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How helpful can Angela Merkel be?

25 February 2014

12:11 PM

25 February 2014

12:11 PM

Angela Merkel is, as James explains in this week’s magazine, central to David Cameron’s hopes of getting anything meaty at all from his renegotiation and reform of the European Union. Her address to Parliament later this week will be scrutinised for every hint that she might support one reform or another – and for her enthusiasm for supporting Cameron in his quest.

So it would be helpful if Merkel said some encouraging things in her speech. But can the Prime Minister suggest anything that would be particularly helpful for the German Chancellor to say? Asked about it at this morning’s lobby briefing, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted that the content of the speech was a matter for Merkel, saying:

‘We want to work with the German government, along with other European countries in terms of… EU reform so do we… talk to our European counterparts… you know that we do but in terms of Chancellor Merkel’s address, of course that will be her address to parliament on Thursday.’

Regardless of whether Number 10 does mention a few helpful topics that Merkel might want to address when she does speak, it’s worth looking at this briefing paper from Open Europe, published this week, which sets out how realistic each option for reform is – a bit of backbench tummy tickling is quite different to the real negotiations.

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One of the interesting questions that it is worth mulling is whether Cameron would get away with reform that doesn’t involve treaty change, when Open Europe only lists this as having a ‘medium’ chance of success. The briefing note says:

‘There remains no guarantee that an EU Treaty change will coincide with Cameron’s 2017 referendum timetable but while this would be a blow, much reform can nevertheless be achieved without it.’

George Osborne demanded treaty change in January, and this delighted Conservatives. But if there isn’t scope for that, then the question is whether Cameron could sell other reforms as sufficiently significant.

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