French and Germans don’t live on the same planet, commented Jean-Marc Vittori in Les Echos, the financial daily, on January 3. That rift in relations between Berlin and Paris, the worst for half a century, is seen as an opportunity for the coalition government in London to work more closely with Angela Merkel and both cabinets are to meet more often in an explicit echo of the Franco-German council of ministers. But, caution senior diplomats either side of the Channel, the Franco-German partnership remains the motor, however stuttering, of the EU and eurozone. There will never be a triumvirate running the Brussels show.
The political prospects for 2013 make that case plain. Merkel’s sole goal is winning a third term in the autumn, with either the Liberal FDP or, if it fails to return to the Bundestag, the Greens or, at worst, the social democrat SPD (again). (She now commands 40%-plus with the SPD stuck below 30%). David Cameron’s coalition problems, notably over Europe, hardly pre-occupy her when she’s got her own new one to form come October. She’ll do what she can to help him but Erpressung (blackmail) on his part will make her spurn him.
This is now a favourite word for Germans analysing the UK-Germany relationship: Wolfgang Schäuble, finance minister, used it in his pre-Christmas interview expressing support for Britain to remain an EU member. It’s the key word in a lengthy analysis* of Cameron’s interview with Andrew Marr. Threatening to leave, to wield the veto (as in December 2011), will simply lead to loud slamming of the negotiating room door – with the Brits left fuming in the corridor.
“This is an example of Europe being used as an excuse...as a smokescreen. Ironically, I would say the EU is not to blame for everything.” (Nigel Farage, Ukip leader, on the bogus EU “rules” “forcing” bin-men to refuse to collect rubbish for two months..)
64% favour UK staying in the EU (69% of 18-25-yr-olds), acc to Forsa poll. Original cost of Berlin’s new Willy Brandt international airport: €2.4bn; current cost: €4.3bn and rising; opening date: 2011, June 2012, March 2013, September 2013, 2014, now 2015 maybe.
On my way to Brussels for another year of collective posing and hectoring. The removal of UK MEPs really must be part of any renegotiation. (@DanHannanMEP)