CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. If bombers were a threat once, they still are (Times)

David Aaronovitch argues that it would be disastrous for the UK to distance itself from the United States. The US remains an indispensable, practical and ideological ally in a world where fundamentalist terror has not gone away.

2. Eureka! At last, I can see what David Cameron is on about (Daily Telegraph)

Cameron's "Big Society" project is truly radical, says Benedict Brogan. Here is a rare example of a politician who has faith in individuals to wrestle responsibility for society away from the state.

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3. Big ambition (Times)

But a leader in the Times says that it is still hard to see how the "Big Society" translates into policy. Cameron appears to have forgotten that the voluntary sector draws most of its funding from public sources.

4. We're getting everything from this election but radicalism (Independent)

As polling day draws closer, the differences between the parties are narrowing not widening, writes Adrian Hamilton. We desperately need a bold approach to a host of challenges, from Afghanistan to Trident to financial reform.

5. Berlin has cut the motor, but now Europe is stalled (Guardian)

Germany once drove the European project but its retreat into British-style self-interest puts the EU at risk, argues Timothy Garton Ash.

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6. Brown's lies and chicanery on immigration are crying out to be exposed by the Tories (Daily Mail)

The Tories should launch an all-out attack on Gordon Brown's misuse of immigration statistics, says Stephen Glover. The party should not be frightened of saying that indigenous workers have been priced out of the job market.

7. Immigration: Speaking softly (Guardian)

Staying with immigration, a Guardian leader says that Brown's attempt to reassure voters will work only if they believe he is telling the truth. The Prime Minister must not use inaccurate data again.

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8. When Beijing and New Delhi pull together (Financial Times)

To bring China and India closer together, the yawning trade deficit between the two countries must be remedied, writes James Lamont.

9. Begin by breaking up the big banks (Guardian)

We will suffer a repeat of the financial crisis if we fail to reform the banks fundamentally, warns Larry Elliott. Politicians must recognise that the main banks remain far too big and far too complex.

10. Serbia says sorry for Srebrenica, but it should go further (Daily Telegraph)

Serbia's apology for the massacre at Srebrenica should acknowledge that what happened there was genocide, argues Harry de Quetteville.

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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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