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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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