Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. Labour must act now to replace Gordon Brown (Independent)

The Labour MP Barry Sheerman argues that Brown has failed to improve since the party's dreadful performance in the European elections and must be removed for the good of the country.

2. Britain just might pull off this high-speed railway revolution (Daily Telegraph)

Benedict Brogan says that Lord Adonis's visionary high-speed rail plan deserves to succeed with cross-party support. He calls on David Cameron to adopt a "new kind of politics" and make Adonis his first transport secretary.

3. Threats to Yemen prove America hasn't learned the lesson of history (Independent)

Patrick Cockburn argues that the US is beginning to make the same mistakes in Yemen as it made in Afghanistan and Iraq. He warns that US policy continues unwittingly to aid al-Qaeda.

4. Love Tony Blair or loathe him, only one choice for politician of the decade (Guardian)

Michael White says that despite the calamitous invasion of Iraq, Blair was the dominant force of the decade. Whether posterity will judge him more harshly or more kindly depends on what happens next.

5. Towering ambition always comes before a fall (Times)

Ben Macintyre says that as Dubai's economy totters and sways, the decision to build the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, may turn out to be a monumental folly

6. The economic "experts" who stopped making sense (Daily Telegraph)

Edmund Conway explores why, despite the financial crisis, we continue to put our faith in economists. He argues that we have lost confidence in our common sense and are seeking refuge in "apparent certainty".

7. Maybe Tories aren't so stupid after all (Independent)

John Rentoul argues that the Conservatives' opposition to electoral reform isn't as strange as it appears.

8. As threats multiply and power fragments, the coming decade cries out for realistic idealism (Guardian)

Timothy Garton Ash says that strategic co-operation between old and new powers is the best way to tackle terrorism.

9. She knew she was right (Daily Telegraph)

A leader says that the cabinet papers released on Margaret Thatcher's first year in office remind us of the political benefits that accrue from strong leadership.

10. Why 2010 could be an own goal for the Rainbow Nation

Jonathan Steele argues that the ANC is failing poor black South Africans and predicts that hosting the World Cup could backfire on Jacob Zuma.

 

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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