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Monday, November 03, 2014

Everyone take a deep breath: suggestions Merkel ready to accept Brexit following free movement row are wide of the mark

Der Spiegel reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned David Cameron at last month’s EU summit that she would no longer try to keep the UK in the EU if Cameron sought to impose quotas or a cap on workers from other EU countries, as opposed to changing the rules around EU migrants’ access to benefits. The magazine also reported that the German Chancellery and Foreign Ministry fear that, for the first time, Cameron is pushing the UK towards a “point of no return” in terms of its EU membership and that a UK exit is “possible”. But there’s no reason to be get overly excited though.
  • This was a report from one magazine which didn’t include any direct quotes from Merkel, but merely quoted unnamed sources. Moreover, as Sky News' Faisal Islam points out, the report isn't exactly front page either... its on page 36 of the print edition.
  • The reported comments were specifically about reports in the UK media about Number 10 possibly considering putting outright caps on the number of EU migrants who can come to Britain to work, either via quotas or a points-based system. So one speculative media report leading to another.
  • As we’ve argued repeatedly, there are two elements to free movement: volume – how many EU migrants come to the UK every year. And fairness: who can access what benefits and when. That Merkel doesn’t support an end to the basic right for EU migrants to come to the UK to work isn’t surprising at all. It’s been the German government position for ages. Stefan Seibert, Merkel’s spokesperson this morning re-stated Germany’s commitment to “the general principle of free movement”.
However, within that there’s a lot of scope for change and plenty of EU reforms that could fly in Berlin. Remember, the Bundestag will this week vote on a number of proposals aimed at tightening EU migrants’ access to benefits, including re-entry bans for those migrants that abuse of the German welfare system.

It’s interesting that since the stories in the UK media about a points-based system or quotas for EU migrants, FAZ and the Sunday Times note that the UK government is now looking to make its EU free movement proposals “Germany-compatible”. Also, UK Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC this morning,
“It was never envisaged that you would have such large numbers of people coming, people coming who don’t have job offers, people who move on to our benefits system…We are going to do this in a calm and rational way, but the British people want this addressed.”
The “job offer” part is interesting – the right to move to another EU country without a specific job offer hasn’t always been there. However, note there’s nothing about a cap – what the Der Spiegel report was about.

Similarly, at Downing Street’s briefing to journalists today, Cameron’s spokeswoman said:
“When the founding fathers established the European Union and introduced the principle of free movement, it was about labour and how you integrate the countries of the single market. The mass migration that we have seen with new countries joining, the impact on countries like the UK, the free movement to claim benefit – these are areas that have evolved and need to be addressed.”
There’s the point about wider “impact” but, again, the main focal point is benefits.

Which may suggest that No 10 remains primarily committed to looking at “fairness” – not actually ending free movement per se.

So only tweaks then? Not at all. Open Europe has today published a new pamphlet by Professor Damian Chalmers and Open Europe Research Director Stephen Booth which argues that the basic right to go and work anywhere in the EU should stand – on the whole, free movement remains a clear benefit to the UK. However, national governments should be able to limit EU migrants’ access to out-of-work and in-work benefits, social housing and publicly funded apprenticeships until after three years.

Incidentally, Der Spiegel did not claim that Merkel was now ‘ready to accept’ the UK exiting the EU, as some UK media outlets have reported. Instead, she now considers Brexit “möglich”, which translates as “possible”, which is more along the lines that it is something she fears.

In other words, whilst certainly a strong indicator of the mood music in Germany and the UK, on specific substance, this is much less of a story than the headlines suggest.


Rik said...

Even when it was a proper quote.
1. It is Merkel's standard modus operandi to start with a statement see how everybody reacts and subsequently picks the safest option.

2. Even if this would be the 'definite' view it looks a no brainer to call her bluff. As that is what it likely is. See Greece, see austerity, see GroKo negotiations, see France's virtual cuts to make the 3% at this very moment. She never makes a hard call or bluffs herself. Always goes for safety.

Anyway the right responses is roughly like how Osborne reacted. We are hired by the British people not by Merky or the EU.

Cameron basically has not much of a choice. He either needs a good (in the eyes of the British public (not in the eye of the EU/Germany or France or whatever) reneg result or has to show he was actually fighting for one (but didnot succeed). This has been the situation from the start of this btw. Very little has changed in this respect) only most of the commentators in the media seem to have missed this.
On immigration this simply means that all sort of cosmetic stuff very likely will not be enough to convince the Bristish public.
This is much more about the British public and their demands than about what is likely achievable in negotiations with the EU. The latter is what most commentators in the media make of it often missing as well the point that soft EUggs, burocrats scared of losing their jobs, in general give in when it comes to it.

Average Englishman said...

The Average Englishman takes very little notice of what 'Mother' Merkel or David cameron may or may not say. He or she is only in the results in their daily lives. If the immigrants keep coming, it will not matter what piece of paper Dave waves when he gets off the plane/train from Brussels and no threats issued by Germany or anyone else will make any difference.

christhai said...

For the UK - the Great EU Experiment is over.

Not just the Immigration thing but the way that the EU affects our politicians.

The First thing the British public knew about the Borders of the UK being handed over to EU use as they saw fit - was when there seemed to be around 2 million Poles all of a sudden.

Then there's all the amateur judges of the ECHR meddling in British Law which is far superior to theirs.

And No the Public know the ECHR was formed before the EU but it also knows it does what it is told by the ECJ which does what the European Commission tell us.

So we should all say THANK YOU Mrs Merkel. Without Britain in the way, Germany can and will mould the EU into a form which benefits Germany.

Good luck to you we say.

Britain is NOT going to intervene in German controlled Europa like the last time. No thanks for that either.

Anonymous said...

The last time Germany called our bluff it cost them dearly.
In a way I hope 'Mother' Merkel does call it. The only response that Dave could offer would be Brexit.
Then see how the E.U.copes with its grand freedom of movement policy as more and more illegal immigrants pour in and wouldn't be allowed into the U.K. We could simply repatriate any illegals back to where they came from, mainly to France.
Unsustainable policies will eventually lead to the collapse of the E.U..