For Angela Merkel and the rest of Germany’s political establishment, it amounts to a major policy U-turn on what seems from Berlin to be the never-ending issue of Britain’s possible exit from the EU.
Ever since David Cameron floated his idea of a national UK referendum on the subject, Germany has insisted that Britain’s eventual departure from the EU would be something that Berlin would bitterly regret.
Angela Merkel and Germany’s President, Joachim Gauck, have repeatedly gone out of their way to emphasise that a UK exit would badly weaken the EU both economically and strategically.
They have also stressed what a huge contribution Britain made towards defeating Nazi rule and establishing democracy in a post-war West Germany which went on to help bring down the Berlin Wall.
“You British are our friends, we need you, please don’t go,” was the emotional tone of official German comment even during the September Scottish referendum.
In one Berlin café, the tone was more in keeping with Ms Merkel’s U-turn after she said Germany would “accept the UK’s exit from the EU”, if Cameron persists with plans to curb migration.
“First Thatcher, now Cameron, we are so sick of the Brits complaining about the EU. They always want special treatment. If they don’t like it, why don’t they simply leave,” said Anna, a Berlin architect.
“Cameron is in a hole with the anti-Europe Ukip on his back. Merkel is doing her best to help him but she’s not going to throw things like freedom of movement out of the window,” said Harold, a teacher.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the 25th anniversary of which takes place this Sunday, has a lot to do with her volte-face. Her predecessor and mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, famously insisted in 1989 that German unity and European unity were “two sides of the same coin”.
Perhaps nothing symbolises the free movement of people and labour more than the fall of the Berlin Wall. Kohl and his successors went on to ensure that open borders are now cornerstones of EU policy.Reuse content