Published on 18 Jan 2013

View from Berlin: Bluffing Britain losing friends

A quick visit to Berlin begins with the arresting sight of two princesses at the front of the plane. Yesterday Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie followed in their father’s footsteps as ambassadors for UK trade. Their mission: drive a UK-manufactured-for-a-German company Mini around the Brandenburg Gate.

Anglo-German relations are cooler as a result of our government’s attempt to reset the relationship with the EU.

An influential CDU MP Gunther Krichbaum warned against British “blackmail” last week. The delay to “the speech” continues the general bewilderment about what exactly Britain wants back.

My sense from Berlin is that goodwill has been drained and that Britain is running out of friends as even Berlin loses patience. Separately, one of the most senior policymakers in the EU just laughed, when I asked him about the UK leaving the EU: “You really think Britain is going to leave?”. His message seemed to be that Europe thinks Britain is bluffing.

Various UK attempts to forge a repatriation bloc within the EU-27 seem to have failed, mainly because such efforts are reported straight to Berlin. For example, there had been a discussion with euro-outs such as Poland about how exactly European Council meetings should work: allow the €-group to caucus first and then see the EU-27 bounced into its decisions, or give the €-group the final say? On specific powers, the Dutch were approached, not least as the planned hosts of David Cameron’s speech. The Dutch approach to repatriation is about powers returning for all 27 members, not the start of an auction where every nation cuts a special deal.

In particular the veto of December 2011, received triumphantly on Fleet Street, was a disaster in terms of diplomatic goodwill. It is not forgotten that for six months the UK lectured the eurozone to forge a fiscal union to save the single currency (“remorseless logic”/”make up or break up”), and then promptly vetoed developments in that direction, in the early hours of a crisis summit, with no support from allies.

There are four ways that UK-EU developments could go. 1. Actual repatriation of serious powers. 2. Symbolic repatriation. 3. Cameron backs down 4. Britain leaves EU. Berlin has calculated that Mr Cameron has very little diplomatic back-up. My sense is that if Mr Cameron genuinely wants to change the terms of Britain’s relationship with the EU, he might want to ensure he has some rock-solid allies in Warsaw, Amsterdam and Stockholm. Forcing the French into proper CAP reform (eg: spending far less than 40 per cent of EU spending on subsidising farming, for example, might create a proper pro-growth rallying point for EU reform).

Importantly that means there is little appetite for giving the PM even a symbolic diplomatic victory, let alone an actual victory. So there’s a presumption that the PM will back down, which if wrong, could yet lead to option 4.

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28 reader comments

  1. Joe Thorpe says:

    So those in Berlin are losing patience with Britain? Who cares what patience Berlin has or doesn’t have? They are the one sucking the life blood from the Eurozone not us. They milk the value of the Euro to benefit themselves at the cost of the other 16 members of the Eurozone. Germany needs Britain a heck of a lot more than we need the EU, Without free access to the UK’s internal market the German economy would be in recession, the only growing Car market in the EU is the United Kingdom.

    1. johncox says:

      Absolute piffle…!!!

  2. Admonfr says:

    To my recollection the UK signed the Treaty of Rome.
    One of the tenets of the treaty was that it was the precurser to a process of progressive unification, caveat emptor.
    Also to my recollection, the UK is the only EU member to have repeatedly sought renegotiation of its terms of membership.
    If I joined a football club and then created stink because we don’t play cricket I would receive little sympathy but rather the suggestion that I join a cricket club.
    The UK has hugely funded aspects of the UK, conversely the UK has been like a hanfful of sand chucked into a gesrbox.

    1. johncox says:

      Well said…! I’m sure you too must find it hard to fathom the ignorance of so many Brits, who seem incapable of grasping the sheer logic of what you say, much less recognise that membership of Europe is Britain’s only hope. Never mind all this wintery weather, if the UK makes a nuisance of itself much longer and gets booted out of the EU – an increasingly likely prospect…!! – this country’s future will be “Arctic” indeed…!!!

    2. Adam says:

      European history gives insight as to our predicament. On balance Britain has been politically conservative, with a tendency to polarise against the most powerful political/military states of the time…Spain, France, then Germany. In effect, as a check and balance, it has been in every Europeans long term interest. Are we being out of character in being sceptical of a new entity that seeks total political control, when we fought against that same thing for so long? I’m also suspicious if a relatively small staff on the continent, ignorant of our culture, can be more effective than local government in delivering positive outcomes. A consequence of the world wars was the centralisation of power in the UK, taking power and money away from local people, and with it the ability to mould their own destinies. Power that was never given back, after the reason for centralising that effort had passed. Look at the Victorian civic buildings of the North of England, built by local people with local money, because they cared for the place they lived. Nothing to do with central policy or a bureaucratic government. It seems to me, the further you go from the place executive power is yielded,…

  3. David Kendrick says:

    You can not lose what you never had in the first place.

  4. Jamal says:

    I am old enough to remember that when Mrs Thatcher started her campaign for an EU (or rather EC) rebate the press had little optimism. She achieved what she achieved. I am no conservative, and definitely no Thatcherite, but historical facts are concrete.

    David Cameron is not as politically astute as his ‘illustrious’ predecessor. We may or may not be sleepwalking out of the EU, however one fundamental question needs to be asked…

    In a democracy, why are the people constantly denied a referendum on the most fundamental issue of our national direction. I purposely did not put a question mark because I believe it devalues the statement.

    Either this is democracy or not…let us finally, once and for all, lance this boil.

    Jamal

    1. Ragmaniac says:

      The reason why regular citizens are not always included in decision making, such as an EU referendum, is because we haven’t figured out a way yet to educate our masses to really understand the issues. We have this old saying: “.You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him/her drink.”

      PS: Let me also say that I do not understand many of the issues, either.

  5. Steve Willis says:

    I’m not convinced of your assumption of these people being “friends” whilst they consume most of the billions of pounds we put in whilst we get less out.

    If the UK (a net contributor to the EU budget) leaves, I guess the rest of the EU will look towards Germany plugging the gap in funding which must surely worry the Germans.

    I think Cameron has created a precedent of being a bit of a pushover since he abandoned his commitment to a referendum on Europe which he promised before the last General Election. I don’t believe he will ever do anything other than try to manipulate any referendum to suit his own wish to stay in the EU.

    We can put his previous use of the UK veto down to a bit of political posturing.

  6. annediver says:

    We should never have joined the EU. Everytime we go into Europe it costs us maoney and mens lives. now it cost our soverienty. It is has been a very expensive lesson

  7. annediver says:

    We should never have joined the EU. Everytime we go into Europe it costs us money and mens lives. now it cost our soverienty. It is has been a very expensive lesson

    1. Ragmaniac says:

      Well, as I remember, you haven’t really had your “Sovereignity” since you lost the “Empire.” That was a long time ago. Can you guys ever get with it and be satisfied to be just an ordinary country?

    2. Jim says:

      Mens lives?? that statement says it all. Wondered when a war fought almost now out of living memory would come into to it. The union has stopped us kicking the crap out of each other which we had done so well over the centuries. But really, isnt it time to look forward.Something most brits do struggle with massively.

      Even if europe became federal, would it not be better to be at the top of this structure. Yes we would always piss the french off and they would do the same but in what other reality would that be any other way. We need to lead from the top not just sit on the side moaning about bananas and what ever else it is poeple drag up and winge about…

      China is coming as is India and the big South American nations and we need to be ready and we need to do it as a continent not tiny individual states – we would be economally overhwelmed. its not the 20th Century and we are NOTHING like the nation of 100 years ago.. This is incredibally serious and absolutely in out interests so deal with the quickly changing world and get on with it..

      Of course the EU isnt perfect but its what we have got and is it really such a bit deal when you look at all the issues in…

    3. Jim says:

      Mens lives?? that statement says it all. Wondered when a war fought almost now out of living memory would come into to it. The union has stopped us kicking the crap out of each other which we had done so well over the centuries. But really, isnt it time to look forward.Something most brits do struggle with massively.

      Even if europe became federal, would it not be better to be at the top of this structure. Yes we would always piss the french off and they would do the same but in what other reality would that be any other way. We need to lead from the top not just sit on the side moaning about bananas and what ever else it is poeple drag up and winge about…

      China is coming as is India and the big South American nations and we need to be ready and we need to do it as a continent not tiny individual states – we would be economally overhwelmed. its not the 20th Century and we are NOTHING like the nation of 100 years ago.. This is incredibally serious and absolutely in out interests so deal with the quickly changing world and get on with it..

      Of course the EU isnt perfect but its what we have got and is it really such a big deal when you look at all the issues in…

  8. johnny feve says:

    The reson Europe. Should encourage united kingdom to be a trading partner rather then be part of a block, first of all the culture would never adjust and would cause resentment for years. Like Ireland but as a trading partner it is a doorway. …and would be a neutral partner with greater benefits for Europe to excess but to try create something were the people could never evolve. maybe not now but later resent what they have been drawn into then we will have a problem with home grown freedom fighters. … Find it quite strange the united states. .. Is trying to dictate in this situation maybe they should join but they scream about there liberty but reqest the liberty of another country be surprest. .if this leader is not strongest enought to fight for the liberty of the British people then he as to go. …

    1. Ragmaniac says:

      The Brits always want special treatment. Why can they not good Global Citizens and make their fortune again in the EU and send their Pound to the pound?

  9. Andrew Dundas says:

    Just like Thatcher. That Tory PM tried to achieve too many special terms, and was cold-shouldered at the EU Council and then lost her premiership.

    Could that same fate await Lord Snooty?

  10. Ragmaniac says:

    This is the first article I see where the rift between U.K.’s Cameron and the EU-27 is openly acknowledged. I suppose that Mr. Cameron follows his Party line and also a considerable following from the British Public at large who know next to nothing about their economy.

    But what I cannot understand is why there has to be this ever-chafing unpleasentness. Do the British, including Mr. Cameron and his Party not realize that the U.K. is in dire straights, worse than the EU-27?

    At this late date in history, must we remind the British public that “The Empire” is long gone and that they must, like it or not, seek their salvation from the EU, even to the point of throwing out that venerable British Pound Sterling?

  11. benf says:

    Nobody is less effective than Dave.

    Even if he were effective he’s trying to sort out a country that cannot and will not get out of deficit. Just a question of when. Soft default already begun with QE that will *never* be paid back. GBP on the slide. Cap in hand time coming…

  12. johncox says:

    Excellent analysis, Faisal. I just wonder what Berlin (and Paris) really made of the 11th hour cancellation of ‘Big Dave’s’ much-vaunted ‘Big Friday’ deadline in Amsterdam – ostensibly put down by to goings-on in the Algerian desert…? Did they swallow that explanation whole, or did cold-feet come under discussion…???

  13. green hackle says:

    What friends..they only want our money and some were to dump the scum or europe

  14. Philip says:

    The grass is always greener. People who encourage the UK to exit the EU paint a picture that is unnegotiable & utterly rose-tinted. Much of our manufacturing comes via foreign investment, based on the assumption that the UK is a full member of the EU. In future, they’ll locate in Poland, etc. Why should the EU give us favourable treatment? We’re a comparatively small market. And if we’re leaving in order to make ourselves more competitive, why should they allow us to trade more competitively? Are you serious that they will offer us an open goal? Given that we have the least employment & social protection than all the western side of the EU, what does exit mean for UK workers? Sacking at will with no compensation? The EU may start making financial transations in Euros dependent on EU membership & we’d have no influence to stop what could be a damaging loss of business to the City – to the benefit of Frankfurt. This is Tea Party stuff – a rose-tinted vision of a vanished country – & EU exit will probably hasten the independence of Scotland & Wales too.

  15. IndependentEngland says:

    At least we’ve got friends to lose Germany!

  16. Shamsul Chowdhury says:

    Please would someone quantify for me effect on pound if Mr. Cameron recommends leaving Europe.Mr. Majors so called B,s are calling shots.Mr. Cameron beware! It is not too late to compromise. Our future lies in Europe.

  17. Y.S. says:

    There is 4 types of countries in the EU. The Rich, the stable, the southern bankrupt, and the backword eastern european.
    They cannot have the same rules for everyone. Unless they cheat they cant all sign up for everything.
    It has to be a loose federation else it will break.

  18. Robert Taggart says:

    Oneself prefers acquaintances to friends anyway !
    SO SHOULD BLIGHTY.

  19. peter dawson says:

    The same old message from Germany… ‘shut up, do as you are told, everything is fine’. And if you are German then everything is indeed fine. Unfortunately, the elite that run the EU have failed to acknowledge that the process of integration and Europe-wide adoption of the Euro commenced at Maastricht has failed and Britain can never be part of the Euro for the foreseeable future despite investing massively in the project. It is obvious that the relationship between non-Euro countries and the Eurozone cannot continue as staked out by Maastricht and there is no alternative but for that relationship to change. Our European chums have been unable to take their heads from out of the sand and act, so what alternative is there to the British govt acting? Germany has been a very poor leader of the EU and the inability of Germany to understand the UKpposition simply illustrates that Germany is very poor at understanding anyone but themselves. We have no friends in the European elite to lose and we would gain far more respect from the likes of Germany for showing strength. We need to fix this mess as best we can while showing respect to the citizens of Europe and if that means withdrawal…

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