Britain Rolls Out Red Carpet as Cameron Tries to Woo Merkel
London (munichNOW News / dpa) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to be given the red carpet treatment in Britain on Thursday, as Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to win her support for his EU reform campaign.
The German leader is to become the first to address both houses of the British parliament since 1986 and will also have lunch with Cameron and tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
Expectations are high. At the weekend, Foreign Secretary William Hague described Germany as “our most important partner on seeking reform in the EU” because of its economic strength and key position in the eurozone.
Conservative lawmaker Andrea Leadsom, founder of the Fresh Start campaign for treaty change, said Merkel’s visit was a “vital step in building momentum towards significant reform of the EU” and that the two countries had “a great deal of common ground.”
Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the 28-member bloc and then hold a referendum on his country’s membership, if he is re-elected next year.
The premier is under growing pressure from eurosceptics in his own Conservative party as well as the UK Independence Party, which is predicted to win the most British seats in European Parliament elections in May.
The Times newspaper suggested that Cameron is keen to give the impression of a “special relationship” with fellow centre-right leader Merkel, with whom he is said to get on well.
Her welcome is to be far warmer than that extended a few weeks earlier to French President Francois Hollande, with whom Cameron held talks at an airfield and then went to the pub.
The Socialist leader gave Cameron’s appeals for treaty change short shrift, saying they were “not a priority” for Paris.
Undeterred, a spokesman for Cameron said EU reform would again be on the agenda on Thursday, including issues such as so-called benefit tourism, economic competitiveness, the deepening of the single market and deregulation.
But Berlin has attempted to dampen down expectations. Merkel’s parliament speech would be a “contribution” to the EU debate, said her spokesman Steffen Seibert, who would only add that Germany was “prepared to talk to all its European partners” about its policies.
Merkel is known to sympathize with some of Britain’s demands, but she has also made it clear that keeping the eurozone together is her priority. Her hands are also tied by her coalition with the strongly pro-European Social Democratic Party (SPD).
On a visit to Britain earlier this month the SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “It would be exaggerating to say that the UK and Germany are pulling in exactly the same direction. That is obviously not the case.”