the leadership sklills and the sheer guts?

    • Rhoda Klapp


      • ButcombeMan

        That does not pass for reasoned argument.

        It is quite plain that some sort of negotiation about the UK’s position and relationship with Europe is BOUND to happen within the next few years.

        If politicians are not pushed to it now, they will certainly be, when the hordes from Eastern Europe descend on us. More likely it will come about because of the need to resolve the position of the Euro members and their bankers (Germany).

        This much is a given. No one with the slightest amount of common sense would suggest otherwise. Even Clegg knows it.

        My position is that IF this is going to happen anyway, the most poweful position for our negotiators is after a clear OUT message and within the two year envelope and conditions provided for within Article 50.

        That is, within the formal mechanisms provided for within the Treaty

        Nothing else can be certain to work or settle the UKs relationship.

        Without this, Europe will fester like an open wound

        Cameron needs to understand this with absolute clarity.

        He needs to understand this BEFORE he makes his, so long in the preparation, speech.

        Why is his speech going through so many versions?

        Because he is preparing, rather foolishly, to fudge it, he is preparing to mislead the British people. He is preparing a slick piece of salesmanship, a device, a fraud.

        • Rhoda Klapp

          It was not meant to be an argument, you asked whether he had the guts. I answered. How much I would love to be wrong, but I fear I am not.

          • ButcombeMan

            My sincere apologies Rhoda. Mea culpa.

            It was a rhetorical question to which I never expected an answer.
            I agree with you absolutely.

            Cameron is sadly not Officer materiel, or if he is, he would never have got above Major.

            A key feature of leadership is that those underneath believe you mean what you say and will do what you say you will do, to your best efforts.

            Cameron is now widely distrusted not just by his natural supporters but by almost everyone.

            For a PR man, a manifest failure of PR.

    • an ex-tory voter

      What planet are you from?

      • ButcombeMan

        One capable of reasoned argument.

        If you have a contra argument-put it.

        It is vitally important that Cameron does not attempt to fudge this or to effectively “blackmail” other EU members over our (inevitable now) re-negotiation.

        There is likely to be bad feeling, there already is, it will all be much more acceptable to reasonable people in Europe, if we stick to the existing agreed Treaty methodology for re-negotation of our relationship. That is and should remain, the British way.

        Side agreements with Merkel, or anyone, are emphatically NOT the way forward.

        We should stick to the Treaty arrangements. Government should get the support of the British people for what they are about to do (as the Treaty suggests).

        If they get that support, the political way is clear. The negotiators are empowered. Exactly what the Treaty envisages.

        • Wessex Man

          Your not David Lindsay in disguise are you? When our Politicians had backbones we wouldn’t have wasted our time with continual negotiations that result in us paying more and more.

  • Hilton Holloway

    I was taking to senior chap at a big European company yesterday. The underlying anger with Britain is real. He described our current position as ‘England struggling around in its own mess’.
    Once again, the UK has escaped the worst of the European project (just as we weren’t invaded in WW2) and the continentals hate us for it. We cannot understand what it means to them and we can’t get involved in the next integrationist leap.
    Personally, I believe that if very long cues of Romanians and Bulgarians do appear at our airports and coach stations, we will have a vote and we will leave, because the Euros won’t offer another way.
    All this tactical stuff about a vote will mean nothing if we get another massive influx of hopefuls.

  • Tom Tom

    Smoke and mirrors. Germany was trapped in the EEC by the USA and Britain when they wanted to rearm Germany in 1956 and France objected. They are stuck in this mess and no German politician wants to consider “Alleingang” because they know which powers in Europe will set about causing problems. Britain is a wild card when not locked into some arrangement and in the past century it is France that has locked Britain into alliances against Germany – the only time in history it has happened. Germany naturally prefers to have Britain in multilateral arrangements so it does not go off and merge its military with France (St Malo), and strengthen French influence inside Europe at the expense of Germany. They have seen this game played before

  • MirthaTidville

    Whats really bothering Merkel and her minions is a matter of money. If we leave the EU our enormous funding stops,they know the shortfall will have to be made up by Germany. That is the real reason Merkel wants to `assist` the UK and in Cameron she sees a useful fool she can manipulate to her will. Expect loads of these sort of stories along the way

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Yet again a ‘Cameron in a bind’ treatment. It really will not do. Why can’t the spect approach this in a mature manner?

    • Rhoda Klapp

      Oh, and why is it I’ve always read it first on Eureferendum, and seen it explained by a man who actually knows the facts and can explain them coherently. Because he isn’t a journalist?

      • Tom Tom

        no he isn’t but Richard does his research and is a bit fanatical about researching whereas journalists at the Speccie are really sitting by the window gazing at the cottage garden as they focus on dinner parties and coke festivals

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …and sleuthing to find out who’s “ballsy”, don’t forget. 😉

      • an ex-tory voter

        ditto that

  • Hugh

    “There is certainly a risk that [a referendum] could paralyse efforts
    for a better Europe and deeper integration. Britain would risk being

    Since Britain doesn’t want to be more deeply integrated I’m struggling to see the problem from Cameron’s point of view.

    • Michele Keighley

      Bit of a bother than, being isolated from about 18% of the world. What will we do? Oh hang on, there’s a little bit left …

  • UlyssesReturns

    There is nothing more guaranteed to raise my blood pressure to explosive levels than Germans and Americans who feel they can dictate to me on whether or not I should have recourse to the ballot box. I will take no lessons or lectures from Europe on how my country decides its fate and suggest that Herr Krichbaum and Mr Gordon can both f*ck off.

    • Tom Tom

      Well get riled up. Germany is fearful of a Referendum in Germany which is what the Constitutional Court has said will be necessary to vote in a New Constitution if Germany continues to cede sovereignty to EU, ESM, EFSF and whatever new construct they design to circumvent the German Verfassung

    • telemachus

      when I read such as this I thank God that the US and Germany do have an influence in our elections
      Rather rule from Brussels than rule by the types that Ukip would foist on us

      • ButcombeMan

        Pity Germany did not influence your mate McDoom then.

    • ArchiePonsonby

      That goes without saying for the rest of us too, U R!


    Well I have to say that having heard the opinions of the Germans and the Americans about what we should do here in the UK I have completely changed my mind and no longer think we should hold a referendum. Indeed without their intervention we could have placed ourselves in great jeopardy. I only hope they are willing to provide us with further insights about we should best govern our country for the benefit of Europe and the USA.

    • Noa

      No we shouldn’t. we should invoke Article 50 forthwith!

      • Wessex Man

        Oh dear, coffeehousewall is being ironic don’t ya know.

        • Noa

          And you are trying to be sarcastic, but merely appear petty.

  • Andy

    What is the matter with all these idiots ? The British People have a right – yes, a right – to decide what relationship, if any, they want with the EU. People like Merkel, Krichbaum and Gordon need to understand that the people of Britain were not asked about EMU, and nor frankly were most of the people of Europe. The Eurozone countries are busy making a different sort of EU, but we are not a part of that zone, so naturally our relationship will be different. They must accommodate us as we should accommodate them. To get what they want they also have to give.

    • Noa

      But they have no intention of accommodating us. None of them, not one.

      Cameron may have Merkels agreement to a ‘repatriation’ of powers, but Krichbaum is limiting its scope to the range between piffle and piddle. Rumpoy et al have already said non.
      Nothing will happen, no precedents will be set for others to escape from the EU and the Gurozone. Cameron may have a figleaf to wave from the plane steps, but nothing else will protect his dignity or honour.

      • Andy

        You may very well be right. And if that is the case then they – Merkel et al – are driving the UK to leave the EU. As they have so much trade with us I would suggest that they think well upon their actions.

  • DWWolds

    Isabel: I would suggest you look at an article on Der Spiegel Online.Europe dated 27 December and entitled “EU Summit Reveals a Paralyzed Continent”. From that you will learn that a more integrated eurozone is very far from a foregone conclusion. In fact, the shenanigans going on in the hinterland are little short of farcical. If the situation were not serious it would be laughable.

  • Adrian Drummond

    Germany is worried about Germany’s interests – not Britain’s. America is worried about its interests, not Britain’s. Britain’s priority should be about its own interests.

    • undergroundman14

      British “interests” are confined to kissing ar#e to the third world and the yanks.

    • Dimoto

      All good stuff, but Hardman is almost certainly right that Merkel is not to be trusted.
      She is an opportunist who is content to let the Brits make themselves unpopular in causes which she might support, but she will never herself, rattle the cages of the Euro hierarchy nor “deliver” concessions to Cameron.