|Painting in the Royal Gallery - the Duke of Wellington with Field Marshal Blucher at the Battle of Waterloo - harking back to an earlier age of Anglo-German cooperation.|
The last head of government to address the Royal Gallery was apparently Nicolas Sarkozy – then French President – in 2008. We suspect that for Merkel this is more a case of “business as usual” rather than “privilege” but in any case, it’s significant.
There’s no doubt that the Tory leadership hopes for encouraging signs from the Chancellor, following Francois Hollande’s predictable comments last week that EU treaty change “is not a priority” (which nonetheless generated headlines). Far worse for Cameron et al was that the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier proved such hard work when he was here on Monday – holding a rather awkward press conference alongside William Hague, which included some tempered language on Treaty change (which even came close to contradicting the German Coalition agreement).
As we’ve noted before, the German Grand Coalition isn’t a deal-breaker for Cameron’s plans but it does mean a lot more work. In contrast to the Steinmeier visit, which was barely publicised (most lobby journalists - the parliamentary correspondents who often set the agenda in UK press - were unaware of the meeting instead basing their write-ups on the news wires, which arguably triggered even worse headlines for Hague / Cameron), the Government will go all out for Merkel.
As we’ve argued since the start, Merkel holds the key to a new settlement in Europe, so No 10 is right to step it up. However, at the same time, it must be wary of not being seen as desperate – Merkel is by far the most important leader in Europe, and the big Europe questions are decided by the Kanzleramt and even the Finanzministerium, not the Auswärtiges Amt. Nevertheless, the strategy cannot entirely rest on Merkel, also keeping in mind that this is her last term, with her potentially getting weaker closer to the end.
Merkel’s visit will mark the start of a fresh attempt by No 10 to court EU leaders (read: explain to Europe what in the world Britain actually wants to achieve apart from creating emergency headlines to appease backbenchers). It won’t be a day too early.