David Cameron and Angela Merkel at the EU Council building in Brussels on October 25, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron only has himself to blame for the Tories' latest Europe row

After withdrawing from the centre-right European People's Party grouping, Cameron has no right to tell his MEPs not to flirt with the anti-Euro Alternative für Deutschland.

There was an article in Saturday’s Guardian regarding overtures made by Conservative MEPs in Brussels to the German anti-Euro party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a group that anticipates doing well in this year’s European elections. Rumour has it that the Tory MEPs are being egged on by Westminster backbenchers, with the ringleader in Brussels being Daniel Hannan (although in the article he refuses to confirm this). This is relevant to David Cameron because AFD is an explicitly anti-Merkel party, made up of many CDU defectors, and the alleged alliance building is scheming by those Tories who wish to see Cameron’s plan to renegotiate Britain’s place within the EU and then hold a referendum destroyed.

This may confuse some. Why would Eurosceptic Tories want to scupper the In/Out referendum they so desire? Because they want it on their own terms. They fear that Cameron will stitch up  somethingwith Merkel, oversell it back home and then stroll to victory in the resultant referendum when all three major parties back the campaign to remain in the EU. So uniting with Merkel’s enemies in the European parliament seems to be a good first step to preventing this from occurring.

The worst thing for Cameron is that this is yet another hole that he has dug for himself. The Prime Minister put this train of events into motion when he pulled the Conservatives out of the main centre-right grouping in the EU parliament, the European People's Party (EPP), and helped form the Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in the summer of 2009. Like most manoeuvres Cameron has made in regards to Europe, this was done to appease the Eurosceptics in his party; to silence them once and for all. And like all the other concessions he has made to this element, it has backfired spectacularly. It has strengthened the hand of those calling for Cameron to be more explicitly Eurosceptic. Given the fact that the Tory leader, in his heart of hearts, wants Britain to remain in the EU, this was a terrible error. Now, the fruit of that disastrous move is ripening. Had Cameron kept the Tories in the EPP he could have appealed directly to Merkel and other members of the group as a member himself; he could have told them to use the UK renegotiation for cover to make centre-right reforms to the single market that the EPP members themselves would have liked. Instead, he’s in a position where his party is flirting with an anti-Merkel populist party in Brussels. And what can he possibly do about it? He was the one who put them in the ECR in the first place, so what right does he have to tell his MEPs not to flirt with potential members of the grouping he established?

People have often asked why Tory MEPs like Dan Hannan, given their hard line Eurosceptic views, don’t simply join UKIP. While long term party loyalty is surely a factor, the tactical reason is that by remaining Tories they ensure the presence of British Eurosceptics in two EU parliament groupings: in the ECR and the even more anti-EU Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) grouping that includes UKIP. They also get to try and ruin Cameron’s plans for a "stitch-up" from the inside.

Which brings us neatly back to the Alternative für Deutschland  bunch and the depressing thought that anti-EU parties will triumph in the upcoming elections. Those of us who care about the European project can only vote with our hearts and hope for the best come 22 May. 

Nick Tyrone works for the Electoral Reform Society but writes in a personal capacity. His articles can be found at www.nicktyrone.com

Nick Tyrone is Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.

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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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