Margareta Pagano: With Merkel on side, PM's gamble may yet pay off

Germany's – possibly surprising – support for David Cameron's audacious EU speech, makes reform from the inside more likely

Behind every successful man, they say, stands a great woman. Well, David Cameron has got two of them. First is Clare Foges, the smart young poet who is known inside No 10 as the "Prime Minister's larynx". It was Foges who crafted his European speech and urged him to be brave enough to "speak with the safety-catch off".

Loading the trigger seems to have worked as within hours of making his audacious European in-out speech, Cameron had won over Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, and if you believe Forbes, the second most powerful person in the world. Quite a catch.

Even though Merkel's response was carefully worded, her backing for Cameron's position is of huge significance and should not be underestimated. By suggesting that reforms to the EU are possible in a "fair compromise", Merkel has de facto put Cameron's demands on the menu and made them palatable. It's not the first time she has gone out on a limb to protect him as they share a similar view on many of the hottest EU issues from open global trade to budget restraint to name just two.

Even more fascinating was the response of the German press; those on the right, like, Die Welt gave the PM warm applause but so did those on the left like the daily Suddeutsche Zeitung. Here's an excerpt from its editorial: "David Cameron has spoken, but Europe isn't trembling …. The statement currently heard in Brussels that Britain needs Europe more than Europe needs Britain is foolish and dangerouz … because without the United Kingdom, Europe would have less esteem in the world, not more."

The German newspaper also made the point that is in the interest of the Germans and the French, especially, to not just pull the British along, but to instead bring them to the centre of the debate over Europe, adding: "Because the reality in Europe is such that the opinions over what is the right path to take are divergent across the EU. Cameron expects a lot from the EU, but he also acknowledged being a European. It would be wrong to give him the cold shoulder."

Cameron also got the thumbs-up from the Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who welcomed the reform debate as did Czech and Finnish ministers – all of whom are important UK allies within the EU and whose support will be critical.Who would have predicted such fan mail even a few months ago?

The timing of Merkel's support is interesting, too. It's not just our Saxon DNA that we share as new Bundesbank trade figures out last week show so vividly. Britain has now overtaken France to become Germany's biggest trade partner for the first time in the post-euro era. Anglo-German trade in goods and services soared by 20 per cent to €153bn (£130bn) in the first nine months of 2012, eclipsing Anglo-French trade. Most of the UK exports were medical equipment and drugs, cars (yes, it's true, albeit German ones such as parts for BMW and VW – which owns Bentley in Crewe) and oil products.

Our trade deficit has narrowed to €17bn. The UK is now the biggest inward investor with German companies such as Siemens leading the way. But the bigger picture for Germany is more interesting – it's trade with the eurozone has fallen from 46pc to 37pc since the euro was introduced. Trade with France is still a big chunk at €150bn but business is growing faster than ever with Bric countries.

So when Nick Clegg and some of the more pro-European UK business leaders – who resist reform – bleat about the loss of jobs and investment if we negotiate, they are missing the point. It's often missed, too, that most of the big improvements to freerer trade in Europe have happened without the EU; and have come from the private sector – cross-border banking thanks to Visa and now electronic-commerce with the web. Even the Channel Tunnel was built with private money.

By contrast, the things that most of us find really annoying – different plugs and not being able to use the same driving licence – are stuck in the more Francophone sclerotic EU.

If Cameron stands any chance of renegotiating or repatriating powers, he has to keep his new Iron Lady warm. François Hollande will never be on side: the French president is old-school Europe and will have choked on Merkel's support for the UK. There's no love lost between Hollande and Merkel: relations are said to be at freezing point.

Berlin fears Paris may become a liability for the eurozone and that Hollande is cosying up to Spain and Italy in an alliance against Germany. For his part, Hollande can't forgive Merkel for campaigning for Nicolas Sarkozy, and is said to be secretly planning to support her rival, the centre left Social Democratic Party, in November's elections.

On the face of it, Cameron and Merkel are an odd couple: he, the ambitious, Eton-Oxford educated son of a stockbroker and she, the equally ambitious, daughter of a Hamburg pastor, who grew up in East Germany and was a member of the socialist Free German Youth movement. But if their partnership shakes up the dirigiste architecture of the EU, then it could be a match that serves them well. Merkel's implicit support is not just friendliness. As the supreme politician, she knows she has to calm voters angered by the wealth transfers to southern Europe.

Ironically, by taking off the safety catch, the PM has made it more likely we stay in the EU and shake-it up; and that has to be good for all.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower