Angela Merkel, currently on a farewell tour of the UK with tea with the Queen, leaves a paradoxical legacy for many Brits.
She is often hailed as the proponent of a liberal Europe facing the populist assaults of Donald Trump. But she is also the woman who refused to throw David Cameron a lifeline on immigration ahead of the Brexit referendum, deeming it not in the national interest. But for Merkel’s position at the time, her pleasant host may not have been Boris Johnson, who leaves her cold, but an aging Cameron in his 11th year in office.
Cameron liked her, describing East Germany as an Anglophile who admired British science and democracy on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. She was the most knowledgeable person in the room, he recalls, able to determine in advance the needs and negotiating strategies of others.
Not that Cameron, in her autobiography, regrets Merkel’s refusal to give in more on the free movement of European workers. He largely blames himself for not selling a deal that could have given the UK a comfortable future in the EU.
Sir Paul Lever, the former British ambassador to Berlin for the six years until 2003, said that Berlin had weighed the odds of Britain’s importance to the EU and the euro: “The judgment of Berlin on the price the EU would have to pay to keep the UK in the EU reflected their assessment of the value of maintaining UK membership.
This is not to say that there was no emotional side to Germany’s attachment to British EU membership, especially as a liberal and free trade counterweight to France’s more protectionist tendencies. . Asked about Germany’s reaction if the UK leaves the EU, German Finance Minister Wolfgang SchÃ¤uble replied: “We will cry”.
As a woman with a notoriously pragmatic temperament, one suspects Merkel dabbed her eyes quite quickly after the referendum result before asking, “What’s next?” “
Indeed, within a year, Merkel gave the green light to her diplomats to start negotiating a bilateral agreement with the UK on further cooperation with Germany on defense and foreign policy. . This joint statement was put aside during the bitter Brexit talks, and if relations had really deteriorated because of the Northern Ireland protocol or vaccine nationalism, she could have died altogether.
But the current German Ambassador to London, Andreas Michaelis, has been a strong advocate for greater cooperation and has helped revive the initiative, leading to its publication this week.
Much is not controversial, but it was striking that London and Berlin could find consensual words on NATO, Iran, the Indo-Pacific, future relations with Putin, and the balance between pursuing the trade and human rights. The two cabinets will now meet once a year, allowing ministers to reflect on the relationship.
Johnson even signed an affirmation of European unity, which the Germans appreciate because they don’t want bilateral cooperation with the UK to be seen as a way for the UK to weaken the foreign policy of the United Kingdom. ‘EU or to put the small states of the EU aside.
But Merkel will be gone by the end of September, leaving a hole in European politics. The 90-minute foreign policy debate between the candidates for his succession held last week by the Munich Security Conference showed how Brexit is a thing of the past. The European problem that preoccupies German politicians is relations with Joe Biden and Hungarian Viktor OrbÃ¡n, not Britain. Certainly, if the Greens enter government, perhaps via a traffic light coalition, German foreign policy will be sharper on arms exports, human rights and relations with autocratic powers. But it is the Franco-German engine that will drive Europe from now on. The UK has chosen a removable sidecar.